As much as I’d love to be telling triumphant tales of success with my grey partridges this year, the season has held more tragedy than progress so far. I certainly let enthusiasm get the better of me when I bought my first clutch of partridge eggs, then faced the consequences of a cold, backward spring with little in the way of co-operation from the resident broody hens. Although the hen seemed keen, the nest was abandoned after a day or two and nothing was hatched from the first clutch. I am solely to blame for trying to rush things along when nature clearly had other plans.
The second batch of a dozen partridge eggs met the same fate a fortnight later, and again I suffered from an excess of enthusiasm, working with unfamiliar hens in less-than-perfect conditions. I candled the dozen to find that there were ten viable embryos but when the hatch date came, only one hatched off. The chick was crushed by the broody hen, who didn’t seem to have developed any rapport with her “offspring” and remained heavily broody for several days after it was obvious that the moment had passed.
It’s an unfathomable fact that some hens have the right attitude for rearing chicks and others just don’t get it. If it were simply a matter of personality, it would be easy to just get rid of the bad mothers, but I remember giving a clutch of spare eggs to a hen who had sat the previous year and had eaten every chick she had hatched. For some reason, that horrible glitch in her circuit board had resolved itself and she brought off and reared a strong brood of nine partridges without batting an eyelid. A related lesson was learnt when I experimented with an ex-battery hen from a rescue centre which unexpectedly went broody. Defying all expectations, she also hatched off a clutch of grey partridges and was a superb (if slightly large) mother.
I had the option to salvage one or two eggs from the second clutch which were pipping their shells, but decided against it – I was never blessed with the kind of “green fingers” necessary to rear game birds successfully in totally artificial conditions (heat lamps etc), and in terms of the end-product, I’d rather have broody-reared chicks or no chicks at all. Perhaps that is harsh or wasteful, but it’s a decision made from bitter experience. In due course, these chicks simply died without hatching.
In the meantime, the spring has progressed enough that I now have a really good broody hen sitting perfectly in a good spot. I’ve ordered more eggs, started them in the incubator and will soon set her down on them. This might finally be my moment for success, and perhaps it should be no surprise that this clutch should hatch at around the same date wild partridges will be bringing off their broods. Lesson learnt – more haste, less speed.
By the by, while I am yet to hatch off any eggs, the fertility rates for eggs which have been sent through the post have been surprisingly good. In previous years I’ve struggled to hatch even ten or fifteen percent of some eggs bought on the internet, but this year I reckon over eighty percent of my eggs have been viable. Many people rightly stay away from posted eggs, and there’s no doubt that it can be very hit or miss. It seems that partridge eggs are particularly vulnerable in the post, and while they are invariably well packaged to avoid breaking shells, even a slight bump can dislocate the air sack and irreparably damage the egg. I’ve been lucky this year, but I hope that I’ll be able to keep back a few pairs and produce eggs of my own for 2018.