25 October 2009

How to Pick Up Chicks

We have a new chick. The previous chick died shortly after I announced it to the world. The mother hen, in her exuberance to protect the chick, kept stepping on it. Apparently there have been several chicks that have died even before they were old enough to leave the coop.

A couple weekends ago when some friends came by the house with their kids, the kids stopped and squealed, "A chick!" This was the first I'd seen or heard of it, but there it was. A little yellow speck hopping around after the hen. It already looked larger and stronger than the previous chick, so we had hope for it.

The days have gone by with us respecting the hen and the chick and watching it grow from a distance. It's getting larger and straying further from the protection of the hen, but not too far.

Yesterday some friends came by with their young son, almost two years old. He likes to chase the rooster around the yard but this was the first time he'd seen the chick. The rooster and hen were not happy with him trying to get so close and for a few seconds it looked like they were going to attack him. The rooster actually flapped and squawked and flew right over the kid's head. (Luckily he just laughed, rather than being terrified.) But the hen and rooster, in their attempts to protect the chick, ended up abandoning it. There's a short retaining wall in our yard and while it's a cinch for roosters, hens, and two year olds to scramble over, it's insurmountable for a chick.

Our plan was to catch the chick or at least herd it to another part of the yard where the hen could reunite with it. The chick wanted nothing to do with us, but luckily ran in the direction we wanted him to, toward one of the hen's favorite corners. And under a large bush where no one could see him.

We decided to leave the yard to the chickens so the family could get back together. We went upstairs and watched from the terrace as the hen cautiously made her way down to the bush. The chick started peeping when it realized mamma was nearby. The hen started calling to it. She went into the bush and we expected the chick to follow her out.

Apparently she couldn't convince the chick to leave. She left the bush, and spent the last hour of daylight pacing between the coop and the bush. As the sun was going down, the chick got nervous and started peeping, and even took a few steps out into the yard. But the hen seemed torn between her instincts of going to the coop at sundown and wanting to stay with her chick.

We got headlamps and flashlights in order to make another attempt at catching the chick. The hen was obviously distraught over the situation so we figured the best thing to do was to try and get the chick back to the coop. We came close. We finally saw him, all hunkered down, and succeeded in scaring him out of the bush. Only for him to run too fast for me to catch him without falling, stepping on him, or dropping a flashlight on him. He ran around for a bit, luring us away from the bush, then scootered right back in. By this time it was quite dark. We thought it was best for nature to take its course and wait until morning. We had two social engagements (a rarity for us!) so couldn't spend all night searching for a chick that didn't want to be found.

We were pretty distressed at the thought of losing another animal. Nature, Africa, circle of life, and all that stuff. It gets exhausting after a while. 

Our night guards were having trouble getting the hen and rooster into the coop. They are the ones who close it up for the night and open it every morning. The hen had disappeared and they thought continuing the chick search would bring her out of hiding as well. Mike said to give him 15 more minutes of searching time, then he'd quit to get dressed and go out. He went back out into the yard armed with more flashlights and headlamps for the guards.

I decided not to watch. I could here cheeps and squawks and yelps from inside while I was getting ready. I expected the chick to get stepped on and tragically end the whole ordeal. But after a few minutes Mike came back into the house, announcing victory. 

The hen had returned to the bush to hunker down for the night with the chick. And this time she wasn't letting it go. Somehow Mike and the guards were able to herd both her and the chick together back toward the coop. The rooster and the hen went in peacefully, but the chick decided to hide under it. So Mike and the guards had to scare the chick out of hiding while the hen and the rooster went berserk inside the coop. Eventually the whole family was safe and sound inside for the night.

They are unusually quiet this morning, but I saw the chick hopping around. Everyone seems to be okay, maybe just a little more wary of us.

A little side note: The bush that the chick and the hen kept returning to was full of eggs! She must be using it as a secret nest, and that's why we keep getting chicks even though the eggs are being collected from the coop regularly.


Cara Lopez Lee said...

My goodness, what a gripping comedy/drama. I was glued to your little story, thinking, "Will the chick survive?" What an unusual life you have created, so many days full of strange and wonderful moments, tucked within the commonplace.

After reading so many stories about factory coops where hens live on top of each other in mindless misery, this tale of the maternal instincts of a hen who lives in a normal yard and coop was very refreshing.

Thanks for sharing it!

Deidre said...

My parents got guinea hens and chickens last year. The guinea hens are supposed to eat ticks which is a problem where they live and so they let them out in spring and about two weeks later our guinea hen flock had diminished from 3 to 1. Coyotes!

Glad the chickidee was safe!


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