Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Tale of Two Hens

Blackie, Goldie, and their three little chicks

I am the first to admit I am not an expert on chicken psychology.  However, I have had chickens off and on for years and frankly admired their complete lack of common sense.  I have seen chickens almost drown in a small container of water, get stuck in small crawl spaces and be unable to figure out how to get out (by simply backing out), and lay their eggs on top of chicken snakes...

Yet sometimes even the simple chicken will surprise and amaze you...

Yes, chickens are not wired
to be incredibly intelligent animals, but they do have their own fascinating social structure.  Anyone who has had chickens understands where they get the saying "pecking order".  Chickens have their own hierarchy and someone is always getting pushed around.  Introduce a new chicken to your brood and just pray it doesn't get pecked to death. 

Watching mother hens and their chicks is my favorite part of chicken farming.  It takes a mere 21 days for a broody hen to hatch her eggs, and once those babies come out she will do anything to protect them.  She walks around with her feathers fluffed out to look more big and fierce and will attack anything that she feels is threatening her chicks, be it another hen, an unrelated baby chick, a cat, a snake, or even a human. 

But once her babies feather out she forgets they ever existed...  ;-) 

This year we had three hens get broody at once which is really rare.  The first hen, Pippi, hatched out her five healthy baby chicks first and I moved her family to the chick pen. Blackie and Goldie, each with three eggs, were still in the henhouse incubating their babies. 

A few days ago I noticed that one of Blackie's eggs was hatching.  The boys and I were so excited about seeing a few new baby chicks the next morning.  But tragedy struck overnight... 

When we excitedly visited Blackie's nest the next morning she was standing by it, feathers fluffed, looking horrible.  One glance in her nest told the entire story.  There was one tiny yellow chick, born the night before, dead, along with two completely cold eggs.  The poor chick had been attacked by fire ants during the night; ants attracted by the bloody eggshell.  And the other two chicks in their eggs, covered  by a sea of stinging ants, were neglected by a mother unable to sit on them and were dead. 

I quickly put Blackie on a new nest box and gave her an egg from Goldie, but she wouldn't have anything to do with it and quicky jumped off to stand by her now empty nest box. For the entire day she was like a little puffed up ghost, unable to eat or drink, moping around, trying to find her lost chicks.  It was really sad.

The next day I noticed Goldie had an egg that was hatching.  Blackie was still depressed (I know I am giving her human emotions, but if you saw her you would agree with me) so I decided I had to do something.  I put one of the hatching eggs under Blackie and she immediantly jumped off and ran back to her old nest box.  I decided to be patient.

A few hours later we had our first baby chick, a tiny brown and black one.  I grabbed it and stuck it in Blackie's nest box and stuck her on it.  She jumped off right away again, but this time turned around when she heard the baby chick's tiny peeps.  She came back, closely looked at the chick, and within a minute she was sitting on "her" chick and contentedly ruffling her feathers.

I moved her nest box next to Goldie's nest box and hoped they would not fight.  Another few hours went by and Goldie had her final two chicks hatch, one bright yellow and one a midnight black.  Both hens were contently cuddling their little babies, happy as any other new mother.

Now is when the story takes a surprising twist.  Mother hens hate other mother hens (and all other chickens) and will attack them if they get around their babies.  But for some reason, Blackie and Goldie decided to co-parent these three little chicks! 

I let the mothers and babies out of their cage the next day so the babies could get something to eat and drink.  I was watching closely to make sure there would not be a bloody chicken war.  I have seen mother hens grab, toss, and then peck a baby chick that was not hers.  However, instead of fighting, both hens stayed closely together with the three chicks running around their legs.  For whatever reason, these chicks now have two loving moms!

Neither hen seems to have a favorite chick, but will parent any combination of the three.  The hens follow each other everywhere, take dirt baths, eat,  and attack Pippi and her older chicks together.  I have not seen them fight once and the babies seem completely contented with their lot in life.  It is really the oddest but most amazing thing! 

Goldie protecting the chicks while Blackie does a little yoga.

