Saturday, June 6, 2009

Everything But the Chicken Sink

You gotta love those chickens.

This one in particular-- the hen previously known as "Soapy Two" but recently renamed "Mighty Hera" by my eldest who is on a Greek god kick of sorts-- spent the better part of a month huddled in the a non-functioning utility sink willing the hatch of her 6 eggs. And she managed it too. A few days ago we found four little fuzzies hanging out in the sink with her. So far, so good. It was refreshing, we thought, to have babies around without the need for added vigilance or care. "Mighty Hera" would do the rest, right?

Ah, but we overestimated the chicken mind. After four more days of sink sitting, Hera gave up on the last two eggs and leapt down to the barn floor. One of the chicks leapt after her, landing in a plastic tub of sheep minerals, and the others remained in the sink, all of them shrieking high-pitched little chick shrieks. Hera also started up clucking and calling, but without opposable thumbs (or thumbs at all... or hands for that matter) there wasn't much she could do. That's how we found them yesterday. All in a tizzy.

We scooped the chicks out of the sink and mineral tub and set them on the floor by their mama and all was well, right? Not exactly. Mighty Hera is a young hen, a Partridge Rock from last summer's mail order batch. And she was clearly as stressed out and clueless as any other new mother. I felt some sympathy for the girl, remembering the days when a trip to the store with my squalling newborn seemed to involve more energy and knowhow than a hike up Mount Everest. I swear Hera had that same glazed look in her eye as she anxiously strode the barn scratching up tidbits for her chicks in the deep sheepy bedding. She led them to the waterer and to the piles of chick starter I put out, all with one wing raised to shield them. We left the little family to their own devices. Happy ending, right?

Well. Not exactly. After dusk, Dan went down to the barn to close up the duck brooder, top off the pigs and check on the new family. He found Mighty Hera squatting in her sink, fluffed as in the manner of hens when warming a batch of chicks. It seemed a little strange, he thought. That the babies made it the 4 vertical feet into the sink but such was the miracle of mothering. (Have I mentioned that my guy is the family optimist, the one who can look at a strung together, herky-jerky fence with a foot wide gap at the bottom and declare that oh, the sheep won't break loose, where would they want to go?) He returned to report that Hera and her babies were safe and sound in the sink.

I am a lot more cynical than my better half. I was sure there was no way those babies made it back into the sink. However, this is a FAMILY farm-- emphasis on FAMILY-- and it was past 8 and I was desperately trying to get dinner on the table... (Yep, we're more than a little disorganized over here this time of year...). Dan went back to check out the situation more thoroughly. He was gone a long time, a very long time.

When he returned, he told us (We were all seated around the dinner table by then) that the chicks were NOT under Mighty Hera at all and that he had searched every corner of the barn for the chicks. (Here I got that sinking feeling in my gut. Yes, death is part of "life on the farm" but it is never an easy part-- even when you are talking a batch on unanticipated and not really needed sink chickens)

But all was not lost. Dan said he'd found the chicks under "Brave Sara", our other barn broody. More sensibly, Sara-- a mothering veteran-- had chosen to brood her batch of eggs on the floor of the barn.

So, best we can figure it, after a day spent on red alert guarding and guiding her chicks about the barn, Mighty Hera spaced it and tucked herself in for the night just as the temperatures started to dip into the serious chick danger zone. (Feel free to start humming that old 70's song about here: "Yoooouu left me, just when I needed you most..." We did.) I can imagine the ruckus those four chilled chicks put up (Chicks can holler when they need to) before they found comfort under Brave Sara's bosom. Either that, or the chicks tucked under Brave Sara first and Hera, abandoned by her brood, decided to call it a night.

At any rate. All is fine on Maggie's Farm. Morning found the little family happily reunited. This is the second time we've encountered co-parenting in our poultry. I wonder if this is typical of chickens everywhere. Anybody?


Cheap Like Me said...

Now we know where the insult "bird brain" comes from. At least they are trying to be nurturing!

Jaime Hansen said...

Every time I talk with Jill, I have to visit your website/farm to see how things are going. Thanks for being there.