Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm Here!

This spring I tucked a large dog crate behind a stump, filled it with straw, and used a fiberglass panel to keep rain and dogs out. My hope was the chickens would find this an attractive place to lay eggs - a place where I could find and collect those eggs.

The chickens loved it. Soon I was finding 4 eggs a day laid in a neat nest. Then time got away from me, and when I checked for eggs I found a protective hen guarding the egg stash. Soon I found my young duck was spending nights there with the hen. Having been raised by a dark hen, she tends to think of all dark hens as mom. Ducks, it seems, want to keep the family unit in tact longer than hens do.

Thursday morning I saw the hen out, followed by 4 fluffy balls. I went up to clean out the rest of the eggs, and found another hen fiercely guarding the nest. Yesterday that hen was importantly leading her 3 fluff balls around, fending off anyone who came too close.

Once again I checked to see if I could now get in to clean. There were still almost a dozen eggs in the damp and messy crate, but no feisty hens. I was about to remove the eggs when I heard a very load peeping. I got out and looked behind the crate, thinking that one of the new family had gotten stuck, but the peeping had stopped. I crawled back in (this is a huge crate), and a baby chick again loudly announced her presence.

It took Jesse (Samoyeds are quick to respond to bird calls for help) and I several more minutes to figure out that the chick in distress was still in an egg.
Only one egg was calling. It had a very small hole pecked out, and was completely cold - but very noisy. The chick had taken the movement and warmth from my hand as a positive sign. I'm here, she said, and I want out. I carefully pulled away the shell, and a damp and noisy chick pushed out. I gathered up the remaining eggs and place them and the chick under a heat lamp.

This did not satisfy my latest farm resident for long. She wanted to be held, to feel a heart beating above her. Here's a chick wanting a mom, I thought, and out there is a hen mothering a small flock. Let's get them together.

Mom was most interested in the new chick in distress. She came right over, and started making a huge display of finding food and teaching chicks to eat. The other 3 were running around happily pecking at anything mom found. The new kid just wanted to cuddle up and sleep. Finally mom settled down on top of the still-damp baby.

I came back to check on progress about a half hour later. Mom was just walking off with her original chicks, and the littlest babe was flat on the ground. She was fine, just a bit cold and still wanting cuddling.

So she spent the night cuddled up to a hot water bottle, inside a thermal bag. This morning she's dry, fluffy, and still in need of a mom. I'm going to try her again with a momma hen. It's been raining for a week now, so keeping her warm and dry will be a challenge - unless the hen and chicks adopt her quickly and she can keep up with them. She's a day behind, but one very determined soul.

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