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)!