Chickens and eggs don’t just arrive to our house in a plastic Meijer bag. We raise chickens. It is just a hobby. Thankfully, my husband has a job that supports us. My attempts at being a farmer are humbling. Don’t get me wrong, I save about $2,000.00 a year in food costs and spend at least 20 hrs a week 52 weeks a year doing it. So, I get paid about $1.92/hr. My hourly pay may be greater if you count that it is done organically and I don’t have to drive to the grocer as often. I also don’t need to join a gym or pay daycare and it keeps me off social media. When someone offers to buy my eggs, I just negligently laugh out-loud while joking with myself, “you wouldn’t pay what I would have to ask to break even”. I often reluctantly just give them some. Yet, like most of my adventures I continue raising chickens compelled by the chance I’ll learn something or maybe I am just stubborn. Lately, I feel like the Jane Goodall of the chicken world. My chickens have taught me a lot about myself and my brood.
“Broody” is our first hen (of at least several dozen) that has been interested in in actually sitting on her eggs. I don’t really pay attention to chicken personalities to closely. Yet, I have noticed that she has always been a skiddish chicken, exceptional hesitant and quick to make her exit when I make a move toward her. It never occurred to me that she’d make a “great” mother. I have been told that the “motherly” instincts have been bred out of domestic chickens. As demonstrated by another of our incubator hens, who just squatted down in the run (not in a nest box) laid an egg and walked away as I was taking the pictures of the new chicks. However, this year I noticed that
“Broody” was being exceptionally persistent about staying put. So, when we went on a week long vacation, I told my neighbor to just leave her be and let her keep her eggs.
Over the vacation, I never received a call or text that there had been a chicken massacre. Having chickens, one always has to be prepared to arrive home or wake up to a bloody scene. It could be a fox, weasel, hawk, possum, coyote, raccoon, the neighbors dog, or even the other chickens taking down the weakest. Since having my own children, I prepare for the same type of event every time the kids are playing in the yard and I hear a scream. Thankfully, the chickens were fine when we got back. I peeked in on “Broody” and a little beak appeared from under her feathers. A chick hatched. I ran to get my kids. It was the excitement of having a new baby born. My daughter and I instinctively started to worry. My husband said that the mother knows what to do. Leave them alone and lets see what happens. The next day, a second baby hatched. The second chick didn’t seem as spry as the first, but they both seemed healthy. We made sure they had access to water and then food.
“Broody” just sat and sat to keep those chicks and eggs warm. The oldest was soon hopping out of the brooding box and wandering around the inside of the coop. “Broody” left the younger to be sure the older was monitored. Any chicken that came near would be viciously attacked. She would be sure to keep the rowdy one close by circling it and never letting it stray far from the other. If separated, the chick would let out a constant distressing cry. “Broody” would compulsively search for the stranded chick. “Broody” had become a overprotective mother “bear” ready to kill for the safety of her chicks. I had a co-worker once admit this openly at a staff meeting, maybe she didn’t say “kill” to protect her kids, but It came across to me that way. I thought at the time she was not just overbearing, but frightening and selfish, maybe even “unstable”. The last 4 years of IEP meetings for my son have felt like that. I probably appear slightly “unstable”, too. I know that I am frightening. The other chickens sure stay away from “Broody” and her chicks, even the Rooster is respectful of her.
Chicken drama is a a daily event on our hobby farm. Without “Broody” and her family, I guess life would be less interesting. The ups and downs of family life are ever present in the chicken pen now. We’ve seen some tragedy, a death of one of her chicks. We’ve seen plenty of joy. I’ve caught every member of my family just standing by the pen, watching the new babies grow and learn. Sometimes, laughing out loud. Our cat, who apparently recognizes its inferior size with the larger chickens (and us), has suddenly become quite interested in the smaller ones. Personally, I am more interested in watching the mother. I watch “Broody” scoop out feed to offer to her chicks. She even breaks it into bits so that it is easier to eat. After the death of one chick, I separated her from her original nest and chicks for a few hours. She was noticeable in extreme despair. I thought I knew better than she did. Real life can be intense at times and especially for a new mother. It isn’t always easy trusting that the new mother knows what to do, but “Broody” seems to just know. Next year, I bet she’ll even be better at raising her brood.