Life and death drama in the broody coop

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Back to earth with a bump this week, after the giddy heights of ballooning across the beautiful Borders countryside.

And back to the chooks. You might remember we had two broodies on clutches of eggs, who were sitting tight. The last few days before hatching day are always full of anticipation. The YMs badger Gamford every time he sets foot in the chicken run for news: “Any chicks yet?”

There’s nothing like opening a broody’s coop and hearing the tell-tale sound of ‘peep, peep, peep’ coming from deep under her feathers. And so, the cycle of life rolls on.

The eggs placed carefully under the hens have hatched.

Or rather, some of them have. Nature is amazingly, fantabulously brilliant, but occasionally she grabs us by the you-know-what and gives us a wee reminder of her awesone power.

The first wee one to hatch turned out to be the only one to hatch for its surrogate mum, one of our home-bred hens. I saw the crack in the egg the afternoon before and, sure enough, the next morning the chick was out. Just. It was huge. But it was wet and bedraggled, and it just lay there, cheeping pitifully. The cheeping put me on my guard, but all chicks are pretty damp and weak when they first hatch, so that wasn’t too worrying.

But it didn’t look good. Even Gamford shook his head, and admitted he thought it was a goner.

Another check later on revealed wee chick to be dry, but still peeping and lying pretty listlessly on its side. To make matters worse, mum had done a big, smelly, broody poop right beside it, and it was now covered in this.

For the uninitiated, a broody’s poop, only done every few days when absolutely necessary, so mum can hurry back to her eggs, is totally disgusting. A cross between the smell of drains on a hot day and fox poop, with the consistency of thick soup. Delightful.

Poor wee scone, not only was he struggling, but he was now coated in toxic poop. I was sure this wouldn’t be making him feel any better, so I got a tiny plastic pot and put lukewarm water in it, and took it out to the coop. After a bath and dry-off with kitchen roll, I gave him some sugar water via a needle-less syringe, Gamford cleaned the nest area and popped him back under mum. Sink or swim. We’d done our best, now it was up to mum.

The next check revealed him up and about, unsteady on his pins. Tottering, but upright and moving. And at the next check, mum was eating and wee chick started to copy and took his first beakfuls of chick crumb.

Its shaky start was probably due, I’m thinking, to its size and being crammed into its egg. It took just a day to get over it and get going.

Now, on Day Three, it is out in the broody coop run with its mum, still vocal and cheeping a fair bit, but its scratching in the dirt and running about, just as it should.

Ain’t nature grand.