The time for collecting eggs to hatch is almost upon us.
Once again we have decided that we will put Henry and a specific group of hens in a separate pen for a few days, so we know whose eggs we are collecting. We had planned this meticulously last year, only to have our plans scuppered by DH having to go parent sitting, Norman going broody, and the timing going out of the window.
We started a rather circular discussion with "where are we going to put them". My view was that we should take Tilda's now unused Go down to the allotment for a few days. This means that no one needs to be ejected from their chosen coop. Well, apart from the Girls we want to breed from.
DH wanted to use one of the existing coops, but I didn't want to stress anyone out by stopping their access to their chosen coop and forcing them to try and bed down elsewhere. I knew from the poo piles that all the coops were in use, and I had a reasonable idea of how many were using each coop.
We then went round the "who were you thinking of", "where were you thinking of", "how many were you thinking of" loop, arriving full circle because it all kinda depends.
We would very much like to breed from Norman. She and her two sisters (Siouxsie Sioux and Not Norman) are our oldest hens, and are completely unrelated to the rest of the flock. They are lovely, tiny, birds. Norman, however, is possibly not fertile. At least one of the three of them is definitely laying eggs (they are small and distinctive), but we don't know who it is. So, we'd better include one of Norman's sisters as well. Now, if they produce girls, we'll keep them (the girls I mean. Of course we're keeping Norman and her sisters). If the resulting chicks are boys they will have to be for the table. And there might not be any at all.
We also want to breed from Nora or Batty. These sisters are also unrelated to Henry, our cockerel. They are a year younger than Norman. Resulting Girls might be kept, boys will be for the table. It's good to keep the different bloodline in play before we lose it.
And we want to produce table birds from the Welsh Blacks. These are Henry's sisters so any chicks, irrespective of gender, will be for the table. In my mind I was only going to breed from one ("Gorgeous", who is the spitting image of Poppy one of my Garden Girls), DH was thinking of more. The girls from last year's hatch are all too young.
We'd need to have quite a few eggs, just in case. Last year we had only a 50% fertility rate, but that was because Henry has far too many wives to manage from a breeding point of view. Separating him so he has access to only a few girls should give the best chance of fertility.
The Go would be big enough to accommodate Henry, Norman, Batty and Gorgeous for a few nights. If we were adding at least one more Welsh Black and one of Norman's sisters, it wouldn't be.
In the end I decided I'd have to go down at night and see who was sleeping where, then we could see who would be displaced in whatever scenario. No time like the present, so I waited for sunset last night, and set off.
I was a little surprised at what I found.
I started with Mrs' rickety old coop. We had planned to take this one out when we built a new coop, but Mrs liked this one, she was ancient, and we didn't want to disturb her. After she died we could see that it was still being used by 2 girls (although we had no idea who).
No one was sleeping in the nest box. Inside, at opposite ends of the perch, was DarkPinkRing (Welsh Black), and Siouxsie. Siouxsie wasn't a surprise, but DarkPinkRing was. I had expected her to be in the Shed along with Henry and the rest of his main harem.
Next was the 'new' coop, the one DH built. Nora, who has been broody for days, was in one of the nest boxes on one side. Norman was in one of the nestboxes on the other side. Inside the coop was NotNorman, and one of the youngsters! That was an even bigger surprise than finding DarkPink in Mrs' coop.
In the Cube, no surprises - the remaining 4 youngsters.
Just to make sure I hadn't missed anyone (they could have been sleeping outside), I checked the shed. Henry, his 5 other sisters, and Batty were dozing on their perches.
It was definitely an exercise worth doing. We'll use the new coop. Norman and NotNorman are already there; the youngster will have to sleep with her hatch-mates; and Nora is bossy enough to push her way into one of the other coops.
So now we just need to section it off, finally agree on who's going to be in there, and put the plan into action.
And hope that Norman and Batty don't go broody in the meantime.