© Another Day in the Country
When I’m reading the chicken Wish Book, it usually says, after the unusual breeds I’m wanting to try, “not known for setting.” That said, almost every spring season, we have a hen who wants to defy the odds.
We had Black Betty for several years, insisting on starting her setting ritual during the coldest times of the year, freezing her wattles and still hatching out chicks. We’ve had Mary who attempted to hatch eggs that weren’t fertile, doing two 21-day cycles last spring — that’s like running a marathon. And this year we have Dove, a skittish, dainty little hen laying blue eggs, who decided to become a mother.
For two weeks, at least, before she settled into the nest, she went around clucking, announcing her intention.
“Dove,” I said to her one evening, “you’ve got things backwards. You’re supposed to be clucking after you hatch chicks, not before you’ve even started.”
She paid no attention.
And then she installed herself in one of the nest boxes and refused to move. I removed the eggs. She sat there for several days before I gave in. The next day I checked to see how many eggs she was actually sitting on: four. Two were hers and two belonged to other hens.
“Hmmmm,” said I, “I think you need more blue eggs.”
So I waltzed over to the Other House and brought back four, blue reinforcements.
I really didn’t think she’d stay on the nest.
“Not enough determination,” I thought. “ She’s such a scaredy-cat,” I said. “She’ll give up, change her mind,” I mumbled.
But she stayed. At the end of the first week, I wrote her starting date on the calendar and checked the eggs again. Now she had 10. Ten sounded like enough eggs for a tiny little hen.
Funny thing happened. When Dove started setting, the other three hens in the coup stopped laying. I checked the nest to make sure — were they laying eggs in Dove’s nest? They weren’t. They’d just stopped. I’d heard of women’s cycles becoming synchronized; but did this also apply to hens? For seven days, Dove sat on 10 eggs.
Half way through week two, I checked Dove’s nest again. After one week off, Dove’s sister-wives had started laying eggs again and guess where? In Dove’s nest. Now I was sorry that I hadn’t put her in seclusion. We now had eight more eggs in the nest, recently laid, obviously they weren’t going to hatch when the others did.
I removed a couple of eggs on the edges, they were fresh. What now? Dove’s little nest was now so full that she could barely cover the lot. What’s a caretaker gonna do? I know nothing about candling eggs.
Early this week, I heard Dandy (my rooster) having a fit. I looked out and here was Dove in the chicken yard, off the nest, getting a drink, pecking at grain, stretching her legs, acting as if she had not a care in the world. Dandy was scolding her, calling in alarm. Sister hen, Goldie, was chasing her away from the water, around the yard.
“What’s going on?”
Had Dove’s housemates chased her off her nest? No, ironic as it may seem, they were trying to chase her back into the coup. After all, they’d spent the last week (when it was raining) studiously staying out of the chicken house during the day, feathers dripping, evidently to give the gestating mother some peace and quiet. And this is how they were thanked?
I joined their crusade.
“This is it, Dove,” I said.
She was still in the yard. I felt the eggs. They were toasty warm.
“You’d better get back on the nest now,” I told her. “If you louse up this one, I’m not messing with you again,” now I was threatening. “You’re over half way — just one week to go. Make up your mind.”
Dove ignored us all, ruffling her feathers, enjoying the sunshine.
When I went back in the house, Dove got back on the nest, and she’s been there ever since. The days seem longer than usual! We have a week to go. She’s setting tight. I have no idea what is going to happen, whether she’ll manage to hatch out some chicks or not. I’m leaving the egg turning, and the over-full nest up to her. What are the odds? I’m dubious, but it’s just another day in the country and we’ll see what nature pulls out of the hat (or nest, as the case may be) .