|Mahogany with chicks one through four. |
She is showing them something to eat.
|Chick number five, who was hiding|
The first chick was the one on the far left. Within twenty-four hours, the other three in that photo had joined it, perky and strong. Number Five, however, gave us a scare. Although its egg was set at the same time as the rest, it hatched a day and a half late. By this point, the first chick was coming up on three days old, and that is as long as a new chick can go before it has to eat. A chick reabsorbs the remnant of its egg yolk before hatching, and uses it as energy for the next few days. This allows the chick and the mother hen to stay in the nest and wait for slower siblings to finish hatching. When the oldest chick starts getting hungry, it begins to fuss and try to climb out of the box, signalling its mother that it's time to go find some food. Any eggs or chicks left in the nest at this point are on their own. So not twelve hours after it had hatched, Number Five was left behind in the nest, too weak and young to follow the rest as they left the nest at last for breakfast.
When a chick first hatches, it spends the next twenty-four hours doing nothing very much except sleep and recover from the hard work of hatching. It's certainly in no condition to walk--it can barely stand! So poor little Five was really in a spot. When I came out to feed that morning, I discovered it sacked out in the nest, already getting quite chilled but too sleepy and sluggish to peep for Mother. So I brought it inside, and set it up in the brooder. The whole day, that kid did nothing but sleep, tucked in underneath the feather duster with the heat lamp warming its little rump. It would wake up and peep conversationally once in a while, then zonk out again. It wasn't hungry, it wasn't thirsty. Finally night fell and I took it out to the barn, where Mahogany had put herself and the other chicks to bed in the nest box. I tucked Five in under her wing, whereupon it immediately perked up and began cheeping at her: "Mama! I had a big day. I got abducted by a big alien, an' it flew away with me, an' there was this bright light, an' funny sounds, an' an' an' . . . ." Mahogany listened with the most bemused expression on her face, beak tilted down towards the tiny voice buried in her feathers: "Yes, dear. Really? Well now." The other chicks slept right through it.
Thankfully, since then Five has caught up with its siblings, and is currently the plumpest of the bunch. We had a little trouble the second and third nights, when it couldn't figure out how to get back up the ramp into the nest box, but it's figured that trick out now. I have to say "it", because we really can't tell what gender any of the chicks are yet. As they grow, we'll get some idea. Murphy's Law being what it is, I have to suspect that this chick will turn out to be a rooster . . . after all that fuss saving his fluffy little behind. Ah, chickens.