It all started last week when the boys and I were outside clearing brush and gathering wood scraps etc. for a bonfire. We tore down a small pile of scraps and threw them into the wheelbarrow and what did we find underneath but one of our large laying hens setting on 18(!) eggs. Yikes! One of the eggs was cracked pretty badly when we moved the wood, and inside we found a nearly mature chick. The rest of the eggs survived but the mama hen ran off when we moved the scraps and joined the all the others that looked just like her! Now what?! We had a pile of exposed eggs in the center of the chicken yard, and no way to tell who mama was, plus it was getting ready to storm and we couldn't put the wood scraps back in a way that would be adequate to protect her and the eggs from the elements. We waited for a while hoping to see which hen came back to care for the eggs, but none did, and the sky was getting blacker and blacker and the thunder had started up in earnest.
We carefully gathered the eggs up and put them in Matthew's shirt, and he carried them into the chicken coop. We put the eggs in one of the nest boxes and grabbed a little bitty banty hen. (Side note: about 2 weeks ago we let one of our little banty hens go broody. She was setting on her 5 little eggs faithfully and we were looking forward to watching the mama hen with her chicks in another week. Her identical twin also wanted in on the action and sat in the empty nest box next to her sister every day even though I didn't leave any eggs under her, she still sat as if she had a bunch of eggs there.) So we placed the egg-less banty hen on top of all 17 large eggs and she was thrilled! She settled right down clucking and cooing to her new brood, gathering them carefully closer with her beak. She was so little she could barely cover them all.
We have no idea when these eggs began to be incubated, thus no way of knowing if they will all hatch at the same time. (For those of you who don't already know, chickens will usually lay one egg a day without trying to incubate them until they feel like they have laid enough to raise a good size family, then they will stop laying and begin sitting on them so that all of the eggs will hatch on the same day. That is called going broody. Usually 21 days after beginning incubation the eggs will all hatch within a few hours of each other. But if you have more than one hen (we have several!) they often lay eggs in each other's nests, so we have no way of knowing if these eggs are from one hen, or several hens, possibly laid long after the incubation process was begun on the initial batch of eggs.
When I snapped this picture this afternoon there where already 5 chicks hatched. And when I went out to check on them after dark there where 9 totally hatched and several more just starting to crack their eggs. I can't wait to see how many we have in the morning! Once she gets off the nest with the chicks that have hatched, I am thinking I might stick any remaining eggs under the other banty that still has a week left to incubate her eggs and see if we get any more little ones that way. I hate to just leave the fertilized eggs to be abandoned after being incubated for who knows how long.
The boys where thrilled with the surprise chicks! And now I finally know why I have been getting fewer eggs for the past couple of weeks. I thought it was the heat making them less inclined to lay, but instead they apparently had raising families on their little chicken brains!