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  • Writer's pictureAlice Wyatt

Chicken Mom of the Year



Motherhood is never easy, but it is extra tough when you are a small-brained chicken. Little Richard, a fluffy-headed black and white speckled Polish Bantam, was a victim of her avian biological clock. It was June, she went broody. Broody, in poultry-raising terms, means she laid a clutch of eggs, and then faithfully sat, not eating and rarely drinking, waiting for them to hatch 21 days later.


This plan had several problems: there was no rooster to fertilize the eggs, the eggs were removed each evening to have as tasty scrambled eggs for breakfast, and other hens pushed her out of the nesting box because she was bottom of the pecking order. 


As the morning wore on, the bigger hens would lay their eggs and wander out for food and chicken yard activities. Little Richard's turn would finally come. She carefully lowered herself into the nest, tucked her sister’s infertile eggs under her warm feathers with happy clucks, and settled in for a snooze. Come evening time, the egg gatherer would lift her off, collect the eggs, and give her a boot outside with a “Go eat something you silly chicken!” Night time lock-up would find her once again sitting in empty straw, head tucked under a wing, none the wiser. 


This continued for days, then weeks, then months. After two months, twice the amount of time needed to hatch a clutch of eggs, Little Richard was pale, listless, and bony underneath her fluff of feathers. This little hen would be a mother or die trying. With the latter a worrying thought, a trip to Tractor Supply was in order. 


Four yellow pom poms were plucked out of the metal tub, placed in a cardboard box with holes, and that evening, when all was quiet and dark, slipped under Little Richards's sleeping body. Presto, instant motherhood!





The next morning, Little Richard took to mothering like she had hatched out those chicks herself. And what a mother she was! After a few days of sequestering in a space away from the bustle and inquisitive pecks of the other hens, she ventured into the chicken yard bold and bossy. Little Richard’s squawks and aggressive flapping parted the sea of hens, sending them to the far end of the in alarm. She led her littles right to the abandoned scratch and yummy watermelon treats. They quickly learned to drink from the bright red water troughs, how to hold their ground against prowling tabby cats, and the best place for a nap, right under her feathers. 


When the chicks were in the awkward molting, not quite chick, definitely not hen stage, Little Richard’s mothering skills were put to the test. Africanized bees swarmed the chicken yard, mercilessly hounding, and attacking the hens. One by one, they succumbed to the hundreds of stings. The poor hens were found hours later, the dreadful story pieced together by the evidence, but where was Little Richard? Where were the babies? 


A thorough search was made and tucked behind the metal grain tub in the coop, quiet as quiet could be, was a mass of black and white feathers. The worst was assumed but with a soft “cluck, cluck, cluck” Little Richard stood and four heads emerged from under protective wings. There was much celebration. The wise little hen endured much patting and stroking, giving off an All-In-a-Day’s work vibe. 


A year has passed. The chicks are grown. Plump, sassy, twice the size of their surrogate mother, they lay fat brown eggs like clockwork and patrol the chicken yard like they own the place. Little Richard, no longer needed, no longer a mother figure, has plummeted back down the pecking order to land with a poof of dust at the bottom, right where she began. She eats last, drinks last, is last in the nesting box, and is pushed to the end of the sleeping bar each night. 


Does she know? What goes on in the mind of a chicken? Hopefully, somewhere in that tiny bird brain she knows she was once Mama of the Year and those big, bossy hens owe her everything. 

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