Saturday, June 18, 2011

1 chick, 2 mama hens

This is a conundrum almost worthy of King Solomon.  We have one chick but two hens who are each sure the chick is hers.  The chick doesn't seem unduly worried either way.

It started a few weeks ago when DS reported that Mrs. Badger, our grey Silkie bantam hen, had gone broody.  Then after a few weeks we realized that E.B., a black hen, herself hatched in the backyard last year, wasn't out-and-about as much as usual -- reason?  She was broody, too!  And seated right beside Mrs. Badger in the corner.  They even seemed to be sharing eggs. When one would take her daily break to eat and drink, the other attempted to cover all the eggs. 

We were busy with other things (mainly garden and end-of-year homeschool activities) and instead of separating them and giving each a clutch of fertile eggs from the pastured girls as is our wont, we left them to it.

Well, late last week, DS went out to check for eggs and discovered there was a tiny chick tucked under a hen in the backyard coop.  Problem was, we couldn't tell just which hen was claiming the chick.  He (tail could indicate a cockerel but not sure yet) would pop out from under first one black wing then another.  (Mrs. Badger, though known as a grey Silkie, is more of a charcoal color -- nearly indistinguishable from E.B.'s coloring except in bright light.)

Snowball and her two-month-old chicks were still in the baby pen so first we had to relocate them and re-situate the pen on fresh ground.  Snowball still isn't happy about that -- she sits right outside the gate apparently waiting to be let back in though she did lead her chicks into the big girls' coop from the first night on.  Since we couldn't tell which hen had hatched the chick, we decided to move both hens with the baby.  We figured once they were in the baby pen, the "real" mama hen would take over and the other would want to be freed to roam again with the other backyard girls, guinea fowl and Badger, the grey Silkie bantam roo.

But that's not the way it was.  Both hens would call the chick and he went to either; they all slept in the little house together.  However, after a few days, E.B. seemed to want out -- she was pacing the pen, eyeing the other chickens in the yard as though she was ready to re-join them.  Mrs. Badger and the chick just watched her from a distance.  We thought "Aha!  It's Mrs. Badger's chick and E.B.'s ready to give up and re-join the rest of the flock!"  So DS let E.B. out yesterday afternoon and all seemed fine. Mrs. Badger called the chick to her when I gave them some treats and E.B., though she hung around the yard near the baby pen, ranged with the other girls.

Until evening, that is.  Mama hens and their little chicks often go in for the night long before the rest of the chickens.  Around 6:30 or 7:00 last night, well before the 9:00 bedtime the other chickens adapt this time of year, E.B. began to terrorize the other hens and Snowball's two chicks.  I'd tossed out some leftover cornbread near the baby pen and the big girls were all enjoying their treat except for E.B.  She would pick up a few crumbs, then charge an unsuspecting hen from the rear -- pulling tail feathers and seeming to ram into them before they could run off.  Then she'd go back to pecking for crumbs.  She's always been a bit of a bully so DS and I, watching from the deck, didn't think too much of it except that there was no cause.  She had access to as many crumbs as any other chicken.  I'd scattered them far and wide over that area of yard.

When the cornbread crumbs were mostly gone, E.B. began pacing, then practically loping around the chick pen.  And the chick was trying to keep up with her on the inside.  Mrs. Badger just sat quietly by the door to the little house and watched.  Finally DS and I got the idea -- E.B. wanted in the chick pen.  (We can be pretty dense sometimes.)  So DS opened the gate and shooed her around the pen till she could see it was open.  That's all it took.  E.B. ran into the pen and almost immediately she and the chick were inside the little house settling down for the night.  Mrs. Badger joined them in a few minutes and scooted right up to E.B. with the chick sort of in between them at the rear.
I tried to get a clear picture but only the hens were visible.  DS suggested he take off the house's roof in order to spot the chick but that just stirred everyone up and they all hopped over the side walls fussing up a storm.  Or maybe that was due to me using the flash -- hard to spot a little black fluffball between to big black fluffballs without proper lighting...
So for now, we have a chick who has two mamas.  Perhaps one hen will get tired of the process and give up but no sign of that yet.


Shonya said...

How funny! Too bad those mamas can't share a whole bunch more babies!

Carolyn at Walnut Spinney said...

I know! They should have had more to lavish all that care on. Maybe next time!