I took a final round of the chicken shed on Tuesday evening. 17:45 Cornish Foggy Time. Strictly, it might not have been fog – we get a certain amount of meteorological identity theft here. Big, lazy clouds that have hung around over the moor drift our way and can’t be bothered to keep above eight hundred feet. It doesn’t matter – fog or cloud, after dark the chickens are all quiet. The perfect time to lift the lid on Leopard Neck’s nest box and just listen.
Leopard Neck is a spotty hen, and the second to be given the name. Unlike many of our hen names, it still makes sense, because she has mottled neck feathers. We have another hen called Dark Penguin who looks nothing like a penguin, except for the first couple weeks when she was a black bundle of fluff with a white bib. Now she’s a mottled brown hen with attitude. So Leopard Neck, in the box, doing the low growling rattle that says go away, I’m broody.
On Tuesday morning, Leopard Neck came out and did the usual broody hen routine, grab whatever food she could, make loud clucking noises, and drop a breath-stopping pile of poo, before rushing back to sit on her eggs. A mere nine hours later, in the evening, in the dark, I heard cheeping. There was no way to tell how many voices, but this was perfect timing, spot on the notional twenty-one days for hen’s eggs to hatch.
On Wednesday morning, we went to take a proper look. Hatching time is a bit of a balancing act – the hen and chicks know what they’re doing, so it’s best not to interfere. On the other hand, things do go wrong – an egg in the wrong position, or caught up inside the empty shell from an early-starter. So, I reached under and pulled out each egg for inspection, and disposed of the empties.
As of 09:30 Cornish Rainy Time we knew that at least two had hatched, that another had made the first break in the shell, and that one of the chicks was pale yellow. Then it was time to walk away and leave them to it.
|It's too early in the morning for a photo-call|
Mid-afternoon, we went back to check progress once more and Leopard Neck grumbled something which loosely translates as go away. Instead, I had another reach under and removed more empties. It turns out that as of 16:00 Cornish Hail Time, we had five out of eight hatched, and they were cute.
|Is anyone else still under there?|
OK, that’s not really news. Chicks are always cute. Just like lambs, goslings... in fact pretty much anything newly born around the farm is cute. So it’s not news – just enjoy the cute, the sense of the new year really getting started.
In the dim and distant past – at least four years ago – we would open the nest box and let Leopard Neck get on with the business of leading her chicks out to explore the world. These days we have young, vigorous hunting cats always on the look-out for a bite-sized chicken nugget. So, rather than the outside world, they get the greenhouse and a fresh nest box, just until the chicks know how to keep up with Mum.
It’s easy enough to do. Catch the chicks one by one and put them in a big flower pot. (Give it another day or two and they would be too fast.) Then pick up a very grumpy broody hen and carry the whole set round to the greenhouse to decant into the new nest box.
|It's going to be so much easier if we all go round the same way.|
Job done. Hen and chicks in their new home. Stand back and enjoy the cuteness.
|Yes, fine, but where is the en-suite?|
What could be better? It’s February today, the days are getting longer, and our first chicks are hatched and doing well. It’s enough to make anyone cheerful.