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Suzy Verrier
North Creek Farm

Little Black Chick

I've a gardeners yen for a flock of banities to decorate and de-bug my gardens - that is without trampling and defoliating plants as full size chickens do. Been trying to realize this notion since creating these gardens years ago, and at this time I do have a fledgeling flock.

This current group began with a pair of buff, ball-shaped banites, supposedly rare South American breed and, yes, rare enough to not be found in Murray McMurray's catalog. For over a year, Little Hen made numerous attempts to hatch a clutch of chicks, sometimes sitting on only one egg for ridiculously long stretches of time. Eventually, to keep her from wasteing away, I'd toss the over-incubated eggs, only to have the poor dear repeat this hopeless chore. Finally, Mr. Little Buff got tired of his wife's diligence and deserted her and his freedom for the laying chicken's pen and life with larger ladies. Alone now, hapless Little Hen was not deterred from her fruitless mission.

However, this past September I introduced a handsome pair of Black Rosecomb banties. A dandy couple, feathered black as night with a glistening green irrdescence, red rose combs, white ear lobes and white toe nails! By November, Little Hen was again resolutely sitting on a nest of eggs in one cornerof the goat's hay manger. Somehow she managed to defend her nest from the goats who made habit of sleeping in thier manger at night.

I was somehat encouraged by the large number of eggs Miss Determination was incubating, figuring if only by law od averages she should at least finally hatch out something. One early December morning good news was brought that Little Hen had indeed hatched chicks!

I couldn't see much in that cold, dark corner of the barn, but there were clearly many peeps and occasional peeks of fuzzy black little heads poking out from under mama. I hooked up a heat lamp and a barricade to keep the goats out and I was off to hunt down chick equiptment so long out of use.

Bu, before long a helper bore the unhappy news that he'd found one barely alive chick spread eagle on his back who'd evidently precociously hopped out of the manger. I decided to tuck him back under his mama - only to find him several hours later spread eagle face down in the manger and motionless.

I picked up th elimp and cold little chick and held him to the dim light of a dusty window - to marvel at this sad, but perfect tiny creature, that only a few hours before had hatched from an egg quite smaller than a golf ball. The chick twitched  barely perceptible twitch and I put my finger to his chest to feel ever so faint a heartbeat. Without a thought I bolted for the glass greenhouse which was the only toasty spot on this wintery day.

Standing in rays of sunshine steaming into the greenhouse with chick cupped in my hands - ever so slowly life began to seep back into this fuzzy limp baby bird. But with years with chickens, I guessed at best, this would be a long and iffy situation. So, I wrapped chick in a towel nest atop some microwaved hot mats for added heat and placed this sorry creature in the strongest rays.

Every quarter hour or so I checked my little charge and each time there was perceptible improvement. First he opened an eye, then tried to hold his head up, then stoppped breathing with an open beak, and opened another eye. After a couple of hours, he started peeping which gradually accelerated in volume and purpose to a very loud chick distress call - if you know what I'm describing. And, anyone who has raised  chicks will know the sound - piercing!

I retreated to the furthest possible point from the greenhouse to attempt to think and summon up a plan. Certainly Little Black Chick wasn't strong enough to be returned to the cold, drafty barn after only a few hours before being almost lifeless! I resloved to keep him warm overnight and perhaps come morning reintroduce this critter to his mom.

Now, plenty of chicks are raised by the likes of us and I've even raised a solitary chick - and it seemed to me that, with a mite of time, Little Black Chick would quite down. Not so, and even if possible, this chick reached a decibel level and intensity unequaled by any other chick I have ever known! It being made perfectly clear by this small, black ball of fuzz that he (or she) knew it had a mother hen and siblings and belonged somewhere else other than this greenhouse. All of this had imprinted and not been dissipated by near death, and that experience in itself had created an astounding degree of determination.

Fearing Little Black Chick would expire from extreordinary effort and my resoultion being rapidly dissolved by this terribly distressing sound, I snatched him up and marched this critter back to mama - whence I was harshly pecked by Little Hen as I tucked her errant chick back under her warm and fluffy body to rejoin the 5 other siblings.

Now, mid-January. All chicks are well-feathered out and follow Little Hen about the barn and barnyard - practicing the full repertoire of chicken behavior, peeping content peeps endlessly. What a happy sight, out little buff hen and six black (almost half her size) chicks. And, I haven't a clue just which one is Little Black Chick!

Come Spring, with no mishaps, there should finally be quite a flock of banites for my gardens.