It began as an innocent adventure. My top hen, Jane, a real beauty of a Buff Orpington, went “broody,” meaning she created a nest in the bottom of the coop and didn’t leave it (that I could tell) for a couple of days. I became concerned, thinking she might be sick so I crawled in and pulled her out. She was hot! And so were the several eggs she was sitting on. I realized then that Nature had turned Nurture! Since I don’t have a rooster, this was going to be an exercise in frustration for her, and a loss of eggs for me.
I asked Father Henry, who was a chicken person in a former life, and two friends from Church, also chicken knowledgeable, and they agreed on the diagnosis, and also that the best course of action would be to procure some fertilized eggs for her to sit on. So my friends Laura and Alfie provided two, which I foolishly forgot to mark before gently inserting them under Jane’s enormous fluffed up body. (Hens can expand exponentially to cover their eggs – truly amazing!) I marked the calendar for 21 days out and checked every morning. But after a few days, one by one her eggs were either smashed or missing to the point where I realized the two fertilized ones had to be gone. So Laura & Alfie provided another two, this time marked with little red hearts, and we tried again.
It was adorable the way the smallest of Jane’s sisters, Betty, acted as midwife, nesting right behind her and occasionally contributing an egg to Jane’s “project.”
And like clockwork, on the 21st day I peeked inside the coop and asked Jane, “Any babies?” and heard a remarkable “Peep Peep” as Jane stood up to reveal her darling little dark Dominique biddie! Healthy, happy, jumping around, and Jane became a doting, dutiful Mom, immediately teaching her little one how to scratch and peck for food. I removed all the other eggs, but couldn’t find the second heart-marked one and no shells. A mystery to this day. But just in case it might have been a snake, I put a couple ceramic eggs in the coop.
I brought out the chick starter food and everything seemed wonderful! I noticed that Jane stayed inside the coop the first two days, largely ignored by her three sisters. But on the third day, she ventured out with Baby, still hugging the perimeter of the coop or within the blueberry hedge in front of the coop. When I came out to check on them two hours later, Jane was upset and Baby was unable to stand. I didn’t know what the problem was but scooped up Baby and brought it inside.
For 24 hours I fed Baby filtered water from a pet syringe and encouraged it to eat some chick starter mash to no avail. I put it in a box lined with pine shavings under a grow light for warmth. My neighbor, a nurse and former chicken person, came and checked on Baby and got it to stand, however briefly. But its right wing just hung by its side. I brought out some bandaids with a thought to splint her little legs, but changed my mind as she/he gradually grew strong enough to show interest in some tiny seeds and crumble. As night came I decided to put her back with Jane before closing up the coop.
The next morning I brought her back inside. Real progress throughout the day, with Baby eating, drinking and pooping, bouncing and peeping. As night drew near, the Biddie became frantic in its peeping, so I decided that she needed to be with Mom once again. Jane was very relieved to have her baby back.
Morning showed great success as the biddie was back to bouncing around and following Mom in her incessant scratching and pecking. Drinking lustily from the waterer was another very good sign. I got back to my gardening. But I soon heard a squabble in the chicken compound and raced to check on Baby and couldn’t find it! I kept calling and calling, and finally got an answer … “peep peep peep” from the hiding spot between a bale of hay and the coop. I still didn’t know what had caused the ruckus. So I went back to work.
But shortly I realized that there was indeed some jealousy from Jane’s sisters when I heard a second squabbling and rushed into the compound to see the melee of the Three Sisters who had descended on the Biddie! Jane and I shooed them away, but the poor little biddie was now missing a couple of her feathers on her back!
So I quickly constructed a partition in the compound, giving Jane and Baby the coop and a goodly portion of the compound to safely free range in, and sequestering the Three Sisters to the other portion, providing them their own water and crumble. This seems to be working well. As evening comes, I wait for Jane and Baby to get into their nest, and then hand carry the sisters into the upper coop. In the morning I reverse, letting the sisters out and back into their portion of the compound and then letting Jane and Baby out. After a successful couple of days this way, I began to relax.
However, and this is where The Perils of Pauline came to mind, yesterday morning as I was doing some much needed cleanup of the garden outside the coop, I glanced over and saw Jane, but no Baby! When I called out “Where’s Baby?” I heard the familiar “peep peep peep” and then saw to my horror that Baby had managed to squeeze under the chicken wire that is all around the bottom of the cedar fencing of the compound and now sat OUTSIDE the fence. Outside, where I and my dog Lucky stood. The same Lucky who had mangled one of Jane’s sisters two years ago and frightened my bunny Butter to death. I haven’t moved that fast since my 20’s! I screamed at Lucky, “NO” and scooped up Baby, holding it close, put it back with Jane who was waiting anxiously on the other side. I then told Lucky he was a good dog not to have eaten Baby! And got out my staple gun to secure the chicken wire all around.
I will be very grateful if Baby makes it to adulthood. I think Jane will be relieved as well. Here she is in her less harried pre-motherhood days.
— Deborah Phillips, a.k.a. CherryGal