How The Hen House Turns: … Language Of Caring

How the Hen House Turns
By CAROLYN (CARY) NEEPER PhD
 
The Universal Language of Caring

Not only lions respond to a kind gesture. Androcles plucked a thorn from the lion’s paw, but he lucked out; the lion seemed to understand that Andy was trying to help. I wasn’t so lucky.

For three long weeks I watched as Peeky, our daughter’s first chicken, sat on her nest full of eggs. Her dedication worried me. Setting hens are not like normal chickens. They are totally dedicated beings—focused on the task at hand. When they set, they set, and they don’t move except to fluff their feathers and cluck at intruders.

That’s why I took my chances and shoved Peeky off the nest every morning, guarding her eggs while she took a drink, ate a bit of her hen scratch, and finally produced an output whose volume was nothing short of incredible.

At last the 21st  day arrived. Peeky was still alive and healthy. The eggs were still warm beneath her. My anxiety level was at a peak, however. I’d heard a peep in the morning, and at 2 p.m. I had braved Peeky’s flying beak to find a triangular-shaped hole in one of the eggs.

I called husband Don, who had raised chicks as a boy. “How long should this take,” I asked.

“Better help the chick, if it’s not out in a couple of hours,” he said.

“A couple of hours? How many is a couple? It’s been six hours already!”

“Better help it out. The membrane dries out in this climate. Sometimes the chick can’t tear it open.”

“Help it out?” How do I help it out? It’s locked up tight in there under Peeky.”

“Peel it.”

“Peel it?!?”

“Carefully. Watch for a bloody connection to the shell and leave that to fall off by itself.”

I had to believe him, so I went down to the chicken pen on tiptoes and opened the door to the chicken house. Peeky was still sitting on her eggs. She ruffled her feathers and took a good whack at my hand as I reached under her. “I’m not a raccoon,” I cried, sucking at my bleeding hand.

She attacked again as I fished about under her feathers. Then I tried another tack—a soft, hopefully reassuring voice. “Let me see here, dearie. Nine eggs. Now where is the peeping one?”

At last I found the noisy egg with its tiny triangular hole. It was still peeping, but weakly now, and the pitiful sound awakened something wonderful and brave within me. Peeky gave up the attack and watched curiously as I took a pair of tweezers out of my pocket and carefully picked at the edge of the triangular hole.

With an earth-shattering crack a piece of shell came loose. The peeping increased in volume, and I could see a tiny beak desperately looking for escape. Peeky cocked her head and eyed the egg, which was peeping more excitedly now.

I poised the tweezers over the near edge and bit down again. Crunch. It was awful. Another piece of shell came away. The chick screamed eagerly for life, and a tiny beak emerged from the hole. I peeled with eager confidence then, and soon a small black mass of bedraggled feathers lay in the palm of my hand. One small piece of shell stuck stubbornly to the chick’s back end, so I left it there.

Peeky gave me a kindly glance as I placed the chick ever so gently under her mountain of feathers. The peeping continued, calm and steady now, as I backed off. Peeky’s attitude had change dramatically. Never again, while she was brooding or herding her chicks around, did she ever object to my handling her or her offspring.

The stuck piece of shell fell off the next morning, and Game Cock Peeper began life in and around the Hen House and its 1/2 acre.

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