Hatching a New Hobby
by Rebecca Bresnick Holmes
We agreed to two, maybe three. Instead, four arrived. Then three were born. We now have seven chickens spanning three generations, which in chicken lifespan aren’t spread very wide.
The three chicks are nine days old. They are surprisingly adorable, given that all they do is eat, drink, scratch around, and peck at invisible things. Oh – and poop of course. They make these great little peeping sounds that I’m so used to already, I continue to hear them when I’m somewhere else.
Lola and Fiona are probably the chicken equivalent of “tweens.” They are maybe six months old. Lola is black, Fiona is white and grey, and they are Silkies. Silkie chickens are covered in fuzz instead of traditional feathers, have five toes instead of four, and have chicken afros instead of combs.
I didn’t plan on having chicks at all, but our hen Gertie (a regular brown chicken) decided that she HAD to hatch something. She was “broody,” which means that she sat and sat and sat in the coop. She didn’t realize or care that we had no rooster and there were no eggs under her. She would not stop, not even after I followed the suggestions of my various chicken friends and tried some of the methods recommended online.
Finally, I called my chicken guru from whom I acquired Lola and Fiona. She suggested I let Gertie hatch some eggs. After revealing my chicken-raising naïveté by asking such questions as “How do we get fertilized eggs?” “But will she reject them because they are a different breed?” and “What do I do with them?” she assured me that all would be fine and that chickens don’t care what breed they’re sitting on.
My chicken guru also assured me that she would take the chicks back if I couldn’t find a home for them, since my husband insisted that we could NOT, under any circumstances, keep any more animals. We already had a large dog, a very old cat, two pet mice (one of which lacks an eye), and of course the four hens.
My chicken guru was right. Gertie was a model of inter-breed acceptance and took the eggs right in (or, better-put, under). In the rare moment when she wasn’t mothering the eggs, Hester (our other regular black hen who has spurs despite being a girl) jumped right in and sat on them.
Sure enough, after about three weeks, three tiny chicks came out – all by themselves! Wow. Nature really works. Amazingly, the other chickens didn’t mind the newbies and they all had a big slumber party the first night.
Because they have to eat only starter food, the chicks are inside the house during the day and go back out to sleep under Gertie in the coop with all the girls at night.
Once again, my chicken guru was right on. Surrogacy worked for Gertie. She’s back out in the yard, doesn’t mope around in the coop trying to hatch something that’ll never hatch, and is acting like a normal chicken again.
Although we won’t know for quite a while what gender they are, we’ve named the chicks. My 9-year-old son insisted on calling one Shasta and another Cascade (after California mountain ranges, which he just learned about in school), and I named the smallest one Harriet. For some reason, I am fond of early turn-of-the-century names for hens.
I’m hoping that at least one of the chicks (preferably Harriet) is a girl, because I think that five would be just the right number of chickens to have.
Or maybe an even six… now that sounds perfect.