Monday, July 20, 2009

When the Hen is Finished Raising the Chicks

It has been fun this summer to observe my little chicken flock, Mrs Peckins in particular, who hatched the first brood of baby chicks. Mrs. P's patience and perseverance was impressive. She sat on the nest for such a long time but the eggs did not hatch. When I took her off that nest for good, she could not walk very far without resting. Evil Rooster stood over her gallantly. That chivalry softened my heart toward him, the evil little bird that attacks me every chance he can.

Once the babies hatched, I kept the hen and chicks separate from the rest of the flock for about a week. Mrs Peckins is not a high ranking hen, and I was afraid the others would abuse her or the chicks, but I need not have worried. She was all business and no one was allowed to mess with her peeps!

She shepherded her little brood about, clucking and murmuring to them, calling them to eat and bringing them to the water. After the sad accident of one of the chicks drowning in Duke's water bowl, Mrs Peckins did not bring her babies around that bowl again - at least I never saw her do so.

She knew to lead her babies into the chicken coop at night well before the bossy hens came in, thus insuring her family had a warm, safe nest every night.

The babies followed her about for many days, never straying far from her protective wings. In a flash, they would all run to her if some signal of danger was given. Though one of the other hens tried desperately to adopt some of the peeps as her own, the babies all knew Mrs Peckins was their mother and did what she ordered.

Everything was as usual one particular morning when I opened the chicken pen. The babies spilled out along with Mrs Peckins as they scurried out into the grass for bugs and other goodies. I went up to the barn and worked for a couple of hours. When I came back, the babies were no where to be seen. Not one tiny little white fluff was in sight. I panicked. Some horrible predator must have eaten them all, like so many little fluffly chicken McNuggets! I ran around searching for any survivor. At last, on the far western side of the yard, there were the peeps, in a little flock of their own, busy with their chicken business. Just like that - they were no longer Mrs. Peckins' responsibility. After that day they were on their own.

The other hens would peck at the babies for getting too close to them at feeding time. Mrs Peckins did not peck her babies until they were all fully out of their baby fluff, and then she began to peck them, too. If they had not gotten the message that they were on their own, she helped them with a well-aimed peck right on their little backs. Peck! Squawk! - and a baby would go skittering away. I never saw Mrs. Peckins ever peck one of her babies more than once. It only takes once and a chicken knows it needs to straighten up and fly right, apparently.

I was thinking about this natural order of leaving the nest the other day when my son called with another life emergency. I should have been pecking him a long time ago:

"Mom, I wrecked my car." PECK!

"Mom, I needed a 2.50 GPA to get off academic probation, but I ended up with a 2.25!" PECK!

"Mom, I left the keys in my car and it was stolen." PECK!

"Mom, I am in jail for Disorderly Conduct." PECK PECK PECK PECK PECK PECK PECK PECK ....

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