What is it with cross-species amity? I’m a sucker for all those pictures of two different kinds of animals playing together, or napping together, or otherwise cohabiting peacefully. I love it when horses make friends with goats, when a gorilla takes care of a human, even when dogs and cats live happily in the same house. My favorite video of all time is of an otter playing with a dog.
No, strike that, my favorite video of all time is the one of the crow snowboarding. My second-favorite, though, is the otter and the dog.
We don’t have much cross-species success at our house. Our late lamented cat, Cat, never got on particularly well with the poultry. She investigated them in a rather predatory way when they were small, and ignored them studiously when they were big. Kevin thinks she wanted to make friends with them, but didn’t understand just how uphill a battle it is for a cat to make friends with a chicken. In any case, we didn’t get any cute pictures out of it.
We did try one cross-species experiment last year. It just so happened we had a broody hen when we got our six Pekin ducklings, and we thought we could get Blondie to raise our ducks for us, but that was a non-starter.
This year, though, we’ve got another experiment brewing.
Our turkeys have a been a success two years in a row, and we’re planning to do them again. We were going to get poults from a neighbor who keeps a Standard Bronze pair, but her hen mysteriously stopped laying just as we needed her to step it up. We were just about resigned to getting poults from feed store when Kevin came across an interesting ad on Craigslist.
If you were out looking for fertilized turkey eggs, my guess is that you’d have to leave no stone unturned. But if you’re browsing the Farm + Garden section of Craigslist with no particular end in view, they’ll jump right out at you.
Turns out there’s a guy in Chatham who keeps a few turkeys – two hens and a tom – and he’s got eggs to spare. He’s not sure just what kind they are, but I don’t think that’s a problem. They look a little like our usual Standard Bronze, but a little smaller and a little browner (if you’ve got a guess, let me know).
And it just so happens that we have a broody hen. Queenie, a three-year-old Buff Orpington with a long history of regular broodiness, is just dying to hatch a few eggs.
I drove to Chatham and picked up a half-dozen eggs. We set up a brooder in the shed with plenty of hay and feeders for food and water. I was afraid Queenie might be suspicious of turkey eggs – they’re bigger and they might smell different – so I put her in there with some chicken eggs first. Once she’d settled happily in the nest, we subbed out the eggs.
That was two days ago.
A chicken doesn’t have a wide range of facial expressions, and I’m not at all sure it’s possible for a hen to look contented. I suspect Kevin and I are imagining, or maybe projecting, when we say that Queenie looks happy and fulfilled. I believe she’s one of those chickens that feels compelled to hatch eggs, and I hope that, by giving her this job to do, we’re making her life complete.
Turkey eggs incubate for 28 days, and we have no idea what to expect in 26 days. For all we know, the eggs will be duds and Queenie will want to sit on them until the world ends. If they hatch, I’m not sure she will recognize them as her own. If she does, I’m not sure whether she’ll want to – or know how to – take care of them once they start getting big, which is in about seven seconds.
But if we do end up with a chicken mothering a bunch of turkeys, I’ll make sure to make a video. Crowboarding, it’s not, but maybe it’ll give that otter a run for his money.