How The Hen House Turns: Chicks In Danger

How the Hen House Turns
By CAROLYN (CARY) NEEPER Ph.D.
 
Chicks In Danger

After Peeper hatched, mother hen Peeky’s protective skirt of feathers was always ready to protect her chick when he ran from danger, whether real, like crows, or imaginary, like me. But when he flew up to the edge of the cut-off milk jug we used as a water trough—and fell in—Peeky let out such a wild squawking we raced down to the pen in seconds, adrenalin pumping.

We lifted Peeper’s struggling, bedraggled wet body from the water to save him from a drowning his mother clearly recognized but couldn’t prevent. With barely a nod of thanks, Peeky opened her feathers to him and looked around for something to eat, as if nothing had happened.

Chickens are not dumb, but they can’t carry their children around or lift them out of danger. They call them to food and sit on them to keep them safe and warm, and if that doesn’t work, they know how to call for help.

As soon as the apples were in bloom and Peeper had gown his magnificent spurs and tail, Peeky went into brooding again. This time I was careful to candle the eggs and save only the fertile ones—the ones with the large black spot floating around in the pink glow of albumin. This time Peeky didn’t mind my reaching under her every day to turn the eggs. I even misted them when she was up moving her bowels. We had faith in each other now.

Three weeks later, when the eggs’ first peepings began, I didn’t wait six hours. After one or two hours, I took my tweezers and gently helped the chicks from their shells. When she saw my hand coming at her, Peeky raised up and eagerly indulged my midwifery, and I soon learned to peel off only enough shell to insure the chicks’ escape. The last of the shell worked off on its own with bloodless efficiency.

One egg, however, refused to hatch on day 21. On day 22, steeled to find some horror inside, I bravely cracked it open. Inside was a little black chick who wiggled with annoyance and protested feebly at being rescued from oblivion. Such a rescue is not recommended for ducklings. If they can’t get out by themselves, they often don’t survive.

Since the other chicks were already scrambling out of the nest in search of food, I didn’t dare let this one fend for itself. I took it into the house and cautiously unpeeled it a little at a time, keeping it cradled in my hands most of that day. That night it slept with the others under its mother, and the next day it did well competing with its siblings for food and water and Peeky’s welcoming feathers.

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