The hens have not had good luck this year raising chicks. Twice that I know of, a hen sat on a clutch of eggs for the full 21 days (or longer) and then abandoned them when nothing hatched. I don't know why nothing hatched - the roosters have surely been doing their job. A little too vigorously, I might add, with much squawking and flying of feathers. One or two of the hens are looking quite bare about the withers, a sure sign that we have too many roosters for too few hens.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
After the two nest failures, I began shooing away any hens I saw sitting on eggs, and trying to collect all the eggs every day. A large percentage of my hens are broody breeds, and unless I break them up, I just don't have very many eggs during the summer months. I hate feeding twenty-some odd hens and collecting only three or four eggs a day. That's just silly.
There was one hen I didn't shoo, because I didn't know how long she had been sitting when I found her. She was up on a high shelf in the mama barn. On the day that we stuffed the mama barn with hay, I thought to myself, I'd better send the kids up there with a pillowcase and get her and those eggs into a better place - but we never did it. All I did was leave a window open so the hen could get in and out to eat and drink.
This morning, when I went out to feed the animals, I saw the mother hen outside with a bunch of babies - tiny little fluffy just hatched babies. A couple of quick counts left me fairly sure there were seven of them. I was extremely impressed - the journey from high shelf to outside cannot have been easy. Alas, I can't find the cord to my camera, so I can't show you exactly how difficult the journey was, but let me try to explain.
After the babies hatched, they had to follow their mama down off the high shelf and onto the tops of the stacked hay. Then they had to traverse the hay bales - a journey across several frightening crevasses that a chick, if it fell into, would be entirely incapable of climbing out of. Upon reaching the open window, the mama hen would have flown out and onto the ground; a paltry drop, for her, of about four and a half feet. But the chicks would have to have hurled themselves willy-nilly out into the unknown and tumbled unwittingly onto the hard-packed earth.
What courage! What valiance! I'm not being sarcastic here, I'm honestly moved by the determination it took for this mother hen to get her babies out into the world. By her endurance, sitting for weeks in that hot, dark barn. And by the beauty and strength of the directive implanted in those babies to follow their mother, come hell or high water. I know it's all instinct, but in my mind that makes it no less awe-inspiring.
The next thing I did, after counting babies, was to open up the mama barn and see if there were any babies left behind. Indeed, I heard a loud peeping emanating from floor level by the window. One chick must have fallen down between the hay bales. Oh no! What to do? On my own, I was totally incapable of moving the twenty or so bales that would have to be moved to rescue the chick. It wasn't even close - there's just no way. I would have to wait for Homero to get home and see what he said. In my mind, I decided to abide by whatever his decision was without complaint - he has been suffering a great deal with his back lately and I certainly wasn't going to insist he hurt himself to rescue one baby chick that would have a very high likelihood of being eaten by a hawk within a day or two in any case.
However, my husband being the man he is, he set about moving hay bales right away. "She worked so hard," he said, referring to the mama hen, "we can't just let her baby die down there." It took him about fifteen minutes to tear down the bales, rescue the baby, and replace the bales. I hope he doesn't suffer for it later tonight, but if he does, I will be there with ice-packs and massages. What a man I married.
Right now, the mama and all eight of her chicks are under the mama barn, where they will be safe from hawks and - I hope - other predators. In past years, we have lost a very high percentage of chicks, mostly, I think, to hawks. I would try to round them up and keep them in a safer place, but I don't really have one available, and that hasn't worked well in the past in any case. I have come to the conclusion that a good mother hen can raise babies at least as well as I can and most likely better.
I wish her luck.
That's not her in the above picture, by the way. As I said, I lost my camera cord, and so I pulled a generic picture off the web. My mama hen is black, and her babies are a delightful melange of colors from jet black to palest daffodil yellow.