The Story of Ellis and Oakley

Where do i begin? The first chicken to begin displaying broody behavior was Petunia. She began “incubating” the unfertilized and ceramic eggs in the nesting boxes. With relentless enthusiasm and patience, she sat on those eggs day and night. She skipped the commotion of the feeding frenzy when i arrived each day with scraps from the kitchen. She did not emerge with the others when i opened the door to the hen house each morning. The only way i could get her to eat was by placing a handful of feed in the nesting box before her sisters ate it all. She’s still alive, so i assume she left the eggs at some point to visit the water tank in the pen. She seemed so focused. She had one singular purpose, and that was to incubate babies. I began to feel sorry for her. I had taken the rooster away. No matter how hard she incubated those eggs, they were never going to hatch, partly because most of them were clay. I remembered my own struggles with fertility and how painful the years of longing and cautious hope were. I didn’t want to be cruel to Petunia. If she wanted to be a mother; if her instincts told her it was time to be a mother, i felt i should let her. I was not going to be purchasing another rooster. That was out of the question. I would not be borrowing one either. No roosters. I decided on a different route to get Petunia the experience her hormones told her she needed. I drove to the feed store and bought a single week old chick. I brought it home that morning and snuck it carefully underneath Petunia amongst the eggs. The chick knew exactly what to do. It nestled in underneath Petunia’s feathers and enjoyed her warmth. It was tucked in there so good that i couldn’t see it at all and none of the chickens noticed it. I stayed in the hen house with the chickens, petting them and just hanging out because i knew the chickens hadn’t discovered her yet. They were young chickens. They had never been moms. I wasn’t sure if they would know what to do with it. I wasn’t sure if they would accept it. I was pretty sure the other chickens who were not broody would try to peck it to death, as was the chicken way. Peck everything. It was more a matter of whether Petunia would feel broody enough to protect it from the other adult chickens and fend them off. About 10 minutes into this little experiment the chick began peeping. The noise startled Petunia and she swung her head around and lifted her bum off the eggs a little to see what was going on under there. She was met with a fluffy little face and a tiny beak sticking out from beneath her bum. I exclaimed, “Look Petunia, you had a baby.” As if that was going to convince her that one of the eggs had hatched and miraculously produced a week old chick in the ten minutes i had been squatting in the hen house with them. She cocked her head and stared at the chick. The other hens gathered near to examine the chick as well. All was going swimmingly until the chick moved. It took a step, emerging from beneath Petunia about half way. At this point all the chickens panicked. Buttercup ran out of the hen house squawking bloody murder. Lily and Rosie flew about the hen house, bumping into the walls and the roosting bars, sending feathers flying everywhere. petunia immediately set to pecking the tiny chick in the head forcefully and repeatedly. Daisy, seeing Petunia’s idea of how to handle the situation, stepped forward and also began pecking the chick in the head. I reached in and grabbed the chick, lifting it out of the commotion and tucking it into my shirt. I exited the hen house. Daisy followed me. She was going to make sure it was dead. I swept her carefully to the side with my shin and opened the door to exit the pen. Once standing safely on the outside of the pen, Daisy on the other side of the door, eyes locked on the poor traumatized chick, i breathed a sigh, “Well, i guess i’m raising a chick.” She had been so dedicated to the incubation of the eggs, i hadn’t even formulated a plan for if she decided she did not in fact want to be a mother badly enough to adopt. She had been rolling the other chickens eggs onto the shavings on the floor of the hen house and then pushing them up the wall and into the nesting box her others were in so that she could sit on them all at once. She had been doing this for weeks. No matter what box i put the ceramic eggs in each morning, by the evening, they were all in the box by the window and she was sitting on them. Some eggs went to the dogs because during this little ritual of hers, she would crack lily’s eggs which were always somehow more brittle and thin shelled than the others. It had not occurred to me that she would go from broody to homicidal at the prospect of adoption. She seemed rather willing to adopt her sisters eggs. Perhaps she just had an instinct to incubate and nothing more. I wasn’t sure, but one thing i knew was that Daisy, the bossy pants of the group, was having none of it. If i put the chick back in there she would likely kill it dead within the first few minutes of its stay. She had often tried to claw her sisters in the face because i had held them in my lap and that was HER spot and HERS ALONE! Though she was super cuddly and as a result my favorite, she could be quite aggressive when she felt she’d been wronged. I examined the poor chick. She had taken three good solid pecks to the head before i swooped in and lifted her to safety. I wondered if she would have brain damage. I wondered how durable a week old chick could possibly be. I kept her warm against the skin of my chest while i walked about the yard, visiting various sheds to collect supplies from last year. I dug out the chick lamp and luckily the bulb in it was not dead. It still had some life left in it. I grabbed the bathtub and fashioned a lid out of the window screen i had removed to install the window a/c unit. I drug a bag of wood shavings to the house and gathered the old chick water and feed dispensers. Once i finally got everything plugged in and set up it hit me that i’d doomed myself to the same experience as last year. I’d effectively lost my bathroom for the next few months. What did i do?

