I grew up on a farm; beef, sheep and arable land. Lambs, calves, foals, kittens, puppies we had a-plenty but we never had chicks. I have no idea why this was; perhaps, and most obviously, it was because we never had a rooster. Our hens were free-range around the farmyard, but they sadly lacked a male counterpart. However, if you have followed my blog you will have guessed by now that chicks have been very much on my mind, not least due to the pleadings of the children! So, when in November we purchased our four laying hens, which were quickly followed by a pair of Pekim bantam hens and a young rooster, I knew that chicks were going to feature in our future – it would be impossible to refuse the children their little piece of animal husbandry and I wasn’t objecting!
So, fast forward a few months to the spring and we had two broody bantams each sitting on a clutch of eggs. Much excitement was followed by bitter disappointment as each batch failed to produce anything at all. Roddy did some forensics on the eggs once it was quite clear they were never going to hatch and it became apparent Fritz had not quite done his job. He was certainly practising several times a day, as we were all a witness to that, but for whatever reason these particular eggs were not fertilized.
A friend then told us of someone who had some fertilized Faverole eggs and we thought as Rosie was still listless with disappointment we’d attempt to be cuckoos and let nature do the rest. The Faverole is a French breed, it all seemed rather fitting. So three weeks ago on a very hot Sunday whilst the rest of the family headed to the beach, Millie, Gigi and I set off on a two and a half hour round trip for five fertilized eggs – no one was going to accuse me of not making an effort to fulfill their dream! We knew Rosie was tired, so whilst we were excited to put the new eggs under her, we were also quite aware that she might abandon them – we were going to just let nature run its course and see what happened. Quite bizarrely, the five eggs turned into just four at the start of Week 2, it is still a total mystery what happened to the egg as there was never any trace of it.
Three weeks after Operation Faverole commenced, there was no sign of movement come the appointed day on Sunday morning at breakfast time, so it was without any anticipation that Gigi and I wandered down to the ‘broody’ coop a little later with some extra food. As we chatted away and nonchalantly opened Rosie’s little upstairs door, feed in one hand and fresh water in the other, it was a complete shock to find a tiny fluffy yellow chick inches away, staring at us in bewilderment! A lot had happened since breakfast, it seemed. The little bundle of fluff stood out against the dark brownish black of Rosie, and over the course of the morning the other three eggs hatched without further ado. For some reason the excitement affected everyone, including dog, cats, ducks and even Roddy!
Yesterday morning we set about redeveloping the duck’s old outdoor run for Rosie and her tiny babies; it’s going to be vital they are kept safe from Rory and Clara, as our two kittens are now almost fully-grown cats and they are both Olympic-level hunters. At teatime Rosie and her chicks were safely transferred from the far end of the garden to their new home just by the terrace in the cats’ travelling basket, and the children took up their positions watching through the slatted walls of the run like tourists outside Buckingham Palace, waiting for a glimpse of the new-borns. After an hour or so Rosie finally gave in to the adoring crowds and let the chicks emerge from under her protective wings into the open air. It really was rather like watching royalty appear on the balcony. There was quite some considerable excitement amongst the crowds which now included four neighbours, attracted by the sound of high-pitched whispering and the paparazzi clicking away.
Having never observed baby chicks and a hen together, I was struck last night and this morning by Rosie’s utter devotion to her babies; she is such a proud, proud mother, and she permanently fusses over them and they in turn follow her everywhere; where Mum goes, the babies follow. I am totally hooked. Roddy remarked that it is like watching four little yellow tugs working feverishly around a great Cunard liner.
Amongst all the madness on Sunday I had also set about making strawberry jam. I’d bought several kilos of locally grown Charente Maritime strawberries at the market on Friday and I wasn’t going to let them go to waste amidst all the excitement. So after the royal Faverole introduction there seemed no better time to try out the first homemade jam of the year, complete with a batch of homemade English scones, fresh from the oven. The timing was perfect for the childrens’ traditional 4pm goûter, which is the hour of the afternoon snack in France. Our neighbours’ son joined in the feeding frenzy, as he is a young French boy who has become a huge fan of ze leetle English scones!
Meanwhile the jobs here are already mounting up as I have spent far too much time standing watching chicks! Yesterday afternoon Rosie led her little line of followers to the little tub of special chick feed, and started Lesson 1 of life. A few moments later and Lesson 2 started – this was the drinking one, and the children fell about giggling hysterically as one small chick’s attempts to mimic mum’s throwing back of the head led to a rash backwards somersault. I can see it’s going to be an entertaining summer !