Fowl behavior

Not only do our free range layers provide us with a daily surplus of eggs, they are also an endless source of education and entertainment. Recently we have had the added pleasure of being able to watch one of Joanna’s Speckled Sussex hens hatch a clutch of eggs. The little ones will be three weeks old on Monday (there are actually eight in the group, three were uncooperative at picture time) and have been running about the yard, under the always watchful attentions of Mother, for nearly a week. As a mammal, viviparity seems a correct and reasonable way to produce offspring. As such, oviparity is simply astounding. To deposit a seemingly inanimate object into a nest and incubate it at just the right temperature, to have a fully-formed and precocious little thing emerge in just twenty-one days seems like fantasy. Although I cannot tell you which comes first, I can assure you that chickens do indeed come from eggs. Furthermore, once the peeps arrive, the maternal instinct of the bird who hatched the group is a marvel in itself. Did you know that a hen will set a clutch when the number of eggs under her gets to be about a dozen or so? The interesting thing is that it really doesn’t matter whether all the eggs are hers or not. If you don’t want to raise peeps, simply see to it that the eggs are removed from the layer house at the end of the day. If, however, you do want to raise additional layers (and cockerels for the pot) simply leave an egg behind. The next day your hens will take the hint and lay their next eggs alongside the one you’ve left for encouragement. In no time you’ll have a clutch, all with the same sire (we run a single Rooster here at the farm) but with potentially as many mothers are there are eggs (if, that is, you run that many hens in your flock). A brooding hen will set for the duration, leaving her nest briefly each day or two for a quick drink and something to eat. And hens are dedicated and protective mothers. We have eight outdoor cats patrolling the barns and outbuildings. Even though we provide an ample supply of dry cat food for these hard-working felines all of them will avail themselves of the opportunity of a snack, if one should present itself. Imagine how delightful a morsel one of these defenseless little birds must appear to these predatory felines. But you know, NONE of them will give a second look at these little birds, for if they should hazard to do so, they seem to know that the hen will make them wish they hadn’t! If one of the cats, or dogs, or even I should come too close, a hen will put her head down, tail up, open her wings, begin to scream and CHARGE, full tilt. If you don’t back off immediately, the threat turns into an attack and you’ll be treated to a brutal, nail-first, wing lashing. It is surely true that There’s no greater love than a Mother for her Children. Whether this care is a true show of emotional love and devotion or simply a hard-wired behavior is unimportant, suffice it to say that this bird is clearly ready to do battle. To end this post I’ve included a nice portrait of two of Joanna’s Silver Laced Wyandottes. These two girls struck a pose yesterday afternoon that simply cried out to be presented here.



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