Don't mess with Texas (Chicks)!


  1. I use to visit my grandparents farm every summer when I was young and fell in love with chickens. I always thought they had so much personality. My grandparents even "gave" me my own personal chicken ~ a white one. Each year when my family was planning a visit, they made sure there was at least one white chicken in the farm yard for me to look after. I thought I had the oldest chicken ever for the longest time!! :)

    I still to this day have a thing for chickens. I only wish I lived someplace where I could keep some. Loved this story! :)

  2. what an amazing story..I enjoyed it very much. thank you for sharing it. btw i love your blog! I read all of your stories. :)

  3. Such a sweet story! Nice to hear a happy ending to the mamma that lost her babies. :)

  4. Rita, I just love this post! One of my favorite things about chickens is their crooning sounds. What sweet mama-hens; sharing and loving one another and their babies.

  5. Rita,
    You are so lucky to live where you can have chickens. I loved reading your account.You might have heard of April, the chicken doctor at
    She is a hoot. check out her blog.
    Thanks so much for all that you share with us out here.

    All the best,


  6. What a great post ... I am a vegetarian because I have the tendency to give animals human emotions. Although I have never been around chickens, your post made me feel happy about my personal culinary decisions.
    I love your posts and your helpful blog ... I am new to actions but am having a blast playing with yours. Thanks!

  7. Love it!! And the photos =) xoxoxo

  8. I absolutely loved this story! And I love how you told it--you really drew me in. I am so happy that Blackie is a mother hen after all :)

  9. brilliant story - made me smile and remember my own childhood with a Blackie and Goldie - and their respective chicks! I think there could be a children's story in there as well - complete with illustrations! esp. loved the pic. of Blackie doing her yoga ... :-)

  10. Rita, you are the best story teller. Such a sweet story.
    Brought back memories of the movie "Chicken Run" which I loved!!

  11. Thanks everyone! And I wish I could write children's books because this one would be a fun one.

    Just wanted to update that all three chicks are doing great and both moms are taking care of them. They are all so cute. Rita

  12. wonderful story-I think it should be published! A good tale of acceptance and I am a K teacher! What it the world is a chicken snake?! Please tell me they are not in Canada(thats where I live and if they are here, I'm moving!)

  13. Sassy, we call rat snakes chicken snake when they are in our chicken pens. :-) And you might have to move, look what I found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elaphe_obsoleta . They can be up to 8 feet long and also live in Canada!!!

    The biggest we found was 5 feet long and I was scared to death!!!

  14. Awwww! What a cute story! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Rita,
    Thank you for sharing this touching story! Yesterday was really a tough day and when I logged on to the internet for some mental recess....your blog was the first site I visited! Your story touched my heart and made me smile. You have such a gift for storytelling and your stories inspire me!! Have a great day and Thanks again for getting me back in a ~~Smiling~~ Mood!! ( PS.....my friends and co-workers appreciated it too!! LOL

  16. Oh how I needed a cute animal story! (Seeing the photos of the gulf oil spill has really depressed me.)

    I have a friend who has chickens and I've seen the fighting mother hen scenario. It's a great story to see the photos of 2 mother hens with the chicks together. so cute! Thanks for sharing.

  17. Huh! Maybe they arent as dumb after all. I have never been around chickens (I hATE birds of all kinds) but that is really interesting and heart warming. It just shows that everyone can get along with a little effort. Even chickens.

  18. awww, what a great story..you have a wonderful way with words and the the chick pix are beautiful. thanks for sharing.

  19. How incredibly precious that is!! I have tears in my eyes just reading that (or it could be the PMS.) Either way I love it! Rock on little chicken mommys!

  20. We have what I call a Dr. Doolittle farm and I have to say that watching the chickens really makes the day go by. My two boys love incubating them when we get the chance as we only have laying hens. They don't tend to want to sit on their eggs. Oh well I guess. It would be neat to see the mother/baby bond, but no such luck with ours at this time. Thanks for the great story and all the amazing templates, actions etc.