Life on a homestead farm has its ups and downs, but it's rarely dull.
One of the "downs" happened about three weeks ago, when my favorite hen disappeared. She was this really neat looking bird with almost falcon-like markings on her head, so we called her "Frightful" after Sam Gribley's falcon in Jean George's My Side of the Mountain (my favorite book as a kid). When a chicken disappears, it means a coyote got it for certain.
Meanwhile, a couple months ago one of our neighbor's hen hatched out three chicks. It was late in the season to have chicks, but they have a nice big barn and the chicks had shelter.
The weather for the past couple weeks has been turning wintry. Yesterday we had drenching cold rain and wild wind. This morning it was cold (20 degrees) but clear. We worked outside today - a neighbor was stacking some hay for us in our barn, we were cleaning up the outside area in anticipation of the year's first snowfall (due tomorrow), etc. Just ordinary things around a homestead.
I kept hearing the neighbor's chicks peeping and kept thinking their hen was wandering pretty far from their barn. In the late afternoon, noticing some magpies nearby (magpies can be carnivorous), I decided to shoo the neighbor's hen and chicks back toward their barn.
But the peeping was not coming from the neighbor's side of the fence - it was coming from ours. In our bull pen, there was none other than Frightful - with a tiny inch-high chick next to her!
I blinked in astonishment and walked into the house. "Girls," I said. "You will never ever in a million years guess what I just saw."
The kids shrieked in excitement. We all marveled that this wily young hen (five months old) had stolen a nest at such a young age! And she'd survived outside for three weeks (the hatching period for chicks) in some terribly nasty and cold weather too!
We gathered an old rabbit hutch we had salvaged at the dump a few months ago and set it up inside the chicken coop with the heat lamp poised right over it. We put fluffy dry hay inside, along with food and water. I took a bucket and handed it to the girls. "I'll get the hen," I told them. "When I pick her up, you get the chicks and we'll bring them inside the coop.
There were two chicks, barely an inch high. But another surprise awaited us - when I lifted the hen off the nest, there were eight more eggs under her, in various stages of hatching! The girls handled them very carefully. They patted down a nest in the straw in the rabbit hutch, then gently laid all the eggs inside the new nest. Next came the chicks. When I slipped the hen inside, she clucked and settled immediately on the nest, but kept getting off to eat and drink. I have no doubt she was pretty darned hungry! Not to mention glad to be under a heat lamp!
I called my husband, who was in town for a meeting. "The feed store closes in five minutes," I said. "Can you run quick and get some chick starter [feed]?" He was as astonished as we were at this turn of events.
So there you go. I'll keep you posted how the chicks do in this cold weather, as well as how many chicks hatch.