Baby chicks have started hatching on our little homestead and it is one of our favorite signs of spring. Chickens were our first homestead animal and the lovely eggs they produce have been but the cherries on top of the sweet moments they have provided. When we got our first few, we were continually delighted with their antics.
Have you heard of the term pecking order? We saw that established and demonstrated often. We also witnessed the worth of a really good rooster. Our first and best was Jethro. Oh, yes, we named them all, each and every one. Jethro was a fierce protector with his feathers glistening as he strutted in the yard. He kept a wary eye out for danger of all sorts. He located the best bugs and made sure his hens got first chance at them.
One of the most comical sights to behold was when the flock would take dirt baths. First they’d find a nice dry spot of dirt and then would squat and waller and flap their wings until the dirt had infiltrated every itchy spot of their feathered selves. After a thorough dusting they looked cleaner than they started. It was a mystery. A feathered mystery.
I could go on longer than you might care to read about our feathered friends and maybe one day I will. But, today I want to tell you one more thing and absolutely the most amazing thing we experienced with our chicken observations. When a hen goes broody, that means that she is ready to set a clutch of eggs. She is ready to commit to the eggs that she has claimed as her own, to go without food and water if necessary, to provide the perfect temperature and protection required until they hatch.
I say the ‘eggs she has claimed as her own’ because a broody hen doesn’t care one bit who laid the egg. Her only concern is what needs doing next and she intends to see that it is done. Interestingly, for the most part, the smaller hens, particularly the bantam breeds make the best little brooders. We have a little mixed variety that we named Pepperocinni. Solid black and petite compared to most chickens, she has been an wonderful little momma hen and has hatched many chicks, most of whom quickly outgrew her size-wise.
Last year, Pepperocinni had just hatched five little chicks when we decided to supplement the flock with ten chicks that we purchased from the local feed store. When you buy baby chicks, then you must provide everything they need. Instead of the warmth of the momma hens downy feathers to sleep in and stay cozy, a heat lamp must be provided. Instead of a nesting box a cardboard box is their home. I was distressed, as you might can imagine if you know me at all, at the situation.
My heart is especially tender towards such situations. After all, like Pepperocinni, I know all about claiming little chicks as my own and nurturing them, loving them, raising them, doing what needs to be done. One thing about it though, chickens might hatch any egg, but, once those eggs are hatched, they are quite committed to them and them alone. outsiders, even tiny chicks, are not tolerated.
I decided to try the impossible and we brought Pepperocinni in a tub with hay and her five chicks right into the living room and next to her the tub of ten little orphan chicks, which is how my heart saw them. We all stood quietly and held our breath as I began the experiment. The room was filled with the chirps of baby chicks and I gently scooped one baby chick up and stealthily put it in the tub next to Pepperocinni. The little momma hen’s eyes seemed to widen a bit as she stretched her neck around suspiciously and spotted the new chick. I stood ready to quickly undo what I had done if she refused the chick. I knew that would include a sharp peck on the head of the fragile little creature.
That’s when it happened. Right before our eyes, she stretched out her wing and pulled the chick in to be nestled safely with her five. Tears came to my eyes. It was beautiful. Tears are here again as I write about it. It was a tiny feathered miracle and we got to see it. One at a time I offered each of the ten motherless chicks to Pepperocinni and watched astounded as she accepted each and every one. This tiny little momma now struggled to cover all fifteen chicks with her feathers of protection, love, warmth and acceptance. When she managed it, remarkably, it was a sight to behold. She looked double her original size and tiny little beaks poked out all over.
Sometimes as a foster/adoptive mother I have felt a lot like Pepperocinni appeared. I have often felt as if I’ve taken on more than my capacity to manage. But, like Pepperocinni my mothering instinct outweighed common sense. I could not ignore what needed doing and I’m so glad. I do so delight in being a mother hen of my seven adopted children.
During the days that followed the forming of this special fine-feathered family we were able to enjoy the rest of the story. Pepperocinni taught the baby chicks to recognize her voice, run to her for protection, scratch for juicy insects and yes, even to take dirt baths. A fine-feathered family indeed.
I not only could relate as an adoptive mother, I also related spiritually. I’ll never read the words of Jesus in Luke 13 again without thinking of that day when Pepperocinni stretched out her wings to accept a chick that needed covering.
“How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” Luke 13:34
I’m so glad that He loves us. I’m so glad that He gave me my little flock and created our own fine-feathered family. I understand. I get it. It’s about choices and stretching ourselves beyond our own abilities so that we must lean heavily on Him. And when I am feeling vulnerable, I know just where to run.
“Guard me as you would guard your own eyes. Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalms 17:8