Brooding For Beginners

The other day I went to check on my brooding Banty, to see how many eggs were in her clutch. She had settled on the high shelf meant for egg laying, and was nestled down in the hay with a fierce, beady glare. Every time I checked on her she fixed me with such a hairy eyeball I didn’t dare touch her. But I had a mission that day, so ignoring her pecks to my hand I reached underneath her. To my amazement I felt movement around my fingers: soft, velvet stirrings as if I’d reached inside a nest of mice. I withdrew my hand and dashed inside the house, where my partner was on his way to work. “I have chicks” I yelled. My partner said he’d never seen me so excited, even at Christmas. This isn’t saying much, since I don’t care for Christmas, but I knew what he meant.

I had always wanted one of my hens to hatch out a clutch, but they never showed any interest. I provided the rooster, an essential ingredient in such a venture, but none of my big hens ever got broody. I concluded they had been used for commercial egg laying for so long that the urge to brood had been bred out of them.

This fall I was down to four old hens, and they didn’t lay any more. I intended to keep them till they died, but I decided when I got new chickens I’d get those that were wont to brood. I was told Buff Orpingtons were a good bet in that regard.

I got my sister (who lives right up the road) interested in chickens, and she ordered some from the store in West Lebanon. She chose Wyandottes, Orpingtons and a few Barred Rocks. She was going to let me have a rooster and an Orpington, but then she fell in love with them and decided to keep them all. She has actually named them and can tell them apart. I never went so far.

My problem was solved when my partner told me a friend of his had a flock of Bantys and was willing to give some up. In August he came home with 10 in a wire cage, and they soon grew to consider my chicken house and yard home. The big hens didn’t like them, but chose to live in a state of détente. Then my sister’s dog killed one, and we realized we had a big problem. How could I let them free range, if her dogs had decided they were fair game? We agreed that I would keep them in till 1 in the afternoon, and her dogs could be free till then. Then she’d tie up the offending dog, along with the innocent one, and my chickens would be safe. This worked fine till the offending dog slipped her rope and they both came down and slaughtered eight of my flock.

I came home in the afternoon and saw my sister’s car in the yard. I came in and one look at her face told me something bad had happened. When she started to cry I knew bad had gone to terrible. We all went outside, and looked around for the missing chickens. (My sister had already moved the eight dead ones.) We spotted one in the river, dead, and then found others perched in trees, having survived the massacre. I was angry and my sister knew it. She didn’t visit for two days and I didn’t talk to her. Finally I gathered up the Valley News, which I give to her when I’m done with it, and went to see her. I told her I’d get more Bantys, and we’d go back to the first plan, with the difference that she’d keep her dogs in the house after 1 p.m.

I got a new cage full of Bantys, including several roosters, and they settled in. Since it was late October I didn’t let them free range, but they seemed happy enough to stay in their fenced-in yard. Soon after I discovered that one was broody. I had no experience with brooding, so I didn’t look at the clutch, which is why I was surprised when the clutch turned out to be a squirming pile of hatchlings. I knew they couldn’t get down off the high shelf to get to water and food, and I was afraid they’d freeze to death, so I put them all in a box and put them in my partner’s heated shop. This wasn’t easy, as the mother became a flying dervish of claws and beak. Plus, I dropped a few of the chicks and they bounced on the hay on the floor of the chicken house. But I finally got them settled with plenty of food and water, and the mother got them all back under her wings and purred, to let them know all was well.

I checked on her one morning and she was still purring. The food and water looked untouched, so I looked up Bantys and brooding. I discovered that Bantys came from Indonesia, and that they were prolific brooders. The one that had hatched the clutch was called a Sebright, which was a true Banty, not just a miniature chicken. The chicks could live for several days without eating or drinking.

It appeared that finally, through trial and error, I had stumbled onto a breed whose population would explode, with very little assistance from me. You know what they say about your dreams coming true. I’ve gone from 12 Bantys to 22 Bantys overnight. Now I know why Peter’s friend was so happy to give them away.

Don’t be surprised when you see free Bantys on offer on the Norwich Listserv.

The writer lives in Norwich.