Since history indicates that chickens have been domesticated for more than 8000 years, it is hardly amazing that a hen can lay an egg, set on it for 21 days, and help it hatch, all without human interference. Those of you who follow this blog will not be surprised that we have had chicks hatch this week here on Hard Hill, nor will you be surprised that our broody hen was Little. It makes perfect sense that the tiny chick left in the brooder at the farm supply store, the little chick no one wanted but us, the pullet that laid an egg in the workshop, survived a cornering by the dog, got lost in no-man’s land behind the goat pen, and countless other adventures, spent three weeks hunkered down in a nest box nurturing eggs. She started with seven eggs, her own and half a dozen laid by her flock sisters, all presumably fertilized by Claude Girouxster, whom we saved from someone else’s dinner table, and hatched two. She’s quite a gal, our Little.
Every day for 21 days, she hid in the flock’s favorite nest box in the back corner of the coop. Every day I lifted her off her carefully arranged straw, despite her protestations, and took her outside for some food, water, and fresh air. Every day I took out a few new eggs, freshly laid by the other girls — I never figured out how they got there. She spent about ten minutes away from her charges, then dashed frantically back into the coop and onto the nest, feathers fluffed and wings akimbo. Then, on the evening of day 20, the blue egg contributed by our white Ameracauna hen had showed a crack. I was crestfallen — it was broken, and wouldn’t make it, after 20 days. Poor Little, I thought, she would be devastated.
But hens have been incubating eggs for millennia, and it later occurred to me that the crack was from the inside to the outside, and that could only have happened in one way: someone inside was trying to get out! A few minutes on Google confirmed that the egg was pipped. I predicted that we would have a chick by dawn, and come morning, my prognostication was proven correct, when I heard familiar peeps coming from somewhere under Little. I took the obligatory pictures and went to my day job, boring my coworkers with those photos all day long. When I returned home, the chick looked happy and healthy … and two more eggs were pipped. The anticipation was making us all a bit edgy. In the end, only one more of Little’s eggs hatched, a buff colored baby that looks like her “mom,” except I know by the color of the shell that it wasn’t Little’s egg. The third egg that was pipped had cheeping from inside for more than a day, but the chick lost the birth struggle. In what might be seen as cruelty, Little kicked that egg out of the next box, but the nights were chilly, and I suspect she was giving all her support to her living chicks.
We had expected a higher hatch rate, based on internet research, but hey, it was Little’s first time, and our first time too. Perhaps the temperature varied too much in the coop. Perhaps I didn’t take Little outside to eat for long enough each day. Perhaps my candling was not well executed. It’s not amazing that a hen hatched some chicks. What is amazing that she allowed us to be a part of her process, to watch her intensity, and to marvel daily at her chicks zipping around the maternity coop until she shoves them back under wings to keep them warm. Thank you, Little, for once again sharing your adventures with us.