When I started farming I made the decision that I wanted to be as much of a farmer as I could. Ya know, live the dream. After all how can one call him or herself a farmer and not have farm animals? Well, the path didn’t bring animals to my farm until 10 years into the journey. Before that farming for me was growing vegetables and raising greenhouse plants.
Then one day in year eleven the plunge was taken to get my first farm animals. A flock of eight laying hens was welcomed to our farm and a new adventure unfolded along with some new self discoveries.
Having never raised any type of animal or pet other than a dog or cat, the prospect of caring for eight tiny fluff balls was frightening. I spent countless hours, researching, reading, talking with other chicken owners, shopping for coops, learning all I could to be a good chicken Mom. I mean here were these little fluffy fragile balls of chirping. They sounded so pitiful and scared themselves. They hatched out from a snug warm egg house to discover they would never know their biological Mom. They would never experience the warmth of a warm tender feathered body gently setting over them keeping them safe and loved. They wouldn’t have the protection of a Mom to warn them of danger or teach them how to scratch for morsels of tasty things in the big outside world. I felt quite a sense of responsibility and pressure to give these eight tiny creatures a sense of warmth, safety and love.
Oh my, what have I taken on here? Homecoming day had arrived and into the brooder the eight scurrying frightened fluff balls went. The first task was to show them what and where the water was. Gently sticking their tiny beaks into the water dispenser was well, easy! It worked! They caught on to that quick. Pheww. Next was food. That was not even a task, they discovered that all by themselves. Third was warmth. With enough clean fluffy shavings to get lost in they found the warm corner quickly too and laid down in the red glow of the heat lamp. Within 15 minutes of living on their new farm…they were all asleep? As I sat there on the floor next to the brooder, I thought “well, this is not very fun, watching eight little fluff balls with their eyes closed snoozing away?” I tiptoed away and left them to their nap, poor little babies, exhausted from their adventure. In the span of 36 hours, they were hatched into incubators with hundreds of other chirping chicks, packed into boxes, given a crumble snack to go, loaded on a plane, flown to all corners of the country, driven to a post office then loaded onto a truck to be delivered to a feed store, where they are quickly unpacked and put under lights waiting for more giant hands to pack them into another box to drive to their new home and be unpacked again into another new house.
Though I loved all eight of the newest members of the farm, there was one little girl that stole my heart almost from day one. I had read and heard that Buff Orphingtons could be loving, affectionate and friendly in nature and personality. Well whoever described the breed that way must have had ancestors of Baby. The name Baby came from this little chicks personality within the first two weeks of her life.
She was aptly named due to her reaction to the sound of my voice or my presence. Whether there was food, drink or treats to tempt her, she would gladly leave them to scurry toward me if I spoke, or was changing the water or filling the feeder. This little chick would literally jump onto my hand or, as she got bigger, into my arms and just settle down to cuddle with me. Sometimes she would even make what sounded like a purring whispering chirping sound as she nestled in my arms.
One of these times my husband Don was coming through the door and saw the chick in my hands being cuddled and petted. As he looked at us both I said to him, “She is such a Mamas baby the way she runs to me when she hears me coming to the brooder.” With the sound of that statement it came to me and I said out loud, “That is what I will name her, BABY!” She was the first to get her name and the first chicken to make me say with amazement, “Who knew a chicken could be affectionate and bond with a human?”
As Baby grew, she became prettier and prettier. Her teenage dull ruffled feather look became sleek, shiny and golden.
And as she got older I thought well, she will just go about being a chicken and discover that a human is only to fill the feeder and walk away from me with indifference as all the other seven hens do, or worse run from me in fright, not wanting to be handled in any way. As the weeks passed this did not happen, if anything she became even more loving and clingy to me. She would happily stay close by scratching and preening as I cleaned the run or coop or filled the water dispenser. One day while letting the Girls free range, she heard me speak her name and slowly walked to me. I about fell over with unbelief. Are you kidding, this chicken will come when called? Yes, she would.
As much as Baby would hang out with Mom, she was independent and adventurous too,being a Mamas girl did not necessarily mean being timid. While I would clean the brooder which was on our heated porch, I would let her come out and she would sit on the window sill gazing out to her soon to be new coop as if longing to start her adventure.
One day she discovered a raised bed with peas growing in it. The peas had fallen over and met in the middle making a tunnel. Baby discovered an opening and went in happily nibbling on tender pea leaves and tendrils, one of her favorite green treats. She would stay hidden under the peas as long as I would let her while I weeded the other raised beds, then I would have to reach in and lift her out and carry her back to the run. She never resisted when in my arms. When I would bend down to set her on the ground many times she wouldn’t hop out of my arms she would be like sleeping weight and I would have to place her feet on the ground to give her the hint that it was time for Mom to put her down.
She loved being carried around the yard with me in the morning as I toured the gardens or she would sit on my lap at our outside table as I drank my coffee. I “loved” a chicken. I was amazed at the feelings this little feathered creature could stir up in me and even more amazed at her fondness for me.
One could simply look at Baby and see how much she loved life. She was adventurous, scratching joyfully for worms and gobbling them up when her treasure was found.
