On their own

The baby chicks had a big day yesterday. They foraged freely, becoming bolder as the day progressed, although they stayed in close formation. And they did this without their mother, who ranged further afield.

A few weeks ago Cherisse rigged up an outdoor pen because the mama looked like a caricature of a harried, driven-to-distraction mother. The pen wasn’t totally secure—it was open at the top, leaving the babies vulnerable to predators, but the biggest problem was that they sometimes flew out. In our periodic checks we would find a little bird looking through the fencing at her siblings, wondering how to get back in.

By the weekend, even the outside area wasn’t big enough for the mother hen, who began pacing up and down the fence, running her beak along it like a prisoner in the movies dragging a metal cup across the jail house bars. So Sunday we let them all loose. The mother immediately joined the rest of the adult flock on the other side of the house, well out of sight from the chicks. She did come back to check on them from time to time, and we kept an eye on the other chickens to be sure they didn’t harass the babies. Featherfoot loomed over them, but simply watched like a benign giant. The hens for the most part ignored them, except for the Ancona who made a few lunges, but as soon as they scurried out of her way she was satisfied.

We assumed the mother hen would go back to her chicks at night. Instead, she followed all the other adults back into their side of the coop. For a brief moment she seemed to remember the chicks, close by, then she hopped on the perch. The babies had grown much more independent by dusk, and so we had to lure them into their house. They spar with each other, flying up and butting chests, and then scooting away, but they still like to huddle together for comfort and warmth. Like little orphans, they had only each other last night.

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