I can't tell you what a great thing it is to know a few local farmers on first-name basis. I get all kinds of benefits from my acquaintance with them, and being a paying customer for the foods they produce is just the tip of the iceberg. Last year my farming friend offered up a disabled turkey poult, and we had the experience of raising it for our table. She also sends pork jowls my way for free because her customers don't want them. So I get to turn them into guanciale.
This time we'll get a broody hen with some heritage breed fertile eggs under her. The idea is that we'll foster her and give her a place to rear her chicks. After that we might split the chicks with the farmer providing the hen. I've toyed with the idea of raising chicks before, but could never motivate myself to place an order and then buy necessary equipment to set up a brooder for them. Being a surrogate chicken mother has just never appealed. The alternative - a broody hen with good mothering instincts sounded fantastic. Such a hen is all the equipment needed to rear chicks. But my laying hens are production model Red Stars with no mothering instinct, and besides, I have no interest in keeping a rooster. I'm pretty sure my neighbors have their limits in my residential setting. So the out-of-the-blue offer of a broody hen was another fantastic opportunity just dropped into my lap through the magic of personal acquaintance with farmers.
After last year's turkey+honey bees infraction, I'm trying to stick to my one new species per year rule this year. The Black Soldier Fly is going to be this year's unglamorous species of choice. But a broody hen with chicks is all sorts of excitement without rule breaking. Chickens we know. Chickens we've done. The brooding-hatching-rearing process is entirely new to us, but it still falls within my self-imposed and sanity-preserving limitation. So I'm psyched! Our homestead will be host to a new phase of animal husbandry. At least I hope. I'm bearing in mind that old adage about counting chickens. I'm especially eager to see this process through because in the back of my mind I've thought about using a bantam hen to brood quail eggs and rear the young, should I ever decide to try my hand at quail. (Domesticated quail aren't known for their mothering skills.) Working with a broody hen ahead of time seems like the smart move.
Details are still a bit unclear as to the timing and other issues. Sometime around the middle of the month we should take delivery of a broody girl and "her" eggs. They may not all be hers biologically, but I'm pretty sure she'll feel rather proprietary about them. I don't know whether the farmer will want the hen back with the chicks, or whether he'll want us to keep her. Details should be forthcoming eventually; farmers are busy people. In the meantime, a small DIY project is on the agenda. I'm guessing she and her chicks will do best with a separate space from our layers. At the very least she'll need her own nesting box for her fertile eggs. I figure she and her chicks can use the poultry schooner while the other hens are kept in the mobile pen and coop.
I find myself wild with the hope that the brooding experiment works out. I am uncharacteristically excited about all the potential cuteness of tiny chicks. It's a good thing that they go through an ugly phase as they grow and molt for the first time. I'm not sure yet whether we'll keep any of the female hatchlings. We definitely won't keep any males, though if the farmer doesn't want them either we could always turn them into meat and chicken stock.
As for our current layers, if you were waiting for details on their conversion to canned meat and chicken stock due to the egg-eating habit, they've been given a stay of execution. Securing a small number of layers this time of year isn't proving easy, and I don't want to get rid of the ones we've got before I know we can replace them. The egg-eating has also eased up a bit lately, though I'm not at all convinced the problem is solved. I'm keeping them for at least a couple more weeks as I try to figure out where the next layers will come from.