“She’s stopped sitting on the eggs.” My son’s face is fallen. Jonathan has been waiting for weeks now, monitoring them throughout the day, by webcam at night and when he’s at school. We know they’re due any moment to hatch.
He came in last night from the little house he’s built for the three of them – a rooster and two hens – to announce the broody hen had moved the eggs, but not all of them. She’d abandoned 6 and shuffled the others to a new nesting spot. By this afternoon she’d left them all, walked out of that nest into the sunlight, the eggs left alone in the hay.
My son is a backyard garden farmer. We don’t live on a farm; we just have patient neighbors. He’s the kind of kid who’s always loved backyard projects and growing things in the garden, but as he’s gotten older his ideas have gotten more elaborate.
I had no idea how difficult it was to actually get a chick to hatch from an egg. It’s a heck of a lot more than (a) take one chicken, (b) add a rooster and voila (c) a collection of baby chicks arrive.
No, the survival of the embryo depends almost exclusively on the hen’s behavior. When the eggs are nearing maturity, the hen plucks the feathers from her breast so she can expose the eggs to the warmth of her bare skin. Because she cannot leave the eggs, she stops eating and grows dangerously thin and light. Jonathan brings seeds, high in protein, to her side to encourage her to eat. She does sometimes.
The hen must turn the eggs a little each day as the embryo develops, but near maturity she knows not to move them. The air pocket in the egg must be positioned just right to allow the chick to breath; otherwise it will drown.
But what if she gives up? If she cannot follow through, if she leaves the eggs, they will die. It doesn’t matter how strong or perfectly formed the chicks are inside, their lifeline is her persistence.
As a writer, I am sometimes tempted to walk away from a project that seems too hard, not only to write but to launch into the world. The same applies in other areas of my life. When I am at the end of myself, hungry and bone thin, cold with all the feathers plucked from my breast, can I stay with it? Can I keep going?
This is Jonathan’s first attempt at hatching chickens. He reads constantly about it.
“They say that if a broody hen gets off her eggs after putting this much time in, she will probably always get off too soon. She won’t stay with it next time either. It’s the way it works.”
Disappointment floods his face.
I was meant to hear that.
If I get off these eggs too soon, if I give up now because I’m cold and hungry, then what? What does this mean for us all, for anyone who has ever had to stay on her eggs long after it seemed sensible or realistic?
She’s climbs back on to her eggs now, but in truth, it’s probably too late. We’ve taken a few inside now, into an incubator. But nothing is as effective as the breast of the hen. Jonathan is choosing to keep hoping.
And I am feeling encouraged.
Three things I’ve learned:
1. Find your best champion, your best supporter, someone who will bring you seeds, who will stroke your feathers, who will watch over you day and night to make sure you’re taken care of.
2. Don’t give up when you can’t see any progress – there is life underneath you. Inside that shell miracles are happening!
3. Stay on your eggs. No matter what, stay on your eggs.