When Marina saw that Goldie, her hen, was laying on three eggs below our pollo grill, she said, “Now, she is your hen.” We never intended to be chicken farmers, but a gift of a broody hen is very precious in Nicaragua. How could we refuse?
Marina stole eight more eggs from another broody hen, adding to our three from Goldie. Eleven fertile eggs. We tended to Goldie’s needs for 22 days. In the late morning, when the sun had sufficiently warmed the nest, Goldie descended the wooden ramp and clucked loudly at our front doors. Anticipating her call, I threw small pieces of ripe papaya, mango, and sprinkles of bread, rice, and chicken feed to her.
Two days after Easter Sunday, the first three eggs hatched. We wondered how Goldie would get her chicks down from the nest. We also wondered what would happen to the remaining eggs that had not hatched, yet. Goldie waddled down the wooden ramp and camped out under the nest. She gently called to her chicks, but the chicks wouldn’t budge.
“Should we build a slide so the chicks can slide down the ramp?” I wondered. “How about a mini-trampoline? Or maybe if we put a bale of hay under the ramp, the chicks can have a soft landing.” The waiting was excruciating. The chicks refused to budge.
With helping hands, we carefully scooped up the chicks and placed them on the ground near Goldie. Everyone needs a helping hand occasionally, right? What a dilemma! What would happen to the eggs that were almost ready to hatch? How could we protect the chicks from predators, especially the giant Hurracas ( big blue jays that gobble up baby chicks like cotton candy)?
Goldie took her newly hatched chicks into the jungle of our yard. They stumbled over dry leaves and rotten mangoes, while the Hurracas circled overhead. I had to stand guard, watching over my precious flock. “That will never work, Debbie,” Marina shouted across the fence. She quickly crossed the barbed wire fence with a long piece of rope. “Grab the chicks, and I’ll get the hen,” she ordered. Before I knew what was happening, Goldie’s leg was tied to the rope and the other end tied to a chair on my porch. I scooped up the chicks and gently placed them beside her. She didn’t look very happy to me. Disgruntled, she eventually settled down and eyed me with suspicion.
We tested the remaining eggs in the nest. Marina shoved the eggs near my ear and said, “Listen!” Amazed, I could hear faint taps on the shells from within. She scooped up the eggs, all except for one rotten egg ( Why is there always one rotten egg in the bunch?), and put them in the nest of her other broody hen.
The next morning, there were eight chicks poking their tiny heads out from under Goldie. Marina had quietly slipped the newly hatched chicks in the temporary nest while we were sleeping. That afternoon, she returned with two more fuzzy balls of downy feathers. Ten precious chicks.
However, the temporary shelter would never work because Goldie got tangled in the rope. We found her with her leg hung in the air and her chicks trying to keep warm under her suspended leg. She looked like an awkward ballerina. Poor Goldie. Ron quickly constructed a new home in the pollo grill and surrounded it with rolls of screen.
Goldie and her chicks are much happier, now. They can peck and chirp and cluck to their heart’s content. In another week, we’ll open the screen and allow them to wander the jungle of our yard during the day, and return them to their screened chicken house at night.
I’ve been researching chicken tractors. I can’t understand why no one in our neighborhood protects their chickens. They are free-roaming and the casualties are great. Finding the eggs is a daily treasure hunt. I already know that I’ll never be capable of eating Goldie’s first hatch. I’ve named them after the elements in the periodic table: Boron, Chlorine, Carbon, Iodine, Lead, Mini-me ( looks exactly like Goldie), Krypton, Calcium, Helium, and Neon. Gender neutral names until we can determine the sex of the chicks.
Everyone, including Ron, thinks I’m crazy. But, I’m really enjoying my first experience as a chicken farmer. A gift of a broody hen is a precious gift in Nicaragua, a gift that deserves only the best of care…my little precious elements are growing rapidly.