Sunday, February 16, 2014
Chicks and Chickens
Now that we live on this five acre ‘lifestyle’ block outside Christchurch (our earthquake settlement house), life has taken on so many interesting aspects. We have the classic dog, cat, goldfish, sheep (five to be exact), a calf and chickens. Who would have known how much fun chickens could be? I am quite taken with them and this summer as been more interesting than ever. It all started about a year ago when my neighbour arrived at my house with two chickens. One was a friendly and was a sleek, black girl with little red comb on her head. The other was a truly fluffy grey that wanted nothing to do with anyone. I named them Miss Blackie and Lady Grey. No one could ever think my chickens were just birds. They have such distinctive personalities. Miss Blackie is feisty little hen who pecks at toes and fingers until she gets something to eat. She curtsies and you know she is allowing you to pet her smooth feathers. Lady Grey puffs up and runs away if you get close. She is far too royal to allow a mere servant to do anything but throw grain for her enjoyment. We put them in the run. I had spent some time cleaning out the weeds that had grown wild over the years the place had tenanted. It is such an enviable chicken run. A well protected area, with a high wire fence housing a good-size coop and shaded by a dozen mature pine trees. They looked so happy in there and I was delighted a few months later when they started laying eggs. What could be better, cute little characters that actually give back! Then it happened. Lady Grey was suddenly unwell. She would stay in the coop instead of coming to scold me when I arrived with their wheat and pellets. I was worried. But, after consulting with my chicken-expert neighbour, I discovered that Lady Grey was broody, and I came home with seven fertilized eggs to put under her. We weren’t sure how Miss Blackie was going to react to chicks, since she showed no signs of being broody at all. Lady Grey showed herself to be a wonderful sitter. I threw a little less food out for Miss Blackie and put some in the coop for the Lady. Then one day, no Miss Blackie came running for her food. Sure enough, there was Miss Blackie, in the coop sitting on her latest egg. I took it out, reminding her that her eggs aren’t fertilized because we have no Lord of the Coop. She flapped and squawked at me and then climbed on top of Lady Grey. And that was it. No imploring of mine could persuade that bird that she should not be in that nesting box. She was determined to be co-mother. Every day, I pulled her out of Lady Grey’s box, every day she went back. Then the hatching began. I pulled Miss Blackie out of the nesting books, Lady Grey came out too, followed by a little yellow chick. And to my surprise, a little black chick followed Miss Blackie into the other nesting box. As the days past, five little chicks appeared. And two happy hens clucked about the coop taking turns sitting in the nesting boxes. We had the little yellow chick, two greys, a black and a gold one. They were beautiful, and they sat under a different hen every time I checked on them. This might look like a truly modern family story. But in truth, it did become clear that the chicks knew Lady Grey was their mother. It was to her they ran if they were frightened. But Miss Blackie doesn’t seem to know they prefer Lady Grey. And sometimes, not knowing is just fine in life, whether you are a chicken or a person.