by Henry Lane Hull
Today being the first day of summer, I am reflecting on the happenings over the last three months of spring, or perhaps I should say, non-happenings. Our delightful little black hen, who was laid, hatched and lives in our barnyard, valiantly tried to have chicks. She sat for almost two months on what began as 16 eggs, reaching out with her limited wingspan to engulf the entire next.
Her efforts were not pleasing to the 10 far larger Rhode Island Reds who leapt at any opportunity to try to peck at her clutch, unmindful that some of the eggs were their own products. The Reds are not gifted with pleasant personalities. They are bountiful layers and present ideal eggs, but they are aggressive for food, unlike our rooster and the little black hen, who always let them have their way.
Well, the 16 eggs began to dwindle about a month ago and by the beginning of this week the horde was down to three and finally one. I have diagnosed the problem as jealousy on the part of the Reds, for the rooster has produced progeny in the past. The Reds kept laying in adjoining boxes, but their focus was on getting into the nest, which they did whenever the hopeful expectant mother popped down for food or water, although I was hand-feeding her corn in situ every day.
As the hen was admitting defeat, Gladys, the gray goose, shockingly, began setting on three large eggs she laid within the past week. Lou, her spouse, attentively is standing by her side, offering protection and pride that they might become parents after years of unsuccessful attempts. Gladys has molted and is using the down to “feather her nest.”
The Reds know well not to approach the nest and they have taken an attitude of ignoring the behavior of the larger and more intimidating fowl. Gladys is a somewhat harsh animal, not at all affectionate to others, unlike Lou who approaches me to be petted and even enjoys being held. Gladys is extremely verbose, honking all day long.
One of the advantages of her setting is that she stops honking except when she gets up to have a drink of water.
For many years the late Stanley Stewart of White Stone contributed a weekly column to the Rappahannock Record, entitled “Animals Are Smart.” He and his wife, Marian, operated a mini-menagerie, petting zoo and animal shelter on about four acres.
They welcomed visitors, particularly children, to come for visits, thereby providing Stanley the opportunity to expound on the rudiments of animal husbandry. Were he here today, I should be first in line to ask about how to handle Gladys.
The basic problem arises from her lack of maternal intuition. In the past she has laid eggs all over the barnyard. I have gathered them in a central place, trying to encourage her to set, all to no avail. She would set for a while, then when nothing was forthcoming, she would go into a deep depression, tearing around the barnyard chanting screams and moans.
This time is different in that she has chosen the site, laid the eggs where she wanted them, done the molting and seems to be in charge. Lou no longer rushes to greet me whenever I enter the coop; these days he does not leave her side. What a model husband!
Having been down this path a number of times in the past, I am not counting my goslings before they are hatched, but for the first time since Gladys arrived on the scene, I am experiencing a veiled optimism that little ones might be on the way. In four weeks we shall know.