Archive for July 24th, 2012

Broody Hen

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On Friday I went to a pool party celebrating the Teachers Write Virtual Writing Camp. Still wearing my tie-dyed t-shirt from art camp, I sat in my kitchen with my laptop and talked with other teacher authors and read aloud a piece I had written this summer. What a fun party! It has been very rewarding for me to find a community of people like me. The support is valuable. The enthusiasm for the work of writing and the sharing of works in progress has filled my quiet writing world with encouraging voices and clapping hands. I have to thank Kate Messner and all her wonderful guest authors. Thanks also to Gae Polisner and Jen Vincent who led the Spreecast video party.

I read this excerpt from my work in progress, a sequel to Blessen. If you have followed this blog, you read about my chicken research. This chapter resulted from my visit with Harvey and Opal and their brood of hens.

Taking care of a chicken requires some expertise. Mae Mae has been helpful. When she was a little girl growing up in St. Martinville, she ordered 50 chicks of the heritage variety.

“We just went down to the post office and picked up the chicks, newly hatched. These were butchering chickens, grown for food. Of course, as a little girl, I had no idea what went into killing a chicken.”

Mae Mae told me all about caring for her chickens, what she fed them, how she cleaned up their poop, and all about their strange ways of taking a bath in the dust. I listened, all the while knowing my chicken would never be butchered.

Mae Mae said when she came home from school one day, she went out to care for her flock, and they were all gone. Her momma had butchered every one of them and put them in the freezer.
“I told my momma I would never eat another chicken, unless it came from the grocery store.”

Mae Mae raised her fist in the air and turned it up quickly. Snap! Just like that! Chicken for dinner.

Right then and there I decided I would never kill a chicken. I can’t even eat one without thinking about its suffering. Momma says death is a part of life and how would we live without the sacrifice of animals. She says that’s why God made them.

I say that may be why God made cows and pigs, but chickens are just too cute to butcher.

A few weeks ago, A.J. brought me a chicken-raising book from the public library. I am learning all kinds of stuff about Sunshine. For example, do you know how to tell if an egg is fertilized? Well, now I do. And there are illustrations to help.

Candling an egg: (Maybe in the old days they used a candle?) Use a flashlight. Shine it on the egg and look for a dark spot with veins spiraling off of it. A straight line with no black spot means no baby chick. Seeing as how we don’t have a rooster around and knowing what I know about the birds and the bees, there’s not much chance that Sunshine’s eggs have babies in them. But I check anyway.

Sunshine is acting so weird I may need to consult with my resource. I open the coop and call for her. She doesn’t move. She just sits still and makes a strange rumbling growling sound. No clucking, no happy head-bob. Her golden white feathers are fluffed so she’s all full and fat. I decide to give Mae Mae a call.

“Mae Mae, something is wrong with Sunshine!” I cry louder than I expected. Lowering my voice, I describe the symptoms, “She doesn’t want to move off her nest. She’s all fluffed up; her head is tucked down. She seems depressed. I’m really worried.”

Mae Mae is calm. “Blessen, listen carefully. I think Sunshine is broody.”

“Broody? What’s that mean?”

“She wants to nest. It’s her instinct as a woman. You need to pay close attention to her for the next few days.”

“What do I need to do?”

“As often as you can, take her off of the nest and wet her down. Be sure she eats. Give her her favorite foods. She could starve herself if you don’t help her.”

I’m in a panic. I barely take the time to say my thanks to my grandmother and run outside to attend to my ailing hen.

There she is, right on her nest. No egg is under her. I gently grab her on either side and carry her to the water bowl. She’s still growling. Brr, brr…

The water calms her a bit. She jumps out and walks about head bobbing some, but no talking. She finds her way to the coop and starts scratching under it. I grab the bag of feed corn and toss some on the ground, but she’s focused on her scratching.

“Come on, Sunshine. Eat somethin’. Don’t you go dyin’ on me like Blue did. Poor Blue didn’t have a chance against that hawk. But you, you’re my little Sunshine hen. You just gotta make it. You hear me. Now eat some corn here.”

Sunshine looks at me as if she understands. Her head turns this way and that. She bocks in her normal voice, takes about two bites, and hops back up in the chicken coop to roost on her nest.

This is going to be a tough job!

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