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A Happy Surprise

Farming has so many surprises. While we’ve had our share of unpleasant ones, there have been many that still make us smile. This is one of those stories. 

Back in September we had a young chicken that was MIA for several days. Neither Houston nor I had seen her for almost a week. She was easy to spot, being the only white hen. Then one day I got a text from Houston saying that she was back. We were both shocked and wondered where she’d been. Later in the day he discovered her secret. She had made a nest in a pile of dead branches, instinctively choosing a safe place. When Houston gently lifted her, he counted 17 eggs.

We were dumbfounded. She was such a young hen herself that we didn’t think they could all be hers. Within just a few days the hatching began. All total, she hatched seven chicks. One didn’t make it, but the other six were quick to get up and imitate their mama, pecking at the chick food and learning to drink water just as she taught them. 

They weren’t all her chicks. Only three of them had any white feathers. There were two black ones and one brown one. This mama took over the care of all those eggs, nurturing the baby chicks as they started life on our farm.

Yesterday as Houston came out to feed the animals, mama hen and her little brood came running toward him. They followed him to the shed where the food is kept and stayed until he sprinkled some of their pellets on the ground. (Even though all of our animals - except for the pigs - get most of their nourishment from the land, Houston likes to feed them a little something morning and night in order to check on everyone. Think of it as something of a roll call.) I watched as one young chick began pecking greedily at the feed until our female goose scared it away.  

It’s been such fun to watch the growth of the chicks. They’re getting taller and at least a few of them are changing in color as their feathers all come in. I was looking for the other black chick yesterday and couldn’t find it. Finally I noticed that she (I’m being optimistic that they’re all hens, which they probably aren’t.) now has brown feathers on the top part of her body. And another one which was previously solid white also has brown feathers on top. 

It will probably be late winter or early spring before we know if we have a rooster in the bunch. If we do, we’ll rehome him. We did this last year. A glamper turned friend, who bought two of our Kunekune piglets more than a year ago, took our young rooster to her farm. From what we’ve learned, the ideal ratio is one rooster to approximately 10 hens. Since these chickens are layers (as opposed to meat chickens), we’re hoping for all hens - and more eggs!

This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the November 4, 2023 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.

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