Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mother Hens Just Are

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We've been treated to some wonderfully warm weather for the last few days, and besides giving me spring fever, it gives me the chance to watch my flock. Instead of hurrying from house to coop in single digit temps, I can slow down and soak in the peacefulness that comes with just watching hens scratch for bugs or grains, dust themselves, or spread their wings in the sun.

The three chicks and two moms add an extra measure of pleasure. When we had a bathtub full of chicks we used to call it "Chick TV." They are entertaining little fluff balls. Now that we have the mother-hen dynamic at work, it's like watching the sequel to the series. Where we just saw one side of the biology of chicks, now we see the most amazing, whole picture with the interaction between hens, chicks and flock.

Sunday I took a bowl out that had leftover corn in it. Usually, it's every hen for herself. They belly up to the bowl, run over each other if need be, and eat that corn as fast as they can. When I put the bowl down this time though, it was different. The non-mom hens were there gobbling it up, but I was amazed to see what Thelma was doing.

She would daintily take a piece of corn out of the bowl and carefully, with precision, drop it in front of one chick, then another, and then the third chick. They would pick the treat up, carry it away and eat their prize before going back to mom and repeating the process. Not once did I see Thelma eat any of the corn herself.

As she ranged around the yard, she'd find something, then cluck in a way that said, "Eat this, it's good, and good for you," and the chicks would run to see what she'd found. They'd eat, she'd move on, scratch a spot, and call them again. Cotton, mom-hen-number two, was right there with them. Thelma seems to be the top-hen, a little stricter and a little more instructive. Cotton, on the other hand, seems to be there to keep the chicks out of trouble, provide a warm wing when needed, or run interference if another hen is getting too close.

The other hens don't interfere with the small family, and for the most part, tend to ignore the chicks all together. If a hen gets too close, she is informed in no uncertain terms that she better give the babies a little space.

The chicks are busy, preening, scratching the ground, running to catch up or--if one of their moms settles down for a moment--taking the opportunity to peck inquiringly at an eye or a feather or a toenail. The moms both have great patience, vigilance and calm, and watching them is relaxing. It's a great illustration of where the phrase "mother hen" comes from.  Because mother hens... really are.

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