Monday, November 11, 2013

Oreo Becomes a Mom

Oreo in the nesting box with Cotton.

I think one of the things that appeals to me with my hens is how matronly they seem. We’ve seen the mother-hen instinct in action for the last week, and I find myself absorbed by the behaviors and instincts throughout the flock.

Oreo is the older silver-laced bantam cochin hen that my sister-in-law gave the girls in exchange for the esteemed rooster, Cluck Norris. I’m not sure how old Oreo is. She came to us with Clover about two years ago, and she might have been two or three at the time. I do know it has been a long time since she laid an egg.

When we went to the chicken show last week, L brought home the small bantam barred rock (currently being called “Cecily” by L) and a little bantam cochin chick – probably about four weeks old – who she named “Cotton.” The chick will look a lot like Oreo when she's full grown.

Cotton and Cecily were placed in a separate crate in the coop to introduce them to the new flock safely and gradually. Cotton peeped endlessly. We put a red heat light in over the crate to be sure she was warm. But still she peeped. Cecily did not seem particularly interested in being friends with Cotton.

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One morning I let the two little ones out into the small chicken yard while the big hens had the run of the backyard. Cotton peeped and peeped. I noticed that Oreo seemed to be hanging out, clucking away, nearby. Curious, I let her in to see how she’d behave toward Cotton and Cecily.

She chased Cecily away with a peck, but seemed unconcerned about Cotton. Not necessarily interested, but at the same time, not hostile. I sat and watched, uncertain. But Cotton clearly had no doubts: Oreo was her long lost mom.

It wasn’t long before Oreo would scratch and peck at the ground, make a distinct cluck sound, and Cotton would hurry to see what Oreo had found. Cotton peeped and Oreo clucked. In those first little communications, a bond was forming. Convinced all three would be fine, I left them for a while.

About an hour later I returned to find Oreo in the nesting box. Tucked under the warmth and shelter of her wing was Cotton, quiet and happy, not making a peep. Oreo looked pleased.

At that point, I wondered what I should do for the evening. If Oreo kept the chick under her wing, Cotton would be warm enough. But if not, Cotton would be exposed not only to the chilly night, but also to the big hens who might easily hurt her. I hemmed and hawed. Then I opened the run door so I could see how Oreo behaved with the big girls around.

Eventually, I saw Oreo lead her new charge out into the backyard. Cotton’s peeps kept Oreo aware of where she was at all times. If Oreo became concerned, she’d cluck to Cotton and the little chick came running. Then I watched Pip approach Cotton like she was going to pick on her. Oreo charged between them, drew herself up and chest bumped with Pip, even throwing her feet up at the younger hen.

Pip retreated, chastised. Oreo and Cotton ran to each other, the danger past. Rosemary then decided to pick on little Cecily, and I chased her off. But my actions and Rosemary’s hostility threw mama hen into action. She chased her chick to the safety and cover of the lilac bush. One of the black hens suddenly became auntie, and joined them to offer additional protection.

Clearly, Cotton would be fine in the flock with her fierce mama (and auntie) watching out for her. When Kirk went out to close the coop that night, he noticed that not only was Oreo tucked into the nesting box with Cotton, but Violet had wedged herself in as well, adding her name to the auntie roster.

Yesterday, all were out in the yard happily pecking, and Cotton was trailing along, peeping and pecking and checking in with mom. I was supposed to be doing yard work, but it was a beautiful day, and I found myself constantly stopping to watch the sweetness of the bond between mama and chick. The other hens minded their manners and Oreo proudly shepherded her baby like an old pro. It certainly makes my job a lot easier and eases my mind, and it is nice to think the Oreo gets to be a mama after all this time.

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