One of the signs of summer drawing near is when Pea, our alpha peahen, reappears one morning with a flotilla of fuzzy pool balls orbiting her feet. Pea likes to nest at the bottom of the peapen, either underneath some chicken wire or in a corner that she fondly imagines is well-concealed. About one week ago she proudly led five new chicks up to the pea coop, four wildtype browns and a white.
In a coincidence of rare good fortune, I had just finished building the two new fence panels that I needed in order to re-establish the pea nursery. I lugged them into place and slowly shooed Pea into the coop, and then through the nursery door. Pea sailed gravely inside, calling her chicks with gravelly gronks and squeaky-gate-hinge noises, and settled down to brood them with an expression of been-there, done-that on her face. This brood is Pea's fourth in this coop, and she's got the system down pat.
In the past, the only two hens old enough to go broody have been Pea and Mihoshi. Mihoshi is a year younger than Pea, and a jealous sort; she has a tendency to pick on Pea's chicks and harass them. Fortunately for peace and tranquility within the peapen, she always goes broody several days after Pea has hatched out her clutch. This has been a rather convenient spacing, because by the time Mihoshi hatches chicks, Pea's are old enough to be turned out of the nursery. However, this year it was not to be so simple. Five hens are at laying age this year, and one of them, a two-year-old daughter of Pea's, went broody just a few days after her mother. Yesterday, she brought her two chicks up to the coop, which has caused me some anxiety as the nursery is too small for two broody hens to share. They're very protective of their chicks.
For now, the younger hen is managing just fine with a "frontier woman" approach to mothering. Disdaining the coop, she instead leads her chicks through the tall grasses at the bottom of the peapen, foraging for bugs and green shoots. It's fortunate for her that the recent rains have encouraged the grasses to put up tender new growth, and multiplied the bugs. Her methods have me flitting through the yard several times a day to keep an eye on things, because in the past we have had peachicks go missing while wandering around the pen: they duck under the fence where the squirrels have warped the wire, or come under fire from jealous aunties. So far, though, their mother has managed to keep them safe. Today I did catch her eyeing the nursery with a jealous glint in her eye, though. I think she's starting to question the status quo.