Friday, August 26, 2011

Farm Story for August 27, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

Lambing and kidding have been over for a few months and we had our last calf in June so I imagined we were pretty well done with babies until late next winter. It seems I was mistaken. Two babies have popped up in the last two weeks.

At the end of the day on a Thursday two weeks ago I walked into the building where many of the hens lay their eggs. I heard a tiny peeping sound. I knew immediately that somewhere there was a new chick. I searched and saw the mother before I spotted the chick. I knew the pretty white hen was the mother because the moment I stepped into the room she was in she flared out all of her feathers so that she would look big and intimidating to scare me off and protect her little one. She had only a single small brown, black and white chick. I have no idea where she had sat on her nest but there are so many places to hide around here that it is not uncommon to miss a broody hen setting on a nest at the top of the stacked hay bales or behind a building. This gal had apparently hatched the little one out somewhere else but had brought it back to her familiar place where she knew there would be a steady supply of food and water.

I was tickled to find it but doubted it would make it more than a few days. Our chickens truly are free range. Most thrive but there are perils, especially for a little chick. There are bigger and meaner chickens, water holes, dogs and even an occasional rat that visits in the night and would be just as content to haul off a live chick as a mouthful of spare chicken feed. I checked on the hen and chick one last time before dark and found them snuggled into one of the duck nesting boxes. We built the duck nesting boxes several years ago when we decided to raise ducks for their lovely eggs. The boxes sit on the ground and are 18” deep. They do make a nice place to hide in and this hen was doing just that.

The next morning the two were out making the rounds. I did see one near mishap when a big black hen jumped out of her nest box and landed on the chick. The chick rolled over in the dirt and mother hen raced at the offender, squawking and threatening with her wings. I love to watch a mother hen. She goes out of her way to scratch at the ground until a tasty bug or seed comes up. She talks to her chick the whole time, stepping back when something appears so that the chick can grab it. Should the chick wander far, she calls it back or races over, fluffs all of her feathers out and defends it from any real or imagined threats. This hen’s biggest problem seems to be the fact that her little one keeps getting behind a door that separates one room from the other in the laying house. She can see her chick through the screen but panics as it cannot reach her. The little chick bounces up and down on the other side of the door. I’ve concluded that chickens are fairly linear thinkers – If they can see a straight path to something it never dawns on them to go around the corner instead. More than once I have rescued the little chick before someone gets hurt. Even If the two were separated only briefly, there is still a big reunion with mother chatting away at her chick as it runs between her legs at least for the next minute or two.

I celebrated the chick’s one-week birthday and was pleased that it was still around. Just a few days later I found the hen and chick out in the sheep pasture. Gwen, the Anatolian Shepherd who is in charge of that yard, was sleeping in the back of the old barn. Baloo, the Pyrenees who climbs gates and goes in any pasture he wants, was sleeping in the stable. I was relieved that there were no nosy dogs to play with the chick as that could be bad news. I gently herded hen and chick back toward their usual quarters. The little chick celebrated its two-week birthday a few days ago. It is thriving, mother is fabulous and I am wasting plenty of time watching the two go about their day.

The second new baby arrived here on Saturday night. Sweet husband Al had gone out to do the final walk around before bedtime. He returned with something balled up in his hands. It was a small wet baby squirrel. He took it away from Allez, the Anatolian whose territory includes the woods and creek. She had been gently playing with it and had shown it to him when he came out to her pasture. It did not have a scratch on it but was almost drowned in slobber. It was also chilled. It had wrapped its tail all the way up over its head and had all of its legs folded as tightly as it could against its body. I dried it with a towel while Al went to retrieve a small cage from the garage. Once it was dried it still had very stiff fur from the residual dog spit but I did not want to traumatize it with a bath. We have done a fair bit of wildlife rehab over the years so still have necessary supplies. I located a small syringe with a soft tip or feeding and pulled out small clean towels. We checked the little guy for injury and dehydration and since he was fine and did not have an empty belly we put a heating pad under his cage and tucked him in for the night.

He was still alive the next morning so I took some powdered squirrel milk out of the freezer, mixed it up with water and cream and fed him a nice breakfast. He struggled as we held him, alternately licking at the tasty milk drops coming out of the syringe and turning from side to side to get out of our grip. He ate just a few small mouthfuls. We worked with the feeding process all day Sunday. By the evening he’d gotten the hang of it. He took a too-big sip once or twice and ended up blowing milk bubbles with his nose but never really choked.

By Monday he had the feeding down just fine, even holding the syringe with his front feet as he nurses. His routine now is to sleep for two or three hours, wake up, chirp loudly for someone to come feed him, play for a while, crawl under his towel and roll into a little ball for a nap and start the whole process over again. After checking his teeth and how well fur-covered he is, we determined that he is about six weeks old. That means, with luck, he should only need a few more weeks of nursing, some transition time to solid food and perhaps will be ready to release. Our biggest predicament will be to find a safe place to turn him loose. We are just too cat and dog intense here to assume he’d be safe living on our property. I guess life is never boring.

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