It gives me some considerable pleasure to report that the first hatch of my “home-bred” grey partridges took place on Thursday. The hatch was due to happen on Tuesday, but when the moment of arrival came and went, I began to get worried. The eggs had all pipped, but there was nothing to be seen in the way of fuzzy chicks. With dreadful flashbacks to the Great Grey Partridge Disaster of 2012, I began to fret that I had again produced healthy chicks which could not get out of their shells. Rather than repeat the thoroughly unpleasant process of “helping the chicks”, I took some comfort in the fact that if they weren’t going to make it, the broodie hen would make the decision for me. Nothing is more sordid than trying to peel off shells from struggling chicks, when every false move with the tweezers brings out beads of blood which soon becomes a sticky mess. All the while, the poor chick is wondering whether or not the slim chance of healthy survival is a good gamble to take against otherwise certain death. You may be able to tell that my disasters last year have made me a little jaded about artificial incubation, so when the first of this year’s eggs pipped and then stalled, I began to worry that history was repeating itself regardless of the fact that it is all done under hens now.
On Friday morning, I opened the door on the first broodie with all the ginger anxiety of a bomb disposal expert. As the door swung open, a bundle of chicks tumbled out onto the grass as if they were staging a pitch invasion. It was actually quite a task to gather them up, and I quickly set up my new coop so that the new family could be relocated out of their sitting box. Eleven eggs hatched out of a clutch of twelve, and one of the chicks seemed like a wrong’un from the word go. It couldn’t walk or move around, and sure enough it died on Friday night.
But that leaves ten partridge chicks, all full of spice and mischief. They seem to be turbo charged, and they gobble up every scrap of crumb that they’re given. The coop opens onto a square foot of grass so that they can get out and stretch their legs, and even at three days old they are already staging dramatic “flash mobs”, in which they charge out together and scramble around before vanishing quickly back inside the coop and under their adopted mother.
Months of work have gone into these partridges, and the successful production of my first chicks is quite a badge of honour. What started out as a project to teach me some breeding basics so that I could ultimately produce black grouse chicks has turned into a small victory of its own.