Looking out my kitchen window, I am entranced by a new dynamic. Yes, the sheep are still out there. The three little Icelandic lambs are always together, today being no exception. Their multicolored coats still stand out in a sea of black. And in the pasture nearest the house, the three little goat kids are chasing each other up and down a newly installed ramp, taking great pleasure in knocking each other off. Although entertaining, this is not what has caught my attention. Within a few feet of my back steps there are six geese in a circle, two on guard facing out, reminding me of constantly vigilant secret service agents, and the other four facing in. Inside the circle are eight fuzzy little yellow goslings, the most protected goslings in the world it would seem. Wherever they go, they are surrounded by the geese, three males and three females, a full contingent of watchful eyes constantly on guard for would be predators in the form of dogs, chickens, or humans. The males strut proudly, finally having something to protect after all those long months of watching and waiting. At the moment the six adults are cleaning themselves, their long necks straining behind them to work on their wings. Inside the circle, the little ones seem to be mimicking the adults. They too are craning their little necks to clean themselves. The mothers in this group do not interfere. They want them to learn. They have been marching them all over the farm since they were born only two days ago showing them the best places to forage for food. They are on the go all day long, the dads constantly on the alert chasing off anyone who gets too close and rounding up any little stragglers who wander off from the group. From my vantage point at the window, I can see that the army with its precious cargo is apparently on the move again. I am still at the window in awe. These dads are hands-on. Unlike roosters who crow warnings to the hens, and rams and bucks who hardly seem to know who their offspring are, this is impressive. All are involved, all are responsible. It is truly a community affair.
In the meantime, our chicken population is exploding! We have at least ten new baby chicks in the barn. Their nest is underneath the stairs between the creep feeder and the big barn. The mother hen has been taking them out for walks in the creep feeder. There are often lambs in there, but they don’t seem to care. She escorts the chicks out, shows them how to peck for food, and then escorts them back. Many trips involve navigating around the lambs. The lambs show a mild fascination for these tiny creatures but then go about their all important business of eating grains. To the chickens, the lambs don’t represent a threat. They have always coexisted in the barn together.
We found our second group of chicks underneath the front porch, 14 in all. The poor mother hen was starving, so we brought the whole family down to the lower coop. This is where we house our 85 new chicks, who are now almost six weeks old, quite large, but not yet ready to be let outside. With them are the four little chicks we found in the upper barn with their mother. Unfortunately, the four were abandoned after their mother managed to escape through a window a few weeks ago. She never returned, and the four of them were left to fend for themselves. Because they are so much smaller than the rest, we would often find them cowering in a corner together. It was heartbreaking, but there was nothing we could do. Enter the new mother hen and her 14 chicks. The four abandoned chicks found their way to the mother hen almost immediately, started cuddling up to her, and even tried to push their way under her wings. Of course the chicks were too large for that, but before too long, the four of them were happily snuggled up against her. It was a beautiful thing to see. She accepted them as her own. It didn’t seem to make any difference at all that they were so much bigger. They were simply hers and that was that. End of story.