Bessie is a New Mom — at 9(0)!!

Bessie and Her New Peeps

Bessie and Her New Peeps

Bessie is a 9-year-old Auracana hen, the type that lays what a friend of mine calls “Martha Stewart” eggs, in lovely gray-greens, soft blues, and muted turquoises. Bessie has a gorgeous array of auburn feathers, each delicately traced with a fine herringbone pattern in silver. Nine is ancient in chicken years, at least 90 for us humans, and few hens live to be even close to that age. Much less lay eggs or raise families beyond the age of three or four.

But Bessie is an exception. She has lived through the lives and deaths of dozens of chicken cohorts and has raised several broods of babies. She survived intense trials this last year, including a long drive and big move to arid desert from her previous lush home, as well as the dessimation of her immediate family by the voracious local coyotes. Due to this unfortunate turn of events, Bessie has spent her first long winter in this harsh new environment alone. But, typical of her unique style, she has seemed quite happy.

Having just had a coyote-proof hen yard erected, along with a hen house large enough to house a family of ten in a third world country, I naturally have been eager to expand my hen population so as to enjoy once again  not only the incredible richness and flavor of my flock’s yard eggs, but also their company. There is just nothing like having chickens!

Bessie hasn’t laid an egg in a few years now, nor has she raised a bunch of chicks in quite a while, but I had a talk with her and proposed that I bring her a ready-made brood of 1-day-old chicks this spring to provide her with much-needed companionship and to replenish her flock. Normally a hen will not accept orphan chicks unless they are already “setting,” or in what is called a “broody” mood, but I figured Bessie would strongly prefer this  scenario over a bunch of upstart pullet-type interlopers invading her territory.

I was right. Bessie agreed wholeheartedly and demonstrated her earnestness right away by trying out several possible nesting sites in her new hen house. I told her the day before I was going to pick up the chicks, and she celebrated that afternoon by going out and taking a nice dust bath in the sunshine.

Even though Bessie seemed enthusiastic about our plan, I must admit I was a little nervous that she might succumb to more typical hen behavior and refuse the chicks once they arrived. My plan was to slip them underneath her in the dark of night, while she was asleep, which usually works well with a hen who is already “expecting” and feeling in the broody mood. Since Bessie was not, I felt very unsure of the outcome.

But, of course, our dear Bessie came through. I hadn’t realized that the red heat lamp hanging in her house (which is not supposed to disturb nocturnal animals at night or appear like real light) did indeed shed enough light for Bessie to see clearly what was transpiring, as my daughter and I unloaded seven wee chicks, one by one, and nudged them gently toward her. Always one to honor her part of an agreement, Bessie immediately fluffed up to twice her size, started what could be called a mother-hen “purring” sound, and tucked the babies all up underneath herself. I went to bed elated, saying blessings and sending thank-you prayers all around.

All seven babies emerged this morning, healthy as could be and completely bonded to their new mom. She cluckingly demonstrated to them how to peck at their food and explore their territory, then tucked them back underneath herself for another long nap.

Needless to say, I ran back to the feed store this afternoon for three more chicks, to round their numbers up to an even 10 — which is about the maximum Bessie’s body can shelter properly. When I returned and presented them, Bessie didn’t bat an eye. Just took one look and tucked them in!

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Lynda said,

    Bessie, Bessie, Sweet Bessie. Ooh, ooh, la, la, la.

    These might be the lyrics to a new song. What a good mother…..


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