Sylvia Swain, Chicken-sitter

 

by Jennifer Odom

She dialed every last hardware store in town. “It can’t be done,” they said. Every single one of them.

Well, Sylvia Swain doesn’t take no from her kindergarteners, and she sure wasn’t taking it from these guys. After all, this was life or death for Little Black, her pet hen.

Little Black broods.

It all started when her broody hen, Little Black wanted to hatch eggs and raise chicks. Broody chickens will sit on a nest with or without eggs. They’ll quit eating and laying eggs. And Little Black had already spent 21 days on a nest of infertile eggs. No chicks yet, but she wasn’t getting up or giving up. She’d hatch those eggs if killed her.

But Little Black’s health was declining. Her comb, that floppy thing on top of her head, which under healthy conditions would be bright red, was now a pale pink.

Time and again Sylvia lifted Little Black off her nest and tossed her in with the other chickens,

hoping to break her broodiness so she’d hunt for food, forget the nest, and get back to normal. But after a few half-hearted pecks around the henhouse, Little Black headed straight back to her nest and plopped herself down.

New Idea

Sylvia tried every trick she could think of to get the chicken off her nest. Then finally, a fresh idea struck. Buy some fertile eggs! She contacted a friend who brought her four. After distracting Little Black she replaced the old eggs with the fertile ones. That outta work.

But 21 days later, same story, no chicks. Scrawnier now than Miss Sylvia had ever hoped to see, Little Black showed no signs of giving up on her nest. Sylvia prayed for ideas.

Desperate situations called for desperate times. If Sylvia didn’t figure this out, the chicken was going to die. And she couldn’t allow that to happen, not on her watch.

Even Better Idea

That’s when she picked up the phone and started placing those calls. Mid-summer is hot, a hard time to find chicks in a hardware store. Ring after ring, explanation after explanation, nobody had baby chicks on hand, especially chicks that were less than a week old. Everybody told her the same thing, “You can’t do it, it won’t work.”

Well, by golly, she’d make her plan work. At least she’d give it her best. All she needed was four of the fuzzy little hatchlings.

The final listing was an out-of-town number. She dialed anyway, and–voila! They had her chicks. “Are you really really sure?” she asked. “These chicks have to be less than a week old or the hen will know they aren’t hers and peck them to death.”

They were sure. So Sylvia hopped in the car and raced out of town for the prize chicks. Her plan had to work.

Back at the Farm

Back at her farm with the chicks in hand, step one was complete. Step two was a little more complicated.

That night, while all the neighbors were asleep in bed and Sylvia’s other chickens roosted on their perch, she stepped out the back door, adjusted her eyes to pale light of the moon, and crept carefully across the grass to the henhouse. Her dogs, too lazy to rise, remained where they were. Crickets chirped from the tall weeds. An owl hooted from a field nearby. But not one peep came from the chick held against the warmth of her side.

This next part, in the pen, was tricky, and needed to be done just right, or Little Black would reject the chick.

The chicken-wire door creaked its muffled creak and she stepped in to the pen, laden with the heavy must of chicken poo and soil, and closed the latch behind her.

In the Hen House

It was impossible in the dark to tell if the hen noticed her or not, but Little Black didn’t stir. Sylvia knelt in the straw and waited behind the hen.

Finally, when Sylvia felt the time was right, she reached under the hen, pulled out an egg, and slid the chick underneath. The hen turned, eyed the chick, and pecked.

Uh oh. Disappointed, Sylvia retrieved the chick.

This didn’t mean failure, though. Not yet. She’d push it further underneath the next time. Once again she cradled the chick and waited. Little Black settled down. For the second time, Sylvia slid the hatchling under the hen’s warm feathers. She let go.

The Plan Works

The hen shifted, chortled, and settled again.

Ahh. It seemed to be working now.

With the hen content, a satisfied Sylvia returned to the house, praying for a continued miracle, and fetched the second chick.

With long waits in between chicks, the process took most of the night. One chick at a time.

By morning, though, a very weary Sylvia could see that Little Black was doing just fine, and speaking to her four new chicks. She was even off her nest, a proud mama, leading her chicks to the little bits of food that Sylvia had placed inside the pen.

Success at last. A night well spent. Sylvia latched the gate and headed into the house to catch a few well-deserved winks.

The chicks are grown now, and miraculously, even turned out the same color as their mama.

Don’t ever tell Miss Sylvia the chicken-sitter she can’t do a thing. That’s not in her vocabulary.

In all thy ways acknowledge Him (the Lord), and He shall direct thy paths.  Proverbs 3:6

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