I should have recognized immediately from the sounds what was going on, but instead it was the rustling commotion under the bush that drew me in. I had just opened up the chicken coop for the day and was puzzled over the Jersey Giant hen that hadn’t roosted the night before. I spotted her dashing between the bushes on the periphery of the coop before I even opened their door. What are YOU doing out here, Missy? You know better! And then there was the rustling under the bush. I peeked in, oblivious to the oh-so-familiar cheeping sound until the sight of fluffy new chicks registered in my brain. Jersey Giant was a Momma!
Wow. We scrambled to get them out of the bushes and into the small tractor pen that had been sitting idly in the yard. Should I be embarrassed to admit that this was the most prepared for chicks that we’d ever been? This “SURPRISE! Momma-Hatched-Her-Own-Eggs-In-Secret” batch? Probably. But whatever pride I did have at the start of this venture has long since flown the coop, so it is with great pleasure that I say that all nine chicks were swiftly rounded up and put into the pen before either lazy (overheated) cat lying prone on the porch got wind of them. Food and water dishes were pulled from their not-quite-put-away-yet-for-the-season holding patterns and the brood had shelter, food, and water in a heartbeat. And that Momma – what a momma. She’s got some strong mothering instincts. (Clearly. Our first clue was that she snuck off outside to sit on a clutch of eggs for nearly 3 weeks.) You’d better watch your fingers and arms and your own children if you try to take her babies away from her. She fluffs up like an amazing hovercraft and quietly clucks her “get in here now!” little clucks and the chicks swiftly disappear under her generous fluffiness while her beak becomes a defense missile.
I ran some quick numbers and figure that we’ve had almost 300 chicks arrive in the mail over the past few years. Never before have we gotten to witness them being reared naturally, so this is such a fascinating, unexpected treat. Day-old chicks need a heat source of 90-100 degrees in their first week. Nestling under momma’s feathery hover does the trick for these little sweeties, but it was also noted that the day’s ambient temperature of 97 degrees was ideal for them. I think that every single person in the sweltering region could have noted how the temperature was ideal for brooding chicks but little else.
Even chicks with a momma present need lots of kisses; Errol is our resident expert.