Tiny Chicks

We had a remarkable event in the last few weeks. Over the years we have had occasional broody hens. This means that a hen who has been reliably laying eggs every day suddenly gets sulky and sits still for several weeks, without eating, drinking or laying eggs. If she survives she eventually quits her broodiness and returns to the flock and to laying. Broodiness is treated as a bother in laying flocks because it obviously reduces egg production. There is lots of information about “breaking broodiness” in books about chicken care. So we had allowed ourselves to be irritated by broodiness as henowners are supposed to be. But this year we had a better idea.

An active Aracauna rooster had come to us by accident the last time we ordered chicks from the hatchery. He grew up and has been our rooster for several months, leading the hens to food (as if they needed that) and regularly fertilizing them. We also have several Aracauna hens who all lay green or blue eggs, so we could easily tell which eggs are Aracaunas. So when one of the hens went broody and made a nest in the hay barn, we had a brainstorm. Let her have some fertile Aracauna eggs under her and see what happens.

Well, it takes 21 days of brooding to hatch eggs. So we waited, not very patiently. She kept grabbing nearby eggs and worked her way up to 23 eggs! She had to spread out so far to cover them all that she looked like a dinner plate with a chicken’s head sticking out of the middle! So we removed all but 10 and marked them to allow us to check every day and remove the new ones she had stolen. She gradually settled down to her task and brooded. She lay on the eggs all the time without moving, eyes closed, apparently dead except she was warm and would react defensively when we picked her up to remove the new eggs. How do they live without eating or drinking that long?

Anyway, eventually after three weeks one of the eggs started to peep, then a little hole appeared and got larger and larger, and then another egg started to peep and so forth. After a couple of days five little bright-eyed chicks were hopping and cheeping in the nest. The change in the hen was amazing! She returned to life with a snap. She sat up looking about fiercely. Her energy popped back. Her eyes got bright again. The next day she led them off the nest and showed them how to peck and scratch and find food and drink (we helped out by putting a little chick feeder and chick waterer near the nest). She covered the babies up again at night and led them about during the day, showing them how to be chickens. We didn’t have to do anything! They ornament our whole yard and lawn. She brings them out while she looks about vigilantly. Up, down and all about she stares, fiercely guarding them. They are doing well. For the first week or so she sat over them at night in a corner of the henhouse. Then one night we couldn’t see her as we went out to close them up at dusk. David looked all around and was amazed to find them up in one of the nest boxes, at last two feet off the ground with no obvious way for the little chicks to get up there. We are going to do a stake-out at dusk one of these evenings when we have time, so we can see how on earth she gets them up there. What a mystery. What a miracle it all is. An every day miracle. Farming.

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