by Jenny Brown
This morning, my youngest son, who had been out feeding the chickens, came bursting through the back door, frantically calling “Mama! Mama! Come here, quick!”
Several questions immediately raced through my mind. ‘What did the coyote kill now?” “How bad is an animal injured?”
With a worried expression, my son announced, “One of our Americana chickens (which we haven’t seen in over a week and assumed became coyote food) is out behind the barn with chicks! They’re going to freeze to death!”
My ‘prepared for bad news and blood’ expression softened into a surprised smile. “Chicks?! They won’t freeze, the mother hen is keeping them warm.”
He had only known of chicks to be under a heat lamp.
With a greatly relieved and excited son, I headed out to the pasture, camera in hand. Sure enough, behind the barn, in a tall clump of grass was a puffed-out broody hen with a cheerful peeping ruckus coming from beneath her. I lifted the hen’s belly with my hand and thirteen fuzzy yellow balls with legs scurried below!
Here I had spent all this time researching breeding methods and carefully selecting the birds that would be my breeding flock, when one of my young girls runs away and gets pregnant! (Okay, chickens don’t get pregnant, but you get the picture.)
I remember feeling the intimidation by all the science that goes into breeding and here it happened without my knowledge or consent. Another reminder that nature works even when you haven’t read all the books.
Despite the fact these chicks are not from the parents I was planning to breed, but parents from two different breeds (Americana hen and Buff Orpington rooster – I guess that makes them Bufficanas…or maybe Ameribuffs!), these are the most natural born chicks one could ask for.
Even though I had hunted around our big rock pile several times in search of this missing hen, she managed to keep herself and a large clutch of eggs hidden and protected for over 21 days. I was astonished that the coyotes or some other predator didn’t find them first.
I did not want to ‘baby’ these naturally born chicks, in fact my goal has been to get away from the world of chicken raising that consists of heat lamps and special mixes. Instead I would rather raise a flock that is hardy and raised by a broody hen who, by nature, protects, warms, and teaches them critical survival skills. I just didn’t expect it to happen in October!
With the coyotes we have roaming our area, the hen seemed awfully vulnerable now that she was out in the open with all these little peeps running around her.
We set up a private spot for the young brood inside our barn stall. An opening was made big enough for the hen to get out of and have access to the pasture for foraging but small enough that she could guard the door and keep the other hens out.
Separating different ages of birds has often been an inconvenient juggling act. The beauty of having a mother hen is that separation is not necessary, she will fiercely protect them from the other birds.
Life can be amazingly simple sometimes when we let nature run the course it was meant to run. Simple is simply beautiful!