Once upon a springtime, there was a fluffy chicken named Mrs. Feathers. Mrs. Feathers wanted to be a mother. She laid an egg every day in her nest of shavings and straw, and she even lined the nest with soft, downy feathers. Mrs. Feathers did not like to be disturbed by anyone taking her eggs away from her. In fact, she pecked at anyone who came near, and she made hissing sounds to scare people away, too.
Mrs. Feathers is one of my favorite hens, and I truly didn’t mind if she became a mother. The problem was – there was no “Mr. Feathers” living in our coop. No rooster. None.
I read about “broody” hens, and the first bit of advice was to remove them from the nest, and make sure all eggs were taken away, too. Mrs. Feathers wasn’t cooperative. I removed eggs. She laid more. I moved her from the nest. She either returned to the nest box, or just moved in next door. And by this time, my hands were scabby and scratched from being pecked so many times.
I talked to my neighbors who also have chickens, and received some more advice. One old farmer suggested I have Mrs. Feathers sit in cold water. Another friend thought I might just ignore her. I couldn’t do either. Poor Mrs. Feathers just wanted to be a mother.
The third neighbor I talked to had the best of advice of all. He said, “I’ve got a rooster. Take two or three eggs from my coop, and put them under your hen. I can be an ‘egg donor’ for your girl.” So, that’s what I did. I used three “donated” eggs: two brown and one white, and settled them, along with several of her own, unfertilized eggs, under Mrs. Feathers one night.
A couple of days later, when I was gathering eggs, I was in a hurry, thinking of something else, and it wasn’t until I had the eggs from Mrs. Feathers’ nest that I realized she was off the nest. All the eggs from her nest were in my basket.
Now, this could be the end of the story, but it’s actually just the beginning. I looked carefully at the eggs I had gathered: Yes! There was the white one. Back to the nest with that one. And … there’s the one that I noticed had a stripe of dirt on the side. One more for the nest. And … that’s where I couldn’t tell. I carefully penciled an “X” on the two donor eggs, and took the rest to the house. That evening, I checked the nest again, and Mrs. Feathers was setting on the eggs. I made her a comfortable nest in a cardboard box, so the eggs wouldn’t roll out of the nesting box, and marked the date on my calendar.
Mrs. Feathers took her job seriously. Day and night she sat on those two eggs. This was a hot summer, and I often worried that she would get dehydrated or that the eggs would get too hot. She knew more than I did! On steamy afternoons, she left the nest and sat nearby. Just as an incubator would do, Mrs. Feathers kept the temperature of the eggs regulated. The days ticked away, and on the 21st day, I checked, casually of course, the hen coop for sounds of “peeping” several times. Nothing. Nothing at all the next day, either. Finally, I steeled myself to reach under the hen and check the eggs. The white egg seemed hard as ever, but the brown egg …. I held it to my ear, and I could hear faint tapping noises. Carefully, I replaced the egg, and went about my business.
By the morning of the 24th day, there was an eggshell pushed to the side of the nest box, and a tiny BLACK head peeking out from under Mrs. Feathers. The white egg never hatched, but Mrs. Feathers didn’t seem to care. She was a mother! And what a wonderful mother! She talked to her baby all the time, and since it was very hot, she often had him resting underneath her with his head out to keep him cool.
Him. You’ll notice I refer to the baby as “him.” I had no idea if the chick was male or female, but since the man we received the eggs from was named Jim … we named the little chick “Jimmy.” Jimmy peeped to his mother all the time, and every night, she tucked him in under her wing, and he slept safely.
Again, this could be the happy ending of the story. And it nearly is.
Jimmy is now 5 months old. SHE is a beautiful, glossy black hen with feathers growing down her legs and nearly covering her feet. She’s almost as big as her mother, now, and they spend their days in the hen yard with the other chickens, pecking and scratching.
Jimmy, however, still peeps. And at night, when the other chickens are tucked up on their roosts, Jimmy still snuggles in under her mother’s wing and sleeps with her head peeking out.