"Next week, we should be getting some new chicks," Hick told The Pony this evening.
No, he's not procuring sweet young things for The Pony's pleasure. He was referring to the five eggs he put under a hen that was setting. It takes twenty-one days for the chicks to hatch. Hick was a bit perturbed, because a couple days ago, he found eleven eggs under that broody hen. That means the chick-hatching will be all out of kilter. That the five will hatch, and the hen will abandon the other eggs. Hick sees that as a waste of potential chicks. Yes. He counts his chickens before they hatch.
Hick revealed his plan. He will take the chicks away from the hen so she will keep setting. I called him on it. "What are you going to do with the chicks? They need their mother. The hen always keeps the chick near her. Remember how the hens get hysterical when the chicks go in and out of the fence, and they can't get to them?"
"The hen won't even know. I'll put the chicks in the rabbit hutch. They'll be fine."
Perhaps in all his years of chicken husbandry, Hick has not noticed how the hen is protective of her chicks. How she tucks them under her body to keep them warm. How the chicks poke their heads out of random feather crevices to see what's going on. How you can't shut up a cheeping chick. It's not like we're a production line, and put chicks in separate pens with warmers, all protected from predators and the elements. Our chicks have to deal with frosty nights and hawks and cats and goat feet and dogs and whatever sets those dogs to barking all the live-long night.
I think I talked Hick into putting another broody hen on the remaining eggs as soon as the first ones hatch. I don't know how it will work out. But at least the chicks will have their adoptive momma. Who knows what kind of eggs she is setting on. It's a toss-up. At least she will have the Egghead Juniors she has been dreaming of.
I don't want to think that Hick is being heartless. Or ignorant. I'd rather think that he's doing secret research in the field of nature versus nurture. Are new chicks hatched knowing all they need to know to survive? Or do they need a mother hen to model behavior for them?
Perhaps The Pony is lucky that Hick didn't send him off with a sandwich in a paper sack as soon as he could walk, in order to seek his fortune and fend for himself.