NewChicken A funny thing happened last Sunday, a nice couple with kids pulled up and asked if we wanted to have a chicken and her chicks. The father explained that he had too many chickens and needed to cut back (the standard explanation) and that this hen had snuck off and raised these seven chicks herself. They looked to be about a week old. He said he was raising chickens at a horse barn nearby, and I think that the barn owner was asking him to reduce their numbers. Considering all of the poultry dump-off problems our region is having, I appreciated the fact that he at least asked if I wanted her!

I asked what breed she was, and I’m pretty sure he understood my question, but evaded it. He explained he showed birds, bred nice birds, some worth $200 or more, and that he just had too many. He offered to leave the nice carrying cage too, which alone is worth about $40. I was dubious, because poultry disease is so common, it’s always risky bringing other people’s birds onto your place. But the people looked healthy, and the birds looked healthy, so something in me made me say OK.

After he left, I sought to look up her breed online, as I was not familiar with her peculiar appearance. It looks like she is an Old English or American game fowl– a fighting breed. And yeah, apparently people really do pay $200 for good specimens. I realized what makes her look so unique is that she’s “dubbed” or has had her wattle and comb removed. Presumably this was/is done on fighting breeds to make them less vulnerable to being grabbed by the opponent chicken (just like the close ear crops on fighting dogs). People who show these breeds still do this today, I guess to honor the breeds history, even if they are not fighting them. So, who knows whether this guy was fighting or showing his chickens, or both. Below is a photo of her head compared to one of my Rhode Island Red hens- you can see how the dubbing really changes the appearance- she looks aerodynamic!


She is indeed pugnacious when it comes to protecting her chicks- way more than I’ve ever seen before. She also shows pretty wily instincts in teaching them to scratch for food. She was even grabbing mouthfuls of feed out of the hopper and scattering it for them  demonstratively, and then showing them how to peck at it. I read that some people use game hens as brood mothers, because they still have strong maternal instincts (which we have purposely bred out of laying hen breeds, because we don’t want them sitting around on eggs all day.)

Initially, I separated her from her chicks, putting them in with the other babies in an A-frame, and letting her loose with the adult poultry. It’s funny how the whole flock goes on notice when a strange bird is in their midst. Not only did the Rhode Island Reds all notice this girl and get in her space (and the rooster let her know who’s Daddy…), but the ducks and turkeys also paid rapt attention to the goings on. She was very distressed at being separated from her chicks by chicken wire, and they were upset too. After a few hours of listening to their panicked calling, I relented and let her in the brood house. I was worried she might kill my expensive purchased birds (wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony, free bird murders purchased birds…), but she was peaceful, and everything calmed down after that. So I let her stay. It’ll be interesting to see if the other chicks eventually consider her mother and vice versa.

So, here she is, looking like she has 37 interspecies babies. I don’t know what I’ll do with her or her chicks, maybe just re-market them after they’ve been here a few weeks and I know they are healthy. Or, eat them. Certainly any boy babies she has cannot stay past sexual maturity, lest they start picking fights in the chicken yard!