I have met the pleading eyes of my son; I’ve turned away from the batting of my daughter’s eyelashes; I’ve ignored the quickened beating of my own heart; I’ve walked away from the feed store again and again, empty-handed. I’ve done it so far: I have resisted buying new chicks this spring. I have–I think–several good reasons.
- We’ve got an excellent laying flock, and we are getting buckets and buckets of eggs every day and I’m not really wanting to cull this flock in the fall, as is my usual wont. I think I’ll keep them on for another year. I just can’t butcher chickens in their prime!
- Raising chicks is Just One More Thing for me this spring, and I’m a bit behind the way it is, and feeling a bit overwhelmed. (What’s new, eh?)
- Our coop is crowded!
- We were planning a trip in May, and I was loathe to have brand-new chicks for our hired help (thanks Mom) to watch over while we were gone.
- That’s quite enough reasons to justify walking doggedly away from the new chicks, isn’t it? Do I really need a fifth?
But it has been a hard lesson in self-control. Every time we’re in Orscheln’s, we have to walk toward that peeping sound, we do–and we gaze at the cheeping handfuls of fluff. They are so dear. We always have to scoop up a chick or two and hold them up to our faces. So sweet. So soft. If only my coop were bigger. If only I actually needed more chicks. If only, if only. If only we had a little island in the middle of the pond where our waterfowl could huddle and be safe from the fox, I’d buy some ducklings, too.
And then. Yesterday morning, I had a big surprise meet me in the chicken yard. Actually, 7 little, yet big, surprises. With their mama.
Can you guess what it was, Gentle Reader?
Well, I’m gonna tell you, but first, a bit of chicken-keeping lore: It happens every now and then, but very, very rarely at our place: an entrepreneurial and crafty and doggedly broody hen hides away her nest for several weeks, laying eggs day by day until she has a clutch of them, and then she sits on that nest for 21 days(ish) and hatches out her own family. In secret.
And then, I’m sure she gets up and does a happy dance, because this is a difficult feat, at every level. (This, I would imagine, is the original Chicken Dance.)
When she is convinced that the chicks need to get out and learn a bit about Life, like how to eat and drink, and scratch, and chase bugs, and so forth, she emerges from her hiding place–Triumphant! Glorious! Victorious! A Champion over modern breeding techniques which attempt to make good laying stock, but never encourage broodiness. A wonder! A modern-day Miracle! Proudly she shepherds her miraculous little family across the yard, looking for food and warmth, and protection from the farm cats and dogs.
This is a very unusual occasion most places, these days, but especially at our house for three very important reasons:
- Our hens–broody or not–99% of the time lay their eggs in the coop, and we pick them up (the eggs). If I decide to let a broody hen have her way and try her hand (so to speak) at hatching eggs, I will first try to move her (and her clutch of eggs) to a separate room, the “nursery” part of our coop, so she won’t be bothered by the other hens while she is sitting on her eggs. If she won’t put up with this treatment (most times, she won’t), she won’t succeed at hatching her eggs, because the other hens will bully her and lay eggs where she is sitting and all is lost at that point, new-chick-wise.
- Bea. Our rascally dog will sniff out hidden nests of eggs and eat them. Bah!! So if eggs are laid outside the coop, well, you see the problem. Fat and happy Bea. Sad hen with an empty nest. (By the way, ask me if you want to hear the story of how we tried to cure Bea from eating our goose’s eggs. And if we succeeded. And where hot mustard comes in to the tale. And cayenne. And, if it worked.)
- We have 5 farm cats, which have the run of the place. They are all good mousers, and given the opportunity, good chickers. ‘Nuff said, eh?
But now and then an unusually crafty hen will hide a nest so cleverly that Bea won’t be able to find it, and the cats will leave it alone too, and then she may succeed at hatching out her own chicks.
And this is always a surprise and a delight to us all.
So it was yesterday morning. Recovering from the flu, preparing for a funeral, I was getting ready to trudge out to the chicken yard with my mom, who had stopped by and took one look at my face (You’ve lost weight! Things must be bad!) and insisted on helping me with my chicken chores. It was cold, gray, and windy. I was cold, gray, and . . . . well. . . I was cold and gray, too.
I’m a blessed daughter, and don’t think I don’t know it. (Thanks, Mom.)
And what before my wondering eyes appeared, but 7 delightful little chicks, with their Mama, Lulu, a white Americauna hen who had been exhibiting some strange behavior. Hiding out at night. Showing up every morning, very early, before I even let the chickens out of their coop for the day. Clucking around the fence line for her breakfast after I let the chickens out. Disappearing for big chunks of the day altogether. Yup. Mysterious.
Here’s the cool thing: she had hidden a nest so skillfully that Amalia and Grandma were hard-pressed to even find it, when I sent them to make sure that there weren’t any fluffy stragglers left behind. This little mama had to lead her new family through a morass of hay bales, through our junk-filled shed, across the cat-filled pasture, to get to the chicken yard. And they made it!
We are so happy with this new family! It feels to be a peculiar and distracting blessing, at the end of a hard week for us. I can’t wait to show everybody, especially my granddaughter Anya. She’ll be entranced by these babies, I just know it.
Mom and I scrambled to find a chick feeder and waterer, and to put some fresh bedding in the nursery for the new family.
But wait, like any good grandma I’ve got a couple of pictures to show you!
I’m pretty sure that I’ll have a few more pictures to share with you, Gentle Readers, in the days to come. Maybe a few (cough) hundred. Thanks again for reading!
I’ll be sharing this post with the nice folks over at The Prairie Homestead. Come on over!
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