Friday, March 8, 2013

Mother With a Mission (or More Adventures in Poultry Paradise)

There is a hen sitting on eggs high aloft a stack of hay bales in my barn. I do not want, nor do I need, any more chickens. This very same hen and I had a go-round last summer over this very same issue. Each night I would find her tucked inside one of our laying boxes or nestled amongst the hay, quietly sitting on the latest egg. And each night she would shriek with fury when I lifted her off her egg and put her in the hen house with the other less maternal hens.

She is a Buff Orpington. “Buffies,” as we call them, are a gentle, quiet breed with beautiful rich golden feathers and soft downy “pantaloons” that give them a plump, mother hen kind of look. This particular hen is determined. I saw it in her eyes the first night I lifted her off her eggs a few weeks ago. Chickens are not the smartest of God’s creatures, nor do they necessarily have the capacity for scheming, but I am beginning to believe they do dream. This hen dreams of being a mother. And mothers are a determined sort.

This year, after a week of attempting to discourage her, I finally gave in. If this is her destiny, then who am I to stand in the way? I confessed to my husband what I’d done and told him we might have St Patrick’s Day chicks. To his credit he offered no opinion, just raised his eye brows as if to say, “What kind of weed have you been smoking and haven’t you noticed the stacks of eggs in the basement fridge or the hens who have taken to roosting on the porch?” I checked underneath the hen and counted six eggs. The colors of the eggs testified to the fact that they are not all her lineage.

Determined Mama Hen ten days in to her brooding.
When I open the barn door each morning and night she is sitting, trance-like upon her eggs. She doesn’t acknowledge my presence. I’ve noted that she has moved the eggs several times, but not more than a few inches. She spreads her generous breast out so flat that none of the eggs are visible beneath her, but I believe they are still there. One dropped between two bales and I quickly added it to our compost pile. I haven’t found any of the others.

Even if she succeeds in hatching these chicks, I am not certain of their long-term survival. There is the barn cat to consider, not to mention the abundance of chicken hawks, raccoons, and my own chicken-killing fox hound. Then there is the fact that these chicks will hatch upon bales that are stacked at least five feet high. That’s quite a lethal fall for a newborn chick.

Because I am more invested in this hen succeeding in hatching her chicks (and getting back to her job of laying eggs) than in the chicks survival, I’m prepared to let nature take its course. If these chicks survive we’ll most certainly give them names like Mighty Mouse, Avenger, Evil Knievel, or Geronimo.

But I’m not banking on the chicks, I’m just backing up this determined mama. I know better than to get in the way of a mother with a mission.

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