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Missing Mama

Posted 10/13/2011 1:27pm by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Late last spring we were excited to find a mama hen in the barn with seven newly hatched chicks.   Our chicken flock had been dwindling over the past several years and we were hoping for a naturally occurring population boost.  We collected them in a big green tub and brought them across the road to the house where we knew we could keep them safe till they were large enough to roost.   Perhaps our summer was busier than usual, but before long they were out of the tub and into a small dog kennel and then simply wandering around the yard where they were the fix for Mac's herding obsession during the boring months when his best playmate, Pip, was off at herding school.    Between Mac circling them constantly and their very attentive mother hen, (...and yes, Mac seemed to know that eating these chicks was not in his best interest as we were giving them a lot of attention) all the chicks survived their most vulnerable months, even the period of about two weeks when an immature Red-tailed hawk was eyeing them from the telephone wire.  

It was that hawk that took the blame for the sudden disappearance of the mama hen in early September.   The chicks had grown to the point that it was difficult to tell the difference between the mama and some of her chicks.  She had continued to faithfully cluck for them when she found food and at dusk she led them to the big garage where, when they were just tiny fluff balls, she had gathered them under her.  Then one day she just wasn't around.   The grown chicks wandered around in the yard, occassionally running to me or the girls, like aimless teens.   We were sad to have lost the mama hen as not all hens show the same proclivity for mothering.  We looked for her and we looked for her remains, assuming the young hawk may have finally gathered up the courage to take out the mama as she sounded the alarm for her chicks to take cover.    No luck.  No hen and no pile of bones and feathers.   She was simply gone. 

... Until one morning she came trotting across the road from the barn, a hapless rooster trailing along behind her.   She, the wise reader of Ecclesiastes, knew the time had come for her children to leave the nest and since they didn't seem to know where to go, she moved out, back to her previous home and one of the fathers of her brood.   She frequently comes to the house to visit them and usually brings the rooster along to keep Mac and Pip entertained while she chats it up with her chicks as they muddle through their Adjustment to Adulthood Disorder.    I'm afraid our neglect of the situation has added to the young chicks' angst.   We usually return chicks to the barn and chicken house when they begin to roost, but these chickens were late-roosters and we were either too busy or too lazy to make it a priority.   So for now we have yard chickens when what we want  are barn chickens.  One of these evenings we will gather the unsuspecting chickens as they roost and walk them across the road to the barn and chicken adulthood.   We'll see if it works.  Tranisiton to adulthood is never as easy as we would like it to be ... especially when a rural highway divides chick-hood from chickendom.