The Smallholdings was a-flutter with excitement last night. Returned home from the station, picking handfuls of goosegrass on the way, and cut through the garden to give it to the few stragglers who were still out pecking around when most of the hens had turned in for the night. Walking across the lawn I spotted James in the spare chicken coop setting up the brooding lamp with a washing up bowl beneath it. Inside was a stripey little chick, so tiny it could only have been a couple of days old. Our neighbours had just brought it round wondering if it belonged to us – they’d found it wandering in front of their gate on the drive.
We haven’t raised any chicks this year wanting to concentrate on finishing renovating our house in any spare time, though last Easter we thoroughly enjoyed incubating and hatching out several fluffy of which the Araucanas (one pictured below), Rhode Island Red and Buff Orpington cockerel are the result. Naturally, we were the first place our neighbours thought of, but where this little fella came from – and how it survived the countless cats (including Beau, our voracious Bengal), I’ll never know.
Delighted with our new charge (who somewhat spookily resembles our Araucanas when they were his age), we dredged up the tips on chick-care we’d picked up last year. First, he needed a secure, warm place to be, so we decided against the empty chicken house and left him behind the locked gate there while we got another brooding lamp from the loft (very rare we can lay our hands on anything we need up there), boiled an egg to feed him (sounds odd, I know, but this is what chicks eat while still inside their shell, giving them the strength to break out), arranged two chairs in top of the dining room table from which the lamp could suspending a length of wood (assisted by Delia Smith, Jamie Oliver, Sarah Raven and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the form of cookbooks) so it hovered just at the right height.
I returned to the spare coop ready to scoop up the little chap and take him to his new quarters. As I unbolted the gate, I saw his makeshift bed was empty. I couldn’t believe it. Just minutes before he looked barely strong enough to stand and now he’d vanished from his fleece-lined washing bowl and was nowhere to be seen. To add to my distress, Beau the Bengal was scaling the chickenwire desperate to claim the little bird for his own. Had the chick miraculously found a tiny hole in the wall and escaped into our cat’s clawed clutches? No – at exactly that moment I heard cheeping from behind the stainless steel pellet bin and a tiny winged stripey chick fluttering about. Phew-y. How on earth ?
Suffice to say, we installed him in a very tall-sided plastic crate-cum-brooder lest the rascal escaped once more.
After a little encouragement he ate tiny pieces of boiled egg from my finger and took sips of water, making a little clicking noise with his minuscule beak. Leaving him at around 11.30pm I went to bed fully prepared for the fact that he might not make the night. After all, as James said, we didn’t know what kind of journey he’d had or how far he’d travelled. Had he been dropped out of the mouth of a predator? And how long had he been outside without the warmth of a mother hen or brooding lamp?
Anyway, I woke up around 5.15am, went down to see him straightaway and was delighted to find him looking up at me seeming even stronger than he did last night. After a breakfast of more egg and water, he started to totter about his new home occasionally falling asleep on the spot the way chicks do. James is home today, so that took the edge off leaving the little guy and heading to London for work. Fingers crossed he’s coming on leaps and bounds tonight.