Since Smoky took so well to the chicks we put under her a couple days ago, I wondered... could we get away with giving her the rest of the chicks we had in the house? I mean, if she's so willing to do the work, let her do it all... right?
We had five chicks left in the brooder box, so I picked the chick who looked the most different from the ones she already had. Bright yellow. Hard to miss.
In the stall, Smoky was giving her babies a lesson in scratching. She'd scratch back some hay, peck at the ground, and cluck excitedly to show her babies how it's done. When I put the yellow chick on the ground, she stared at it briefly. Reminded me of that old Sesame Street song: "One of these things is not like the other..."
...and then she got right back to work, showing her chicks how to scratch.
I wondered if Smoky would show any hostility toward a baby so obviously different than her own. It was clear Smoky knew something was different about this chick.
But it obviously didn't matter to Smoky. A chick was a chick, and she was there to mother it. Within a minute or two, the yellow chick was joining the scratching lesson along with her siblings.
Emboldened by this success, I stuffed the remaining four chicks into a plastic container...
...and brought them out to the stall.
Once again Smoky paused to wonder about these newcomers.
The chicks (after a moment or two of confusion) began mingling right away.
But this one baby stood stock-still for the longest time.
The other chicks explored and scratched and pecked...
...but this little one just acted like a statue.
At last the baby unfroze and began cautiously to explore.
She seemed entirely awed by Smoky, and kept staring at her. It was a real "Are you my mother?" moment.
Evidently so. Within minutes, the little one was scratching as happily as the rest, satisfied that she had a mother.
So now Smoky has nine bandits with her.
But what about nighttime? Could nine chicks fit under her feathers and stay warm?
As the sun went down behind smoke-filled hills and dusk fell...
...she settled into her favorite spot, and one by one the chicks pushed underneath her, finding whatever available spot they could.
It amazed me that even the slightly older chicks, raised in the brooder box, knew instinctively what to do.
By nightfall, everyone was bedded down somewhere in Smoky's feathers, cozy and warm.
I shouldn't have questioned Smoky's maternal devotion. Once a hen decides to go broody, nothing can stop her. Broody hens have been known to take care of kittens, puppies, or anything else that will fit under their wings.
A broody hen is a valuable hen. Smoky's maternal instinct has saved her from ever finding a spot in our freezer.