Resegregation

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Kevin and I will bet on anything.

We bet on how many eggs are in the nest boxes. We bet on how much a fish weighs. We bet how many miles the truck can go beyond the “Zero Miles to Empty” warning. The stakes are always the same thing, but I can’t mention it on a family website. And we don’t really keep track of who wins and who loses because Kevin is running an insurmountable deficit from the day we wagered many of those unmentionable things – one for each roll of toilet paper we still had in the basement – and he lost.

Our latest bet concerned Queenie, our Buff Orpington hen who did yeoman’s work hatching a turkey. Unfortunately, that’s turkey in the singular — there was only one — and we don’t think animals should live alone. Besides, if you’re raising turkeys, it’s almost as easy to raise a few as it is to raise one.

Which is why, a few days ago, we brought home five little Standard Bronze  poults to join their big (and getting bigger) brother or sister. It was Queenie’s reception of them that was the subject of our bet.

Kevin thought Queenie would take to them, and bring them under her wing. I thought Queenie would reject them, and we’d have to take her out of the brooder and return her to the coop.

We brought the poults home in a cardboard box, and we first put the box on its side so the open end faced the wire mesh that covers the front of the brooder. We let the poults look at Queenie and Queenie look at the poults while the big poult (as yet nameless) looked confused. There were no open expressions of hostility, so we put the five little guys into the brooder.

They looked at Queenie and Queenie looked at them, and she scooped them, one by one, under her vast fluffiness. Chalk one up for Kevin.

We left them to get acquainted.

Later in the day, I went in to check on them and the situation, unfortunately, had changed for the worse. Queenie and her original poult were at the far end of the brooder, away from the heat lamp, sulking. The little poults were gathered at the warm end, looking wary.

I was worried because the water was next to Queenie, and it was warm and dry in the brooder, so I picked up one of the little poults and brought it over for a drink. This made Queenie very unhappy, and she lunged at the poor thing.

Game over. I took Queenie out, thanked her for her service, and put her in the run with the rest of the chickens.

The next day, when we let the chickens out to range free, Queenie kept up a lonely vigil outside the shed that houses the brooder, listening to the peeps of her poult. It’s heartbreaking to see a mother wrenched from her chick, but heartwarming to see the display of chicken family values. I think we’ll keep the hens in their run for a couple of days in the hopes that the company of her peers will make Queenie forget her troubles.

I love cross-species amity, and it gave me great pleasure to see Queenie hatch and raise her turkey chick.  I was sorry to have to send our two species back to their corners.

As for the bet, it’s obviously a push. But who’s counting?

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Comments

  1. Kingsley says:

    As I was reading, I bet “reject”.

    But I have seen hens taking on surrogate chicks, but I guess it has to be done at exactly the right time, and it depends ont he chook in question. I have the idea that chooks can easily count to one, but maybe not past two. So if there’s more chickies than that, your chances of sneeking a few more into the brood are better.

    We have a overly broody silky (named “The Silky”) who is constantly having unplanned hatchings. That’s mostly ok, but the sore point is that her skills as a chook-mother serve her well, only up to the point where the number of chicks <= 1. Of course she gets down to that many chicks quite quickly. For starters anything that is the wrong colour gets rejected and pecked in the head. She's a bitzer herself, part maybe Barnevelder, so anything cute-white-and-fluffy is right out. Then there's the Butcher Birds, we think they take a few. But once she gets down to that single chick (always a rooster) she's the prefect mother.

    There's no romance in it, but I prefer the incubator and heat lamp… at least to picking up dead chickies.

    • Kingsley, I think it’s possible your naming scheme is getting in the way of optimal flock management. It will solve all your problems if you rename The Silky — I’m thinking Fricassee would do nicely.

      But you know I’m all talk. I’ve been threatening to eat our two leghorns (Elvis and Elvis) for months, since they absolutely refuse to go into the run before the sun goes down, and therefore require us to be here to shut the chickens up. But Elvis and Elvis are still with us.

      I don’t know how well Queenie would have done with a bigger brood, but my money would have been on success. She seems programmed for motherhood, and I suspect we could have snuck in a couple of chicks if we’d done it earlier. I’m not sure whether we’ll try this little experiment again next year, assuming we can get fertile turkey eggs, but I’m leaning toward yes.

      • Kingsley says:

        I reckon the going to bed thing is a learned response.

        Amongst other chooks, we have, oh, truckload of Gold & Silver Campines. One quartet will goto bed as soon as the sunlight turns a bit golden. But many of the others wont even consider it until it’s almost properly dark, and then there’s others that wont return to the pens at all and reckon on sleeping in the trees. Or on top of their pen, or on top of someone else’s pen (much to the chargin of the tenant rooster). Many of the worst culprits are the descendants of the early-sleepers, so it’s not genetics.

        I think it’s a habit learned very early on too, maybe in the first 3 months. Then it’s near impossible to break.

  2. Hi

    Next time, try it at night. We’ve had good success introducing store bought chicks at night. It hasn’t always worked and the chicken has to be either setting or have chicks (obviously, she can’t be roosting) and you will need to get up very early the next day to make sure it’s all going well but they really shut down at night. Might still be worth a try.