Sunday 28 April 2013

Of Hatching Chicks and Flying Geese.

On the allotted day, Thursday Day 21, Broody Betty duly declared her eggs cooked and some of them successfully hatched. She then, however, kept this a deep dark secret, not revealing the existence of her new family by allowing any cheeping or by turfing out any broken open shells. She continued to sit in her trance like state and I assumed that nothing had happened yet and maybe we'd all have to wait till Day 22. When Day 22 arrived, Mentor Anne phoned to tell me that hers had hatched 'yesterday' and asked if we had had any luck. 'Had I looked?', she asked and advised me to lift the protesting BB off the nest. I did so and was delighted to find that we had 7 chicks in a variety of colours, 3 orangey, one pale lemon yellow, one multi-coloured and fetchingly striped and 2 black ones, plus an egg I could see with a crack running all around it, almost hatched. I pulled out the obvious broken shells (other eggs can lodge inside a broken half preventing that bird getting out) and let BB get back on while that 8th baby escaped her shell.

Liz is currently in the UK meeting a gang of friends, so had missed all this. The next day I had to take BB off the babies again to get photos for this blog and for Facebook and my poultry discussion forum. I quickly knocked together a 'verandah' for the nest box to prevent the problem we had last year of chicks falling out of the nest and, unable to get back in, getting chilled on the ground.

I used the verandah as a feeding platform to let the babies get at a small jar of water (you have to watch they can't drown themselves), a bowl of cold, hard boiled egg (with the shell chopped up really fine, egg is a good food supplement for the first couple of days) and some 'chick crumb'. Their Mum quickly shows them how to peck this up - she pecks gently with a crowd of baby beaks half an inch from her own like a scrum of fans round a celebrity.

Today the chicks are 3 days old and starting to get a bit too adventurous to be kept in the next box, even with the verandah (which worked perfectly, incidentally) so it was time to move them to a bigger space and, because it is a sunny, warm day (if a little windy), I decided that this could be one of the unused rabbit runs out on the grass. The grass is very short and the run gives them 2.5 m by 1 of run-around plus a nice cosy 'bedroom' into which I have put a shallow tray of nest hay where they can retreat at night. I covered the 'first' half metre or so of run with plastic sheet in case or rain. They LOVE this run and zoom about following Mum as she shows them how to scratch and what tasty morsels you can find among the grass by doing so. The rest of the chickens come and look curiously through the mesh at them.

On a more sombre note, this is also your chance to find out why the unhatched eggs did not 'work', cracking them open carefully over a compost heap (they can explode with decomposing filth!). Of my 4 I had 2 with no chick inside, just sloppy yolk and white, presumably infertile. One had a half-grown chick inside, he's presumably died along the way. My last had a fully formed but dead chick, fully feathered and with all the yolk sac absorbed. I am told that sometimes the chick can just get herself into a bad position where she can't open the egg from inside, or can be too weak to break the shell. These things happen. Generally 8 chicks from 12 eggs would be seen as a good successful clutch.

Meanwhile, in the Goose Department we now have Goocie (she with a few black feathers on her back) gone broody also as of the 25th. I cannot be 100% sure but I think this has also coincided with the other female (Goosey) coming off lay. Goocie appears to have adopted all eggs from both geese and is now sitting on 15. I did not get organised in time on the separation of the 2 ladies and this can cause nest-robbing. I have 2 hay boxes but they are too close, and Goocie has been able to drag all the eggs from the 'other box' up over the lip and into her nest, which she has now lined with breast feathers. Goosey seems to have now lost interest and spends all day out and about with Gander.

Geese incubate for 28-35 days according to (goose) size. It is quite normal for them to hop off the eggs twice a day for a bout 15-30 minutes each (Anne and Simon tell me). This lets the eggs cool down (which is needed) and gives the goose a chance to feed, bathe and get her breast nice and wet which suits the humidity needs of goose eggs. I had not actually seen her get off till today. I was sitting watching the new chicken-chicks and suddenly three geese waddled by. This gave me a chance to go check the hay boxes and see who had what and how many eggs were under Goocie (and get this photograph).

I have already said that the geese waddle about for the most part in a fairly sedate way but every now and then they get to honking excitedly and start running for 30 to 50 yards, wings flapping furiously. Nobody ever got airborne but it always struck me that with a good leading wind, it might happen. We call this 'going for a charge about'. It seems to have no purpose; they don't go anywhere except perhaps for the sheer joy of running, flapping and honking. Bizarre, but all part of being a goose. Today I was near the baby chicken run (again) and the 3 geese were out on the front lawn when they started the shouting and came racing through the gate by the kitchen garden, headed straight for the run, which is only 18 inches high. Goocie seemed to decide she'd not be able to stop in time, so with a hop and a skip, she took off and skimmed across the top of the run and landed the other side looking as amazed as I was! The other two geese thought better of it and pulled up with much excited honking. She had FLOWN! OK only 2 feet up and only for about 15 feet along, but there you were, an airborne goose!

 Back on earth I continue to excavate the pond and have now pulled out the biggest rock so far, this one maybe weighing more than me! I actually broke one of the shovels, not actually on this rock but trying to prise a smaller rock loose which was wedging this big one in place. The pond shape has 2 'bays' down one side with a small blunt 'headland' between the two, and we have decided that we can use this rock as a feature, our very miniature version of Howth Head.

And finally, I did manage to plant all my allocated trees on the big day but I think that country-wide it all went a bit pear shaped and I cannot see how they would have got anywhere NEAR the target of a million trees in the 24 hours. As far as I know, we all just got the 'starter packs' of "20" trees (mine actually had 27 in it) and nobody got their fruit or nut trees, hedging plants etc. We are possibly going to get these as a follow on order when the Project Team are through the panic and get sorted out but my suspicion is that the whole thing may be allowed to quietly fade away due to funding difficulties. I have planted mine in a good range of locations around this site, to close off a gateway, in some of the already existing beds, to extend a hedge, to fill gaps in another hedge and so on. Although the baby Scots Pines looked quite striking, all the other trees were unlabeled, anonymous 12-24 inch saplings, so are not easy to photograph till they have leaves on. Here, then, is a Scots Pine by the former gate into the 5 acre field.

27 planted. Only 999,973 to go?

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