Now that the partridges are laying with some gusto, I’m having some trouble keeping on top of them. In theory, I am supposed to let the hens lay a clutch of eggs before removing them all and putting them under a broodie hen. In the absence of her first clutch, the hen will then lay a second which can be duly removed once it is fully laid. It’s not uncommon for this to happen three times in a season and makes for a large quantity of eggs from each pair.
However (there was obviously going to be a big “however”), my partridge hens don’t seem to want to lay clutches. All four hens have done different things, and none of them seem to have read the GWCT book. Discounting one hen who still hasn’t started laying yet, I’ve got one hen who has scraped out four different nest sites and then refuses to lay eggs in any of them. Her eggs are scattered across the whole pen and I have to keep taking them out as she is laying them incase they get cracked or trampled. The other two hens lay all over the place, but when I take their eggs out to protect them, it seems to throw them off balance and they skip a day’s laying afterwards.
I experimented with plastic dummy eggs to guide their efforts, but the closest eggs I could get in terms of size get were meant for pigeons. They are too big and white, and it doesn’t seem to fool the partridges – perhaps it seems obvious, but my experiences with dummy eggs are based on hens which will happily try and brood golf-balls. I thought that the partridges would be just as forgiving, but when I first swapped the eggs around, these white dummy eggs were kicked all over the place as part of a symbolic rejection. Painting them brown with airfix paint (my office now smells like my childhood bedroom), I had some success, but not every hen is convinced. Everytime I replace the eggs laid by the hen in the front garden, she kicks the plastic eggs all over the place and makes a new nest elswhere. Only one hen is totally taken in by the ruse, and unlike the others, she carefully buries her plastic clutch under a covering of hay so that they are never easy to find.
Given that partridges are a great deal more intelligent that I imagined, I have had to go online to buy specialist grey partridge dummy eggs which appear (to my eye) totally identical to the real thing. The first dozen eggs went into the incubator this morning. I will keep them in for three days so that I can candle them and thin out the duds, after which they will go under one of two sussex-silkies which are busily brooding away in the new broodie box.