A Message From Our Editor, Issue #53 – Something To Cluck About
The Rooster Makes All the Noise, But the Hen Rules the Roost!
We got our first chickens when we were in college. Tom and I were paying our own way and chickens seemed to be an easy, economical source of food. We bought 18 young chickens who were bred for laying eggs. We also got a rooster. We were clueless about raising chickens, but we took it on, experiencing the wonderfulness of pastured eggs. With 18 hens and one rooster, I was in my glory. Our eggs were fertile— another nutritional benefit we had no idea about. All we knew was that these were the best eggs we had ever eaten.
One morning I woke up and opened our back door to see two strange chickens on our stoop. They were the cutest little pair— one was a rooster, the other a hen. Apparently, someone had dropped them off figuring we would take them in. We did, of course. They were a different breed than those we had already, so observing their differences was entertaining.
Within days, to my delight, the hen began laying and gathering her cluck of eggs in our shed, something my current chickens were not doing. After she had about six eggs collected, she began to “set,” the term used to describe a hen who is sitting on her eggs so they will hatch. I watched with curiosity. So did the other hens, as none of them had ever attempted this.
Twenty-one days later, out came six little peeps. They were the cutest things on two legs, and the mother hen was fiercely protective of her newly hatched treasures. She gave her life defending them against a fox.
We moved from there and found what was to be our permanent home. Although I begged my husband for chickens, he brushed the idea off for years. Then one day his brother showed up with a few peacocks, a handful of pigeons, several hens, a rooster, and a turkey. These hens had been raised “au natural.” In other words, they had a mother who set on them for 21 days, and then raised them until they were old enough to do the same. I didn’t realize how blessed we were until we lost some of them thanks to our neighborhood fox, and had to replace them by buying baby chicks who were artificially incubated and hatched. We called these peeps the “Postage Stampers,” because they can be ordered and sent through the mail. The ones who were hatched under a mother, at home, we named the “Home Growners.”
Over the years, I have set up various scenarios with our fertile eggs and setting hens. Our Home Growners naturally set and hatched their own peeps. Our Postage Stampers never even considered it.
Now, this is where it gets interesting: All peeps who are naturally laid, gathered, and hatched by a mother end up having the innate capacity to build a cluck, set on eggs, and mother their own set of baby peeps. However, if we grow eggs in the incubator, the peeps that hatch do not grow up knowing how to set on eggs; this is true even if the incubated egg is shoved under a setting mother at the last moment to be hatched, accepted, and raised. To drive the point home, we found that it didn’t matter what type of egg we used, whether it was a Postage Stamper’s egg or an egg laid by one of our Home Growners. When deprived of a mother’s nest and setting body via the use of an incubator, the peep will simply be devoid of the innate capacity to set on eggs.
It seems to me that the time spent in the nest, under the mother, provides a crucial learning imprint that cannot be replaced. This is the importance of the gestation environment. Somehow, some way, the mother’s presence is absorbed by that growing chick and passes into the chick’s cellular memory.
In this issue we look at the importance of consciously mothering our babies in utero. We look at the science and the sensitivity of mothering from conscious conception, throughout pregnancy and in birth. We invite our readers to enjoy!