Baby Transplants

I apparently have a rare and unusual little hen on my hands. Follow, the broody hen in the coop, hatched an egg last night! That’s not really all that unusual, though. The unusual part is that she accepted a “baby transplant” in broad daylight, without me being sneaky. You see, the accepted method of getting a broody hen to accept chicks she didn’t hatch herself is to wait until the dead of night (as in, when you and the hens are all so tired you wish you were dead), sneak into the coop with a flashlight covered by a washcloth, and stealthily remove as many eggs from under your hen as you are placing chicks under her.

Yeah, that wasn’t gonna fly with this crowd. First of all, there ain’t no sneakin’ up on Follow. I’m fairly certain she neither sleeps nor eats. Secondly, I don’t do “middle of the night” things unless there’s an emergency, and I don’t like chicks to be an emergency. They’re very breakable. However, there is a strong possibility that if the mama hen doesn’t accept the transplanted chicks, she will straight up kill them. That complicates matters.

So, I did what I do best: improvise. See, not only does the mama hen have a chance of killing the babies, the rest of the flock can become aggressive and kill them. I had to move Follow out of the coop and into the brooder. I accomplished this by filling the bottom of a three gallon bucket with pine shavings, yanking Follow off of her nest, and then hurriedly putting the eggs and chick from her nest into the bottom of the bucket. Follow wasn’t pleased. She fluffed up, growled, and then scrambled to get INTO the bucket, which worked out. I then transported three gallons of eggs, chick and pissed off chicken across the yard, into the shed, and into the brooder.

I put her, and the bucket, into the brooder, and tipped it on its side so it would function as a nest box. As soon as I did that, Follow saw the food and water I’d put out for her and the chicks, and went crazy eating and drinking. She was… distracted. Hmm.

I ran into the house, grabbed the little cardboard box with the two chicks inside (Casanova crosses, hatched out by a gal who wanted to try incubation for the first time!), and carefully ran back to the shed with a box full of terrified and peeping chicks. I had read that, rather than bonding by smell like mammals, chickens bond by sound – well, there was a lot of chicks shouting “Mama, help! Mama! Mama!” so we had the sound thing going.

In the ensuing distraction and mild chaos, I removed the rest of the eggs in the box (five, because Follow is a consummate egg thief) and put in the two new babies. Follow kept eating, and drinking, and more or less ignored the babies. I held my breath, waiting for some horrible nightmare of dead baby chicks to happen – but it never did. Experimentally, I put the babies on her back. She gave *me* the stinkeye, but ignored the babies. I reached in to mess with the babies some more, and received a growl. I could no longer tell which baby was hers. I don’t think she could, either.

The new babies weren’t entirely sure what to do with the big fluffy thing in the brooder with them, but when I put them on her back, they were quite pleased and snuggled in readily. I watched for probably 20 minutes, and Follow actually started to give all three babies some of the grubs I’d put in for a treat!

Transplant successful. Hot damn. Seriously, seriously unusual for a hen to just… accept chicks. Follow gets all the grubs she wants from now on, man! I can breathe easily for a while – well, until I realized that I now need to make an enclosure to reintroduce Follow and her babies to the flock when they get older. That can wait, though. That’s enough excitement for one day.


An Ode to (Another) Chicken

This morning, I had to euthanize my daughter’s favorite chicken.

Also, good morning to you, too.

I’ve had to do this before with other chickens, since I’m not the best chicken veterinarian. I gather that it takes patience, attention to detail, diligence and patience – even then, it’s almost always a crapshoot. There are folks who can nurse a chicken back from the brink of death; I sure wish one of them had been here for little Lady Fluffington.

I found her underneath the walkway a couple of nights ago, wet and muddy. I had noticed that the silkie egg production had gone down, and hadn’t thought anything of it – but when I saw her huddled up, I knew I’d missed a crucial cue. I might have been able to save her if I’d started investigating when the egg count went down, but I figured it was all the snow and weather arrhythmia doing it. Silkies aren’t exactly reliable layers anyhow.

For two days, she was in the house, and I literally had to hold a little dish of water infused with electrolytes and antibiotics up to her beak for her to drink. Whatever it was took her downhill fast, and this morning I found her lying on her side, barely breathing and burning up with fever.

I had several talks with Zoe about what was happening over the last few days. “She might die,” I told her.

“It’s okay, Mama. I know you’re trying your hardest, and I’ll be sad if she dies, but I won’t be upset.” She would pat me on the shoulder, and I wondered how in the hell I ended up being the one comforted. I tried several variations on this theme, but each time, she was sad, but resolute. “I know that chickens die. It’s okay.”

Zoe is at her Nana’s house today. I took little Fluffington out to the edge of the property, apologized to her, and ended it quickly. I buried her beneath an Oregon grape plant, partially so Zoe can go say goodbye when she gets home.

Farm life is the best life, I told myself while going into my husband’s office for a hug. Best is not synonymous with easiest, though. Connection – whether to people, animals, the land, anything – will at times be painful. But a life of disconnection is far worse, because in order for me to feel this much pain about a silly little fluffball, I had to have experienced great joy with it: hatching it from an egg, watching children play with it, seeing my daughter care for it, collecting eggs, seeing it hold its own against the big birds, and giving it baths whenever it got too muddy to clean itself. Years from now, someone will remember a funny story about the little black silkie who would “bork” back at you if you called, who let children pick her up without complaint, and who would sit in your lap if you sat still long enough.

Life, especially for little chickens, is fleeting. I’m glad that hers was a good one, and that it enriched ours in the process.