Day 47 of 365
Tonight, after everyone was tucked in, I went to check on Ruby one more time because I heard her talking to her babies, and I took this picture of her in there, surrounded by babies. She has one more baby hidden in her feathers. Ruby is a magnificent mom. She’s very nurturing, gentle, and is a good teacher. These are the things that make for a good parent across the board, I think.
But Ruby is showing some signs of tiredness. She lets me get a lot closer now, and when some of the babies are crying for mama when I am getting them ready to go in the morning, Ruby no longer gets upset. She used to attack me when I tried to help. Now, I swear, she looks at me like, “Can you deal with that?”
In a few more weeks, her work will be done, though I have had a few hens stay in mama mode for 10 to 12 weeks. Still, most wrap up at about 6 to 7 weeks. I have found it’s much easier on the babies when the mama lets them stay longer. But, however, long they let their babies stay, when the mama hens are done or nearly done, they will molt. The intense stress and toll of being a mother impacts their little bodies.
The stress begins when they are broody. For 21 days, the mama hens will barely move from the nest. They will eat and drink very little. Their combs shrivel, and they lose body mass; though I try to keep them fed and hydrated, hatching babies takes a clear and definitely toll. Then, they become mothers, and for weeks, the mamas work to teach and provide care.
When the mama hens molt near the end, they will lose a lot of feathers. There will be chicken feathers all over the yard, the garage. It’s a visible toll of motherhood. And the growing back of feathers is not an easy experience for them. Pin feathers can be painful, and they need extra protein for all of the feather growing.
My chickens remind me, deeply, that being a mama takes a toll, and my chickens only have to do it for 6 to 11 weeks or so.
I have been a human mama since I was 21 years old–that’s 26 years. My first delivery was traumatic. If I had not been so young, I might have died. My daughter nearly died.
And since then, I have learned a lot. I am a much better mama now than I was when I started. I have learned, deeply, the importance of being a good teacher as a parent. I have learned, deeply, that it is a difficult job. I have learned, deeply, that it takes a profound toll. It brings you joy, but it makes you tired. You lose your feathers.
My chickens get to decide if they want to be mama. I give them as much agency as I can because I know what a difficult task being a mother will be for them, and I believe everyone needs that agency.