The ‘simple’ idea of buying female chicks for Ruby isn’t quite as simple as we first thought!
After speaking to a few people and reading internet forums, placing chicks under a broody hen is a common thing to do, but the chicks need to be a day old, the broody hen cannot see the chicks before they go under her, the chicks should go under the hen at night, and the hen may reject the chicks by attacking them and if she rejects them once she’ll never accept them and we’d have to find a heat lamp very quickly to raise them ourselves!
A few frantic hours were spent on the internet and phone looking for a local supplier of day old female chicks. Fate lent a hand, and there was a breeder 30 minutes away with Welsummer chicks that had hatched overnight – we reserved 3 females and got in the car with a tiny box for the chicks.
After a quick stop at a local shop to buy some chick crumb we arrived at the Ladywell Poultry. The breeder, Keighley, was very helpful and went through the basics of chick rearing with us then carefully selected 3 females from the group of cute chicks that had hatched just a few hours ago. It’s near impossible to determine the sex of day old chicks, but there are a couple of breeds where this is possible, and Welsummer are one of these. As the chicks had just hatched, they needed heat and whilst a 30 minute car journey would be okay with the chicks in a box, the few hours after that waiting for it to get dark would not, as they’d get too cold. We’d have to put the chicks under Ruby as soon as we got home, and keep everything crossed that she didn’t realise that after sitting on these eggs for a few days, suddenly they’d been replaced by chicks, and not a broken egg in sight! We did ask if we should leave some broken eggshell beside Ruby, to add to the great illusion, but were advised not to.
Sarah sat with 3 chirping chicks in a box on her knee for the drive home, from time to time opening the lid a little to make sure they were okay. Conscious of the time the chicks had away from the heat we quickly took a few pictures of them in the car then took them to the barn to be introduced to their new mother.
As it was mid-afternoon, we had to make Ruby’s crate as dark as possible and covered all sides and the top with towels. That morning we’d ensured that there was an opening at the back of the crate that we could use, so we slowly and quietly positioned ourselves there with Sarah on the right side, trying to cover Ruby’s eyes, and me on the left to remove the eggs and replace them with chicks. As quickly and with as little fuss, I raised Ruby a little to find the warm eggs she was sitting on and removed them. I then took each chick and held it as gently, but as firmly as I could, and placed them under Ruby’s body. We took a step back and waited. The next couple of minutes were crucial – either Ruby would accept the chicks and instantly become a mother to them, or she’d reject them.
I’d hoped that I’d put the chicks under Ruby in the right place where they would be warm and that they wouldn’t try to move away and run around the cage. After a few moments one of the chicks appeared from under Ruby, at her front. Ruby looked down and there appeared to be a few seconds where Ruby looked at the tiny chick, and the chick looked up at the huge chicken that she’d crawled out from. Ruby’s head, with her sharp beak (!) came down on the chick as she gently moved it back under her. We waited and watched for the next hour but thankfully all seemed calm; there was the odd chirp from the chicks, and a bit of shuffling about from Ruby as the chicks settled under her, but it looked like Ruby had accepted the chicks and they were in their rightful place under a mother hen.
The rest of the day was spent with us going back and forward, checking on Ruby and the new arrivals and sitting beside the broody cage to make sure everything was okay. We left them around 10pm, hoping that they’d all be OK in the night and that Ruby wouldn’t squash the tiny chicks!