Miracles and Loss Raising Poultry

Reader Contribution by Jo Devries
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Close up of white silkies

The life of a farmer is never without interesting stories. Being deep in the bush, some of my own stories involve bears, fishers, hawks and snakes. Many of them concern death and destruction by predators. But I’ve also witnessed the miracle of new life: with every egg that hatches. A few magical things happened this past summer.

I had not raised chickens for a couple of years. I had taken time off to write a book. The book was done in the spring, and I was reconnecting to my somewhat neglected cabin and 6 ½-acre hobby farm. My coop was empty. I needed chickens. I also had work to do. I had gutted my coop two years prior, in order to redesign it. Now I needed to finish it. I needed to finish it quick!

Word had just hit that a serious virus was spreading around the globe. I called my breeder and ordered some chickens and guinea fowl. Choice was already limited. Not all the hens were old enough to lay. Some birds seemed older than expected. I didn’t get a purebred Silkie hen, which would almost guarantee a good broody hen. Still, I had enough birds to possibly breed a good flock for next year, and I had fresh eggs. I was back into farming. I had a sustainable food source and the opportunity to grow it.

A Broody Hen Goes Missing

My chickens free-range a bit except in the winter. I tend to let all my birds run wild for a couple of hours in the afternoon, in good weather. They usually lay their eggs in the morning. I noticed that a few guinea fowl hens were running to a certain spo each time I let them out. One day, one hen didn’t come back.  I wondered if she might be sitting on a nest. Two days later, the male and another hen went missing. This was likely a predator. I was down three birds and 70 dollars. I only had two guinea hens left. The birds were on lockdown.

After a few days, I let the birds out. I followed the guineas. I found the missing hen sitting on at least two dozen eggs, under a pile of brush. Seems my guinea hen preferred to raise her young in the wild. She wasn’t aware of how much more danger she would be in. I knew if I grabbed her and the eggs and put them in the coop, she might refuse to sit on them. I didn’t have an available broody hen to hatch out the eggs. I live without electricity and don’t have an incubator. I decided to leave her on the nest.  I doubted I would ever see a chick and would probably lose the hen too, but I felt my best option was to leave her alone.

Black Silkie hen with white chicks.

Finding Adoptive Mother Hens to Hatch Abandoned Eggs

About a week later, I went back to the nest. It looked abandoned. I feared the hen had been killed. I grabbed six eggs and put them under my Silkie-Cochin super-hen, Eve, and hoped for the best.  Eve was already sitting on 10 guinea fowl eggs. She had already mothered two hatches of eggs; this was her third. These six extras would be her fourth. I was asking a lot.

A number of weeks later, eight guinea fowl hatched. Eve abandoned the other eight eggs. I took the eight chicks away and put them with one-month-old Silkie-Cochin chicks, who instantly fell in love with the new babies. Then I put the eight eggs back with Eve, who accommodated my request. I checked the eggs a day later. The two eggs that hadn’t hatched with the first eight, weren’t viable. We were down to the six (twice-abandoned) eggs.

I went back to the wild nest. Nothing had changed. The remaining eggs were cold, wet and dirty. I took the eggs away and broke them. None had developed. The hen had been dead for a while.

Persistent Life from an Abandoned Nest

A week later, to my great amazement, two of the six wild eggs started hatching. The second day, there was one chick and one abandoned cracked egg. I picked it up. I peeled some of the shell away. I poked the chick. No movement. I peeled and poked some more. I took the chick by the beak and gently moved its head this way and that. No sign of life. I put the egg down, and fed the rest of the birds. I picked up the egg to discard it. How sad. But the fact that I even had one chick that survived such abandonment was already precious.

I had hoped and prayed God would make this tiny chick make it as well. I peeled back more of the shell. I had to be 100% sure this thing was dead. As I peeled back a piece of egg shell and membrane, a leg moved. Then it moved again. This chick was alive, praise God!

I brought it into the house to dry it off and warm it up. Soon after, I tucked the chick (still half in its shell) under Eve. A few hours later, I removed the last bit of shell that remained stuck to its back. The chick crawled up under Eve’s wing. The next day it was staggering around on its own.  Oh, happy day!

Three of the six eggs turned out to be rotten. One chick didn’t make it. I was grateful for the two chicks that survived.  I never saw any of the three missing adult birds again.  I was glad that I had these 10 last offspring. I left the first eight chicks with their new step-moms, and Precious and Miracle with Eve.

Bonding with Birds

Two weeks later, I united the 10 guinea siblings and four young step-moms in a cage in my kitchen. Twice a day, I would carry the cage outside to let the chicks run around. This frequent handling of them resulted in our bonding. They would all (or almost all) return to me when it was time to come back from their foraging. Some would even jump right into the cage — baited with food, of course.

The 10 guinea fowl chicks are growing rapidly and have been integrated with all the other chicks that I’ve raised and decided to keep. Disagreements are few. Raising the guinea fowl with chickens resulted in the guinea fowl being more trusting. When I sit down outside with them, they come close and allow me to pet them.

All my birds have names, except six of the guineas who look too alike at this stage and are all appropriately named Lavender. Precious and Miracle are thriving, but Miracle, although only one day younger, is about half the size. Being dead takes a lot out of you.

In a world of trouble, and fear of the unknown it’s comforting to know that miracles still exist. I’m thankful to have witnessed many and live with the hope of seeing many more.

Jo deVries(Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is?and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect withJo of the Woodsand read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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