I watched the little chick explore her new surroundings. She took a few sips of water but didn’t touch the chick feed. Instead, she began peeping incessantly and turning her head to look at me through the window screen. I lifted her out of the tub and placed her against my chest. I sat in the rocking chair and tried to make sense of what just happened. She tucked herself into the crook of my neck and folded her head against her body. In the camera app of my cell phone i could see that her eyes were closing gradually. She had stopped peeping incessantly. Instead, she began to snore. She made a soft little snorty noise every time she breathed out and slept happily against my neck under my chin. I decided to call her Ellis.

Ellis did not appear to be brain damaged from the attack. She was, however, lonely and became increasingly needy. As much as i grew to adore her, i had so much school work to do and i was exhausted from all the hours of sprinting at work, and i began to resent her for the incessant overbearing noise that she made every time i put her down. How could so much sound come out of something so little? She cried all night unless i removed her and put her on my chest and then she pooped on me. I was running out of towels to wear. Finally, i made a decision. I drove to the feed store and bought another of the chicks that had been in the week old cage. They were now 2 weeks old. This chick was a little more wild and a lot less interested in me. She bonded with Ellis immediately and Ellis focused on the other chick and stopped crying for me. I named the other chick Oakley. She ended up being the dominant of the two and hogged the chick feeder, thus gaining weight faster than little Ellis. Occasionally she would pick on her because she was bigger and because she could, but they still slept against each other during nap time. Ellis was a lighter tan and Oakley was a bit darker. I imagined that Oakley would lay brown eggs like Rosie and Ellis would likely produce cream colored eggs like Lily and Buttercup. So, that is the story of how i came to have 7 chickens on a homestead where the hen house supported a maximum of 6.

The chicks were at an age where they ate, pooped, and slept a lot. I would place them on my chest and rock them in the rocking chair while wearing a towel (to catch the poop) and they would sleep on me while i listened to the recorded lectures for my online classes.

They were super cute but as they grew i started trying to find one of the chickens a home. I was trying to rehome Buttercup or Oakley. My sweet little Ellis was so attached to me, i really wanted to keep her. However, a friend of a friend was willing ti take two chickens. She wouldn’t take one because a flock would bully a new lone chicken. She would only take two, so the pair would have a shot at successful integration. I agreed to let go of both babies and keep Buttercup, my sneaky hen with a history of pecking legs and stealing articles of clothing and paper plates right off of your person. I continued to socialize the chicks, trying to make them as sweet as possible in preparation for their new owner.

They hit the teenage phase and began looking kind of scraggly with their half unfurled feathers.

As you can see, Oakley got quite a bit bigger than poor Ellis.

Though she picked on her at times, Oakley always slept against Ellis and when i removed her from the tub she would call to her and look for her until i placed her back in the tub with Oakley.

I was going to miss Ellis. By now she knew her name and would come when called. She would cock her head and search for me if she could hear my voice. Her favorite thing to do was cuddle and she would hunker down and nap on me whenever possible. Oakley was a bit more feral. I got her to like petting, but she still wasn’t down with being held.

They were getting to be big chickens. They didn’t fit in the tub anymore. They had their feathers, were off the heat lamp, and ready for their new home.

The night before i gave the both of them away i spent some extra time with Ellis and said goodbye. She will make a very good laying hen/pet for Sara.

Update: Petunia is back to her regular rambunctious self. Now Daisy is broody. She sits in the box all day every day and pecks at anything that comes near her treasures, puffing herself up to look as big as possible in an effort to intimidate me while i’m collecting eggs. I promptly informed her that we’re all going to die childless old spinsters together. It is what i’ve decreed because i’m not falling for that again. I’ve removed all the ceramic eggs from the nesting boxes. We’re done raising chicks in the bathroom. I told Daisy, “That’s a lot of work you know, but you wouldn’t know because your first instinct was (‘kill it! Kill it dead!’)” sigh.

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