At this time of year my hearing becomes finely tuned, enabling me to pinpoint individual sounds wherever they occur all over the farm – well at least my four acres of it.
With uncanny accuracy I can home in the faintest cheep in the furthest reaches of the dusty barn attic, I can seek out the peeping of any individual even at night.
For at this time of year the chicks start to hatch and from now until September I will be on my guard night and day to save them from themselves and in some cases from the negligence of their mothers.
I don’t know why it is but as soon as I hear that first high pitched peep I can never rest until I know all are safe. I believe I can now differentiate between peepings and cheepings and know which are distress calls and which just exuberance.
Usually the first cheep I will hear will be from a hatchling stuck down the side of a bale or perhaps a pile of wood and after locating it I will endeavour to get it back with the rightful parent and the rest of its siblings.
My chickens, you see, have a tendency to lay in a variety of hidey-holes and some have an exceedingly idiotic survival mechanism, which forces them to lay in the most dangerous of places. Stupid lays her eggs in the barn attic necessitating a 12ft drop for her hatchlings and not all of them have that kamikaze-like attitude to life, which she obviously takes for granted. When you’re only 4 inches high 12ft is an incredibly long way to fall…
Others have been known to lay at the bottom of the grain pit, which is 6ft deep with smooth concrete walls - if you can’t fly your time on this earth is going to be severely limited.
As much as I try to locate my broodies, I inevitably miss a few. However, once a brood is found to be in trouble or requiring help, the machine, which is Chicken Rescue, swings into action.
This means I locate the problem, assess it and then scout around for suitable assistance depending on the severity of the mission. If it requires climbing then I haul J or any of the builders usually to be found lurking in the vicinity. Wise builders know that as soon as they hear the chicks it is evacuation time but some just can’t help themselves and allow curiosity to get the better of them. I am merciless and no matter how much they plead a fear of heights or feathers there is no escape.
If I know it is an aggressive hen then I normally huff and puff and do the job myself while bitterly complaining about how wimpish men are…
I know each hen and I know how good or bad they are as mothers. The best need only the occasional hand - for instance when a chick gets separated on the wrong side of the fence - while the new ones or those I know that are quite hopeless are given more support in the form of the Nursery coop.
Here I can keep a very beady eye on everyone until I feel it’s time to enjoy the big wide world.
Despite all my efforts, which have had me running around in the dark in only my nightie and a pair of gumboots in an effort to track down a solitary cheeper and reunite with its family, I will lose far too many to count. I will have to kill some that are too weak to survive or that have injured themselves and I hate that: but to see the ones I rescue scampering about in the sunshine fighting over bits of worm almost as long as themselves and to watch them grow warms my heart and makes all the effort worthwhile.