Intervention in the Hen House


Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

I had to do an "intervention" today. It seemed a mean thing to do, but really, it was for her own good.

Ping Ping, the little banty hen who made her secret nest on the top shelf, behind a small antique fan in the metal tool barn, sat on her seven light-tan eggs for many more days, perhaps even weeks, than should have been necessary for their hatching. They didn't hatch, and she was growing weak and pale. Her formerly red comb was a very light pink...which is normal for a setting hen, but overall, the situation was a bit ridiculous.

Even her daily zest for fighting was paling. She merely ate, drank, and huffed around for a few minutes and then left the Hen House to return to her (wishful) maternal duty.

Ping Ping will mourn the situation for a few days and try to get back into the barn, but really, it's over.

So while she was in the Hen House, having her daily resuscitation, I slipped into the barn, climbed on an overturned bucket, and removed the eggs. Then I closed the door securely, so that she wouldn't be able to enter.

But what to do with the eggs? Well, first, to make sure I hadn't erred on the side of pessimism, I threw one against a barn post. Yes, I know that seems barbaric, but it was quick, and it revealed (away from my sensitive nostrils) that there was no chick inside. I was relieved, as if there had been one, I would have had to wish it were a rooster chick!

You see, here we have the reverse of the Chinese birthing model. We want females (in our flock), not males. Oh, the current one, Rusty Roo the Rooster (his full name), is just fine, and a guarantee that there is always the possibility of breeding new chicks in the natural way, should that become important. But one is plenty.

After the failed-egg test, I took the remaining six eggs to the compost pile, and buried them in it. The pile reaches 160 degrees in its interior every other day, and so I reasoned, facetiously, that if there were any chicks in the eggs, they would be warm, but not 160 degrees, as they were placed in the outer twelve inches of the pile (which is huge). And, like a hen turning her eggs, I turn the pile with the tractor, every three days or so. If I hear any peeping, of course I'll rescue the chicks before causing further hardship, even if they are roosters.

Ping Ping will mourn the situation for a few days and try to get back into the barn, but really, it's over. The greater humiliation is that apparently Rusty Roo the Rooster discriminates against "making love" with tiny hens.

Bless her heart, Ping Ping tried anyway.

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Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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