Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Body Heat.

A couple of days ago I posted that our hard working broody, Broody Betty was back in the mood, but this time, with nothing to sit on except our rubber dummy-eggs. We've done with 'breeding' this year and have enough chickens at the moment so our first thought was to try to break her of the habit this time, which you do by keep on lifting her off the nest, clearing it of eggs and not leaving her in peace. In theory the humour to sit leaves the hen after a few days and she goes back to the flock and her egg-laying duties.

Then we had  a second thought, that Mentor Anne might have a 'use' for her. Anne hatches a lot more 'stuff' in general than we do, and her incubator is generally working hard for quite a long season. It turned out that, yes, Anne had ten duckling eggs she could put under Betty so that is what we have now done. These are of the duck variety 'Indian Runner Ducks' which I will get a photograph of soon. They are slim and have their legs well back under their belly so that they walk very upright compared to other ducks. The eggs will take 28 days to hatch (so they are due on Mon 22nd July) and have to be sprayed with tepid water daily while given a 10-15 minute cooling period, simulating the mother duck's need to go off the nest for toiletry reasons and returning with a wet belly where she will have been swimming. The ducklings, once hatched, will be returned to Anne for growing on. Incidentally the locals call a broody hen a "clocky hen" or "clocker".  

We had another rabbit drama this morning - I went round feeding and releasing on my 'ward round' and was horrified to discover two tiny white, very still babies in Goldie's run, out on the grass. We understand now that this is not that uncommon with 'free range' rabbits. The mother rabbit will get up from a session suckling babies but the babies will not let go of the teats, so they can get dragged out of the nest. In the wild they would get rubbed off as the mother squeezed down the burrow tunnels, and in the nest box you build a 'wall' 5 inches or so high to help 'knock them off' but this does not always work and Mum can still have babies attached as she hops over this. Unlike cats and dogs, rabbits are unable to pick up their babies safely by the scruff and bring them back home - they have sharp, opposing incisor teeth.

Anyway, one of these tiny mites was cold and still, obviously dead from the chilly night, but the other which I at first thought was also dead moved very slightly in my hand, a barely discernible push on the back legs and a slight opening of the mouth as if drawing the last gasp. Knowing that what you can do with chickens and lambs is get them warm and they may recover, I pushed the little mite down inside my dressing gown so that he was against my belly down by the waist band of my dressing gown feeling the warmth of my skin and I carried on with my rounds, sorting everybody else out. I was pleased to feel that the baby bun started to struggle. Coming back indoors the next job was to take Liz up her tea, so I couldn't resist a little tease - "How warm are you in that bed?" Very! Why? "Are there bits of you that are warmer than others bits?" etc. Eventually I produced the tiny furry form from inside my dressing gown and gave it to Liz to warm up properly. I promise you, this is not a euphemism! After half an hour down among Liz's 'warm bits' the bunny was struggling like a good one and, she thought, starting to nuzzle about looking for mum's milk-bar.

Meanwhile we decided that allowing Goldie to nurse these babies in her chosen upstairs hutch nest was just too risky. This was twice now that we had found babies on the grass. We decided to risk moving her and the nest into the 3rd of the runs I had built now that it was no longer required by the young chickens. We managed this move without trouble and installed the little rescued, warmed up baby into the new 'bedroom'. We counted 6 more babies, plus our rescue, making 7 in a variety of colours. All seems to be well with that family now and Goldie seems quite calm and cool with the move. These babies are still only 12 days old and with their eyes still shut so they are way too young to be out of the nest.

I promised you a picture of the darker eggs being produced by our two new 'Marans' hens. It is above on the left. Mentor Anne tells us that if these ladies had been producing the really dark shade of egg (Marans eggs go right through to a deep plain-chocolate colour) then it might have been worth obtaining a Marans rooster - the dark-egg birds are much sought after. Ours, it seems, are only mid-range colour so are not that special and can relax in our flock enjoying the company of our Sussex Ponte rooster, William. We have no intention of breeding from these two.


Anne Wilson said...

Hope the baby bun makes it OK, rabbits can be very carless mothers.

Matt Care said...

Still OK by today (Thursday 27th)