Today our new baby chicks arrived in the mail! We have had chickens for about six years now and at least one of the hens hatches a small new batch of babies every year. As is the case with naturally incubated eggs, many of them end up being roosters though. Our original chickens are slowing down egg production now after six years of work and several of our older hens have suddenly died during the past year. So, we decided it was time to introduce some new stock! We ordered 15 buff orpington pullets from Cackle Hatchery. Coincidentally, in the month that we waited for them to get incubated and shipped, one of our existing buff orpington hens got broody and is currently sitting on 18 eggs! I have no idea how successful she’ll be with that large of a nest, but she has hatched babies in the past and been a good mother. Last year, the baby chicks hatched on my birthday (May 3) and it felt like a birthday present. There are few things I like better than a new baby chick! 🙂
We decided a couple of months ago that our kids should join 4-H and so we’ve been getting started with a local club. We joined the crafts and cooking projects to start (the 4-H year begins in October, so we are way behind to be joining and starting projects) and conveniently they have a poultry project leader too—they said as long as we had the chickens before the end of April we could use them for a project this year. We barely made it, but here they are!
I love this picture of all the heads looking in the box!
Then, as we continued to stare in amazement, the mama hen clucked to her baby softly and fluffed her wings around it until it disappeared beneath her with the others. Isn’t this the birthright of every new baby of any species? To be snuggled immediately after birth into the warm embrace and near the breast of the female body that has given it life? The body that has cared for and nurtured it so lovingly so that its head may finally peek out into the world?
And, then last year I learned some more lessons from another chicken mama and her baby:
[Last] summer, I had another profound birth-mothering experience with one of our chickens after she hatched her first baby. During the last several days of incubation, mothers hens “talk” to their babies a lot through the eggshells and the babies respond. It is part of how they get to know each other and imprint before hatching. Then, after baby hatches, the mother hen continues to talk and cluck to the baby in a reassuring manner—she calls to the babies when separated and she calls a special call when there is something good to eat and she clucks softly and reassuringly at bedtime as she snuggles them all beneath her. There is a specific type of “soothing” noise they make to stressed or lost babies and a specific sort of excited sound they make to let the babies know something good is happening. There are also distressed sound that means, “run to me now, there might be danger!”
We had three broody chickens at the time, each in their own little separate nest box in the broody coop. One of the hens had hatched a baby already and was in the neighboring box. The inexperienced mama hen hatched her baby and she would not talk to it….