Eating Our Young…(It’s Not What You Think)

June 5, 2012 • Posted by jody in Goat Milk Soap • • 3 comments  

Sometimes, as we all know, life just isn’t fair. For the first time, our peacocks are mating and laying eggs, but unfortunately, neither peahen has taken a notion to set. However, on the flip-side, we found two eggs that we suspected of belonging to them and tucked them under Crow-bird, a homely little black hen (thus the name) that we took on a trade because her owner thought she was just too ugly. Aesthetically-challenged though she may be, Crow-bird turned out to be quite the unique chicken. She’s almost always the first to set in the spring, and if she successfully hatches any chicks, she is quite the brooder, always tending to and fiercely protecting her clutch, bravely warning off even the largest of our dogs or other fowl.

True to form, she was the first to hatch a single chick early this spring, but lost her baby to what we suspect was probably a hawk or some such predator. Though I’m not certain that chickens are capable of mourning, Crow-bird sure seemed to mope around after her loss, which is another reason I chose her to incubate the precious (and valuable) peacock eggs. She had already begun to set again, so she didn’t mind one bit that I added a few potential foster chicks to her workload. She didn’t even peck at me when I placed them under her.

About two weeks ago, I checked on her only to find her with a single chick, who also appeared to have fallen from the proverbial ugly-tree. Okay, so maybe she wasn’t exactly ugly (just how ugly can a newly hatched chick be?), but she certainly didn’t look like any chick we had ever seen. Upon some internet research, we realized that our funny little Crow-bird had indeed hatched herself a peachick! We were nothing less than tickled by that and immediately began anticipating the fun of watching her raise the chick that would outgrow her within a month. We could already see the great photo opportunities with which they would provide us when tragedy struck.

We had just come home from a good day at the Sunday Farmers’ Market, and all we really wanted to do was eat and relax, but of course all the animals were telling us that they were also hungry, not to mention that Missy and Montana still had to be milked. As silly as it sounds, we were crushed to find Crow-bird’s peachick lying dead in the coop with Crow-bird still clucking at her and scratching food in her direction. We don’t know the cause, but chicks are very fragile at that age and sometimes they simply don’t make it. Needless to say, we were all very disappointed, but that particular evening wasn’t over yet.

We also found that another setting hen had hatched out four little ones, so we set about clearing her nest of the remaining eggs. As I was digging the eggs from under the old barn ottoman where she had set (our free-range birds lay and set where they please, keeping us on our toes), I told Anna that I kept hearing another chick and that it must be hiding somewhere near. After searching fruitlessly but still hearing the peeping, we realized that the missing chick was actually inside the egg that was in my hand! We carefully peeled away her shell, dried her with a hair dryer, and placed her in a makeshift brooder in the house, not knowing if she would make it or not. Come three or so in that very A.M., we found out.

We moved her out of earshot and caught the last few Z’s of the morning only to get up later and ponder over her fate. We’ve been so busy with soap and the farm that we just didn’t feel we had time to brood a chick, and I certainly didn’t want to lose any more sleep than I do already, so we decided to offer her to our poor, mourning hen. We rounded up Crow-bird and put her in the coop where we sometimes put hens to brood new chicks. We placed the new chick, still looking somewhat damp and weak, near her and stood back. Again, call me silly, but it was nothing short of touching (and even tear-jerking) to watch this bird size up this foreign chick and hesitantly, slowly, and ever so carefully squat down and fluff her belly feathers over it. Very rarely have we pulled off adoptions with chickens, and when we have, we did it by placing an orphaned chick under a sleeping hen. We were quite proud of our ugly little chicken, and still beam at her every morning when we go out to do chores and find that she and the little one are doing quite well.

I truly believe that the world would be a better place if we all had even half of Crow-bird’s compassion, and that we could learn a great deal from our animals if only we would pay attention. Of course, animals also occasionally eat their young, but what parent amongst us hasn’t had that urge once or twice?

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Pam

    It just goes to show you that beauty is truly skin deep. Crow-bird may be ugly on the outside but she is beautiful on the inside. Not too many mothers would raise a “child” that isn’t their own, much less not even the same breed. We could all learn something from her…JOB WELL DONE CB!

    p.s. maybe a name change is in order for her, possibly Mammie :)

  2. Jody

    Pam, Crow-bird’s newest foster chick appears to be thriving, and she’s now going on six days old, which simply means that she’s getting further and further from the ‘danger zone’. According to what we know, anytime you help a chick out of its shell, you’re hatching a weakling into this world, as they may not have been strong enough to get out of the shell on their own, but what were we to do?

    PS We really don’t think of CB as ‘ugly’. She’s more of a ‘plain pretty’. Know what I mean?

  3. Uncle Harry

    Reminds me of our pet chicken, Boop Boop. (Don’t know where the name came from.) Boop Boop became a runt as she had a half beak so couldn’t eat as much. But once the other chicks began pecking at her mercilessly, we adopted her. She followed us everywhere; played basketball around the home-made court; took naps with us on the side porch; and a couple of times got dropped down the WPA. Eventually she brooded her own chicks (Roosters just aren’t all that particular), lived a long life, and disappeared in time. If Mama broiled her in old age, she wisely just didn’t say anything about it.

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