The puppies’ whelping box found new life when they’d outgrown it, as the winter home for the tiniest and most vulnerable of Honour’s Serama chickens.
The permanent residents include Sticky Feet, above, who was born with deformed toes because her mom abandoned her nest a few days before the last of her eggs were supposed to hatch. The hours of cold before we got them into the incubator killed most of them, but Sticky Feet got herself going again and hatched beautifully – with toes that disqualify her from ever being a barn chicken.
There are two or three others, the ones who aren’t even a pound at full size and a few who get chilled too easily and move in and out according to the weather. Honour has made them into pets; they run to her when she calls them and they ride in her pockets and on her shoulders. One even plays dead on command. She cooks for them and worries over their little hurts and bathes them every few days like they are parrots.
To their number, Honour added seven chicks who were hatched last week. She hadn’t done a hatch since Sticky Feet herself, so I didn’t mind the return of sweet peeping and soft round bellies. These chicks were incubator babies, so they went into the corner of the box under a heat lamp.
Well, Sticky Feet and the others also love a good sunbathing, and they think the heat lamp is the best thing ever. They’ll edge closer and closer and then, very slowly, stretch out one leg and then the other until they are on their sides, mouths open, panting and faintly groaning, like feathered beachgoers who wore black socks out on the sand but can’t bear to leave the bone-melting heat long enough to take them off.
Today when Sticky Feet began her stretch, a tiny chick saw an opportunity and raced under her wing. She looked around wildly, but didn’t move. And then she got swarmed. They stuffed themselves beneath both wings, between her legs, down her neck feathers, and under her tail. Then they all collectively sighed and closed their eyes and put their heads down.
Now Sticky Feet is barely above babyhood herself; she is not even clucking yet and her face is the pale pink of immaturity. She should have zero broody instinct, and I held my breath and prepared to save seven little babies from the beak of a ticked-off pullet.
Instead, she very gingerly tried to move away until the boldest of the chicks opened his eyes and shrieked in protest. She froze, and then slowly stretched out her wings and settled down over them, and after a moment she closed her eyes too. They slept away the afternoon, beside the fire, making tiny chicken snores and sleepy peeps.
The next time somebody comes over and asks me why in the world I have chickens in the corner of my living room, I’m going to just say “Sticky Feet.”