She loved to try all new toys and roosts that came into the run immediately, she was always the first one to jump up. Then she would “Buk-Buk” to the other Girls as if to say, “Come on, try it, it’s great!” She obviously had leadership qualities and I was certain she would be head hen of our flock of eight. Head Hen title was forceably taken by a large white Delaware hen who pecked her way to the top and one of our Silver Wyandottes had the scars to prove it. One morning when letting the girls out of the coop for the day I noticed Baby had a little blood on her side. At closer examination, I discovered she to had been pecked a bit. Well, it was time for some Mom intervention, NOBODY pecks at MY Baby! So some isolation was in order. After a few days of separating the two Delaware hens from the flock we re-joined them to the girls and the pecking ensued again. This time Baby pecked back. With one matter of fact peck on the head the Delaware never pecked Baby again. Baby also did not hide or avoid, she forgave. Many nights following that incident she would be snuggled against the Head Hen on the roost.
One day when baby was about 7 months old, I noticed her breathing strangely. A visit to the vet and two courses of antibiotics proved unsuccessful in curing the condition. Hoping it would pass in a couple weeks, I just waited and watched and spoiled my Baby girl. Then I suddenly lost two of our other hens during a 4 week span of time to sudden death. They obviously died quickly painlessly during the night, but what from? Well, after much research, a couple of calls to veterinarians and conversations with a few other chickens owners, we concluded that the hens had eaten something poisonous in the woods that edged our yard, while free ranging. During this time Baby was making no improvement and was even showing a few more health issues. One day it dawned on me that Baby must have ingested the same thing that killed the other two hens but did not eat enough to cause death, but it was enough to cause what was appearing to be neurological problems. Her breathing was labored only at times though. She would have swallowing or crop issues occasionally and then later on her stance and gait changed. The last few days of her life, she seemed about the same though I did notice she lost her balance a couple of times but wondered if it was just that it was tricky walking on the wet muddy ground we had acquired due to so much rain in our area? On the Thursday of her final week, she was not leaving the run much to venture off with the other girls in their chicken tunnels. She came out a few times during the day but would return slowly to the run and stayed close to the coop door. Thursday evening I decided to offer her some oatmeal with yogurt. I went in the coop and sat on the floor and when I called to her she came right away from the run and hopped up through the chicken door and came to the dish on the floor in front of me. She loved the oatmeal and it went down nice and easy for her with no coughing or gasping at all. She really enjoyed it and took a couple steps closer to my leg and used it to wipe her beak off. I laughed and thanked her for using Mom as a napkin. I picked her up and held her on my lap for some cuddle time. She settled down and closed her eyes and made her purring noise that she always made whenever I held her. When I went into the house, she stayed in the coop until the other girls came in about thirty minutes later. When I returned to lock the doors, she was in her spot on the roost with a nice full crop and looking happy though I did notice her comb flopped over a bit and very pale pink.
The next day was a busy one for me with doctor appointments and errands to do. I let the girls out of the coop and filled the feeder. Baby was still on the roost when I opened the door and she jumped down eagerly and hopped out looking like she felt good. She went to the feeder to eat with the others and then the girls trotted into their tunnels to start their day. Baby stayed in the run. I petted her and told her I would be right back and to rest if she didn’t feel like going out. The day before I said to my husband Don that maybe the ten new chicks that I would be moving out to the coop this weekend would give Baby something to perk up about. She would be the best hen to teach chicks being as patient and loving as she is. The chicks are now five weeks old and ready to go to the big girl coop in the brooder. Moving day was planned to be Saturday and the brooder and all were going into the coop so the big girls and little girls would have five plus safe weeks of getting acquainted time.
When I got back home on Friday from my day out, I saw two of the girls in the run and said Hi as I walked by to the house. As I stepped up on the porch I always glanced to the back yard to see who is in the tunnels and there I saw Baby laying on the ground. My heart sank and I dropped my purse and keys and ran over to her. She was gone. I got treats to lure the other girls to the run and blocked off the tunnels so I could take her out without any escapes. I held her for a long time petting her and sobbing. I had known for weeks she was not going to have a long life and one of the things I hoped for was to be holding her when she passed. That was not meant to be and I realized that she must have felt well enough to stroll through the tunnels in the sunshine since I found her a good distance from the run. It appeared she just fell over and passed quickly. I had prayed when her time came she would not suffer. I was thankful.
Making the decision to introduce animals into your farm plan is a big step. For me I was not sure I wanted to make the commitment or take on the added expense. Baby made taking that first step to raising farm animals worth every minute and every penny. She taught me that love and affection can come from the most unexpected places. She taught me that standing up for yourself is ok as long as you do it with firm kindness and forgiveness. She taught me to be adventurous, have fun, live your life with purpose and fulfill your destiny with joy. Even if that destiny brings pain and discomfort, bring others joy and love by letting them love you. She taught me when you see a new roost, jump up on it and enjoy the view.
There will never be another Baby for me, but there will be new chicks and new love and affection.
Through many tears, great loss and too short of a friendship, I still love being a farmer. It is MY destiny.
Thank you Baby.
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