Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

Each summer we witness the as yet futile, but persistent, efforts put forth by Esmerelda to achieve motherhood. This year she is again in full swing, fastidiously sitting on what originally were 13 eggs, but this time a new twist has come on the scene. The concept of motherhood has dawned on Lavinia as well, and she has joined Esmerelda in the small nesting box. The eggs must be really hot.

The other members of our flock have shown not one bit of interest in being broody, but for some unknown reason, the spark has set off a desperate surge in Lavinia’s maternal behaviorall quite strange. In previous years, she has laid her eggs and been done with it, but not this time around.

Neither of them is interested in eating, which causes me to think that each fears that if she gets off of the nest, the other will not let her back. As a result, I am serving them their meals in situ, gently dropping the corn in a corner of the box, which they seem to appreciate, but I can do nothing about their liquid intake. In the past, neither of them was much of a drinker anyway, and I have found that not eating does not mean that a chicken will die of starvation. If she becomes that thirsty, she will handle quenching it on her own.

Summer months are the molting season, consequently none of our hens is going to capture any prize at a county fair, but the new crop of feathers is beginning to appear. By summer’s end, they should be pristine once more. Again this year, I have prepared the ICU (Intensive Cage Unit) for the potential arrival of new chicks. 

I am stocked with a good supply of Start and Grow, left over from Quack and Quack’s infantile days. The latter are no longer ducklings, but mature specimens of the Khaki Campbell breed. As the breed is known for its egg production, I am hoping for some results in the next few months. The average Khaki Campbell duck lays between 200 and 300 eggs per year. My grandmother always said duck eggs were the best.

Clarence, the progenitor of the potential new chicks, is oblivious to his impending fatherhood. He does not seem to miss Esmerelda and Lavinia’s presence in the flock, perhaps indicative of the biological fact that birds cannot count, thus they do not know whether one is missing or not, be it an egg or an adult. He does not jump up to see what is going on in the nesting box. His part is over and he is done with it.

A chicken will lay between seven and 20 eggs in a clutch, after which she will undergo a change in her hormones, whereby she will go from the laying mode to the sitting mode. Twenty-one days after she begins to sit, the first chicks should begin pecking their way out of their shells. I am perplexed by Lavinia’s never having laid her own clutch of eggs, but now suddenly experiencing the hormonal change whereby she has to share Esmerelda’s impending motherhood, something akin to “jump-starting” the process.

Having laid her own bevy of eggs for this spring, Gladys is finished laying until next year. If I had a gander, I would gently ease one or two of Gladys’ eggs in under Esmerelda in the hope of getting a gosling or two. Chickens do not know if the eggs are theirs or not, and readily adopt and raise anyone that hatches from under them.  Brood membership is social, not biological.

We are halfway through the sitting process, counting the days until we hear “cheep, cheep,” the ultimate manifestation that indeed Esmerelda has achieved success at motherhood. Perhaps Lavinia’s contribution will be sufficient to accomplish that end.