"BABY IS HAVING BABIES!"
Lucy came screaming out of the hay mow in the cow's barn. She could hear little chirps coming from under her newly made kindred spirit of the bird variety.
It started a while ago when Mark discovered the clutch of eggs in the hay mow and mentioned it to me. I kind of forgot until many days later when I saw a lone hen out wandering around the cow barn, when the rest of the flock was well up in the pasture. I took notice of her and she seemed to spend far too much time out wandering about to be actually sitting on the eggs so I called to Lucy to get an egg basket and we'd go clean up the clutch before it got even more rotten. I also thought it had been too long since she and the rooster had friendly relations so I felt pretty confident that we were doing the hay mow and thus, ourselves, a favour.
So we gathered up 29 eggs (!!), took them home and did the float test to see if there were any worth keeping for ourselves. There were some that had obviously been there far too long and some we could even hear thuds as we shook them. Lucy really wanted to see and smell what a rotten egg looked like (curiosity beats common sense every time) so she was keen to take the floaters across the road and break them open.
"Mom!!! COME LOOK!"
Two of the eggs she cracked had chicks in them.
So I went into suddenly overly sensitive mode and carefully loaded the eggs gently back into the basket and advised Lucy to quickly take them back and GENTLY set them back in the nest. Thinking to myself the entire time, "Well, that's likely futile. First they had a bumpy ride over here, then we dunked them in cold water, shook them around and now we're going to give them back to a hen who may or may not have given up brooding."
Upon her lengthy return she happily reported that the hen had been waiting for her on the nest and let her lift her off, return the eggs and set her back on. Then Lucy found water and feed dishes, set her all up and petted her and reassured her in only the way she can.
Everyday after that, Lucy would twice daily, sometimes more, refresh the feed and water and continue the soothing petting and chatter. She christened her "Baby" and brought her flowers and the grasses she found she liked.
Finally, two days ago came the grand announcement of the impending arrival of (can you believe it!) chicks, working away at breaking out of their eggs. All day, Lucy would lift Baby off to check the status and come back with the ongoing play by play. "She's got 3!" "There's an all brown one!" "There's five!!"
At one point she met me in the barnyard with a still wet chick in her cupped hands, looking devastated because "his head or neck or something doesn't work right." I suggested she let the Mom look after it; he had JUST come out of a tiny egg after all (again, thinking to myself, futile- a brand new, wet chick with a wonky neck, handled by a 7 year old...yeah right). But shortly after, "He's good now! And he's got brown on his head!" There was even one egg that hadn't fully hatched by nightfall and I had tried to convince Lucy that sometimes they just don't finish hatching, and it's not good to help them hatch. She agreed not to 'help it' and listened to my doom and gloom, but obviously never lost faith because early the next morning she was over in the hay mow, her faith rewarded by yet another wee fluff ball, for a grand total of 7 chicks.
We have hatched eggs in an incubator before. It is a finicky, temperamental and sometimes frustrating undertaking. The humidity has to be just perfect. The temperature to the degree. Turned just right, etc. etc. And here we had shaken, drowned, moved, carried eggs all over the farm, replaced them under the hen and she had managed to get 7 babies out of it. Nature is an omnipotent being, handicapped by our interference.
And for some reason, that hen trusted Lucy with her precious cargo. Any of the rest of us would go in and Baby would ruffle up, purr angrily at us and be clearly unhappy with our intrusion. Lucy however, could go in, stick her hand under, lift a wing, cuddle the chicks to exhaustion and Baby wouldn't blink an eye.
So when Lucy decided that day 2 was a good time to bring the chicks outside, Baby followed obediently and then excitedly out the cow barn door and enjoyed a scratch in the late morning sun. It was incredible to watch the chicks imitate their mother immediately. Two day old chicks fighting over a tiny spider is a magical thing to see. Nature just kept surprising us all with Her infinite, innate wisdom.
Lucy replaced the chicks back in their nest before we did the pasture chores, but by the time we were done, Baby had them all back out again, this time in the doorway of the barn. Clucking to them when they got too far and happily pecking away at Rosie's straw bedding.
Lucy left them reluctantly to go home for lunch and when I announced that we had an errand run in town, she insisted on checking on them before we left. So I drove over to pick her up at the barn once the boys and I were loaded up and ready to roll.
What I came upon is what can only be described as a scene of the deepest, gut-wrenching heartbreak. There was Baby, outside the barn, repeatedly calling out to chicks who were nowhere to be seen and a little girl who couldn't let her heart believe what her eyes were seeing, or rather not seeing. Crying tears of pure loss, Lucy was first like a frantic mother in a busy shopping mall, checking all the corners and hiding places, then in a moment of acceptance, collapsing beside Baby, saying things to make both of them feel better. It was equally hard on the heart to listen to Baby not giving up, continually calling babies who would not return. Lucy gathered her up in her arms and wept and for those moments, the both of them were silent, mutually mourning. And then they'd find some resolve and go searching and calling again before finding each other for another quiet cuddle.
Not one for sentimentality towards livestock, I surprised myself when I found myself weeping quietly, watching the heartbreak of a hen who had defied the odds only to lose them and a girl whose faith had proven itself only to be shattered.
The trip to town was replaced with a long cuddle on the front step while we talked about what predator might have been the culprit, how Baby knew just what to do to hatch them, how amazing nature is and mostly just sat in silence (and sniffles).
I know there is some seriously valuable lessons in this and that if Lucy truly does grow up to be a farmer as she claims she wants to, this will stick with her in a larger way than just the heartbreak of the day. Perhaps if more of us went through the anguish of feeling responsible for lives so easily lost, we would take the ones we have more seriously and appreciatively. In any case, it was a hard day here on the farm.
But as if to soften the blow, the kids and I did the chores tonight while Mark was gone to a meeting and the layer pasture was bathed in perfect sunset light and every last one of them was happily digging, scratching, pecking, dust-bathing, clucking and running about without a care in the world. I noticed Lucy looking resigned and as she held my hand in a rare moment on the way home, I could almost feel her understanding that the circle of life goes on.