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Another Day in the Country

Surrogates save the day

Contributing writer

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about chickens — my chickens. There wasn’t much to talk about because there weren’t a lot of chickens left after the latest devastation when the neighbor’s dogs killed all but one of my 2-month-old brood. This left me with my erstwhile black hen, dubbed the Virgin Mary, who had courageously tried Immaculate Conception, which didn’t work between her high hopes and my meddling, as you may recall.

When Mary was all that was left from one chicken house and one 2-month-old highly traumatized chick hiding in my garage was left from the other house, I tried putting them together — for company. At first, the concept of company was highly over-rated. Mary was constantly pacing in and out of the house and the chick sat up on the highest beam in the chicken house and wouldn’t come down. I worried she wasn’t even eating.

When Mary wasn’t pacing, she’d sit in one of the nest boxes, fussing. This two-chicken world was less than satisfying and she decided to take matters into her own hands, so to speak, and go back to setting. I tried discouraging her by pushing her out of the nest. She was laying one egg a day but I didn’t let her keep them. We argued. We fussed at one another. And then I just felt sorry for her. Poor Mary was just doing the only thing she knew to do when there’s devastation — try again!

So, I called my friends down the street who have chickens (and a rooster, because I hear him crowing all the time) and said, “Do you have any fertile eggs? Mary needs some eggs that are fertile.”

They weren’t sure they could accommodate me because their rooster was old and a little sketchy about coming home at night but the next day I found five eggs carefully ensconced on my porch swing in a paper towel nest. I took them straight away to Mary.

“Here you go, girl,” I said to her. “If you’re dead set on setting, try these.” And, I went inside and marked the calendar. Twenty-one days later, I put an “X.”

The nervous chick came down from the rafters to check things out, now that Mary was busy with something else. Eventually, she climbed into the nest with Mary like friends passing the time of day. Mary fussed, at first, but what’s a girl gonna do with such constant company? If she got off the nest, that wouldn’t do. If there was a fuss, the precious eggs could be broken. So, Mary just spread her wings wide and covered those five eggs as if they were gold from Fort Knox.

I tried to think up names for the adolescent chick riding sidesaddle in the nest; but no names came to mind. Nervous Nellie was my choice for a few days and then I went to California for a working vacation.

“There’s a possibility of chicks,” I warned my sister, “even though you made the rule about No Chicks Before Vacations. These will be easy because they’ll have a mother to take care of them.”

For 21 days, V. Mary sat on those eggs and then one morning Jess called and said, “They hatched! I can’t believe it! They ALL hatched! Five little chicks, down from that high nest box with Mary and the other young hen both taking care of them.”

I had to see it to believe. I dubbed the babysitter Aunt Sue. When Mary calls the chicks to eat and throws down little bits of food for them, Aunt Sue does the same thing. When Mary calls a warning, Aunt Sue agrees entirely. The chicks are thriving with all this attention. One chick will ride on Mother’s back and Aunt Sue watches over the other four coming behind. She’s very cautious and seems to be constantly counting to make sure every chick is accounted for — after what she’s gone through, I can understand. We’re counting, too.

Norma and Zeb, who own the sperm donor and the surrogate egg-layers, got a call when the chicks hatched and they came to check them out like proud grandparents. This little miracle of Mother Nature has brought us lots of joy.

While I was in California, and before we knew the outcome of the hatch, I ordered more chicks to replenish my lost flock. Their arrival was timed to coincide with my grandson coming in August to spend another day in the country. I imagined the fun he would have seeing 24 chicks arrive in the mail, teaching them to drink, and helping me take care of them while he’s here.

I’ve been talking to Mary and Aunt Sue about more chicks, breaking it to them gently, assuring them that surely the two of them can handle additional responsibility, promising that I’ll be right there with them, throwing down food for the babies, calling out danger, keeping them warm at night. Mary fixed me with a stern eye and I swear I saw Sue swallow a Valium.

Last modified Aug. 4, 2011

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