In the upstairs portion of our barn, not far from where a mother duck recently made a nest and hatched eleven ducklings, one of our Buff Orpington hens also hid a huge stash of eggs and went broody on them. How well hidden? She'd been there for weeks, and we didn't even know it.
That changed yesterday afternoon, when Homeschooled Farm Girl happened to hear a chick peeping. She was outside the barn, on the ground level, so it's pure luck that the sound carried that far. She did some investigating, and eventually tracked down the source. Way up here, behind the hay, in the northwest corner of the barn, hatching was in progress:
It was an incredibly secure nest. The hen had squeezed in there, and did have a pathway out through the hay bales. Even when they're broody and trying to hatch eggs, they take periodic breaks to get food and water. The problem is, the nest was too secure. There was absolutely no way the chicks could get out. They couldn't follow Mother Hen through the hay - the climbs and jumps needed were far too large. Worse, they were in danger of falling off the support beam, and landing back behind the hay bales.
This morning, once we were reasonably sure the hatching process was complete, one of our kids captured the loudly-squawking-and-clearly-upset Mother Hen. I somehow fished out the eight chicks she'd hatched, and carried them down to the barn floor. We then carefully set Mother Hen with the chicks, and put some layer feed down for them. Happy, excited clucks followed, as she demonstrated for her brood what needed to be done with this wonderful stuff we'd put out.
I'm guessing the nest contained eggs from multiple hens. Either that, or Mother Hen had been bred by multiple roosters. There are a couple of chicks that look like purebred Buff Orpingtons. Two others are black. The others are white, or a mix of white and black. Doesn't matter. Their eggs will all taste the same when they're old enough to start laying.
We let the Hen and her brood wander around the barn, and the grass outside, for a couple of hours. It was clear, however, that eight is at least a few too many for her to keep track of. Plus, it's a pretty cool day. For safety, we packed her and the chicks up, and moved them to the same garden pen that the mother duck and her eleven ducklings have been occupying.
So far, the two broods seem to be getting along. The pen appears to be plenty big for both groups.
Who knows what surprises we'll find in the barn tomorrow...
Well, that didn't take long. At about 6pm this evening, Homeschooled Farm Girl came and found me again. She could hear another chick peeping, up in the barn, near where the nest had been. "I think there were nine," she announced. "The other chick must've fallen down behind the hay."
The two of us went back to the barn, flashlight in hand. I could hear the chick, too, but it was WAY down behind the hay. We began excavating bales, which toppled over into a haphazard pile in the middle of the barn. No matter. Those could always be re-stacked.
Eventually, we moved enough bales so we could shine the flashlight into the tight little space between the remaining hay bales and the floor. And there, way in the corner, under some cobwebs and lots of loose hay, was a tiny white chick. I reached down and scooped it up.
The first thing I noticed was how chilled the little thing was. We immediately took it out to the pasture pen in the garden, to rejoin the rest of the brood. It tottered toward Mother Hen, who did not peck at it or show any other signs of rejection. That's a good start.
Here's hoping that Number Nine is no worse for the long isolation, and hits the garden ground running with the rest of the brood. So far so good.