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.
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?