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27 Jan 2011 - 11:54 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Puggle Farm has finally welcomed its first two chicks that come not from an incubator, but from underneath a broody chook. These tiny, fragile yellow birds popped out of their shells right on time; on exactly the 21st day of their gestation.

It’s very exciting to have new life on the farm. In nature, a hen gathers several eggs then sits on them. Once laid, fertilised eggs, so long as they haven’t gotten too hot or too cold, sit in a form of stasis, waiting on the warmth of the hen while she lays enough to make it worth hatching – a dozen is fairly normal. Once she starts to sit, she has to keep the eggs warm for the full three weeks it takes for the ova to become little birds. Our two newest farm members are fluffy and fragile, I’d almost forgotten how miniscule and delicate they look.

But with the new birds comes the sad realisation: This is the sixth attempt this year to get fertilised eggs from my Barnevelder chooks; three times using incubators, three times using chooks (Rhode Island Reds, because Barnies don’t seem to go broody – the term used for a hen that wants to sit on eggs to make them hatch). And the chicks that are now testing their little squeaks in the shed are not Barnevelders. They’re from a neighbour, who had four eggs he thought may be fertile; eggs we used to top up the load we put under our hen Beyoncé.

All that means, sadly, is that our sole rooster is either firing blanks or isn’t up to the task. Roger still guards his girls as they eat. He still watches for hawks and calls them when he finds more tucker. But, in the bedroom department, he’s been found wanting. And because the chicken we eat in this house is always home killed, that means a lean year for roasts. And soups using the bones. And chicken sandwiches and salads.

Roger is on borrowed time. Already we’ve been offered a new Barnevelder, an Australorp, and other mixed-breed roosters. Roger will be missed, but like most animals around here, he’s not here for his vocal ability or strutting posture. He serves a purpose in the feeding of my family. Having more than one rooster usually means one ends up dead in a fight, or seriously damaged. We either have to turn Roger into soup, or watch him get bashed up.

That decision, however, is for another week.

For now, I watch the magic of how a chicken cares for her young (her adopted young, in this case). When broody, the mother hens go into virtual hibernation, eating and drinking little, and always backing into the laying box with a fluffed-up behind to cover the delicate eggs with their warm feathers. When the chicks were born, Beyoncé used a series of calls that the young know instinctively: a loud, insistent one when there’s danger; a low, cooing noise when they’re resting on the nest; and a bright cheery chirrup to let the chicks know she’s found food. Beyoncé has been teaching her chicks to forage. She shows them how to scratch, and how to peck. She picks up a piece of tiny food and drops it again, getting her young to follow suit. It takes barely a day for them to learn to pick at food and eat.

For now the routine is simple. The chicks are hardly allowed outside (too many dangers; many from the sky, some from diseases on the ground). They just eat, drink and sleep, always staying close to Mum. Later, Beyoncé will show them how to roost. In the meantime, she bustles around and looks after them with tremendous devotion.