So I knew it was time to lay off the “let’s eat Arugula” jokes when Thing 1 wandered into the kitchen while I was prepping a whole chicken (from the store, not one of ours) for the crockpot and gasped, “Mom! Is that Arugula?!?”
“it’s not Arugula,” I assured him. “She’s still parked in the nest box–NOT laying. . .But if it was Arugula for dinner, would you still eat it?”
He thought it over, then shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
Arugula is our consistently broody chicken. She’s the squinty one mentioned in the “Pale Clucker” post. She’s grouchy, pecks at the kids, and looks mangy and half-starved because she’s prepped herself for hatching eggs that don’t exist. Thus the beginnings of a few “maybe we should just eat her” conversations. This is supposed to be an urban homestead–where do we draw the line between “pet” and “potentially on your plate”? Granted we want our kids to realize where our food comes from, but we also don’t want to traumatize them by eating a beloved “pet”. So I started throwing the idea out there just to see what response I might get. Sorry Arugula. Once the kids realized we could get another chicken to replace her, AND have chicken dinner, let’s just say they were not entirely opposed to the idea.
While we were contemplating the lot of our broody hen, we ended up spending the weekend with good friends of ours in Medford, who also keep a “few” chickens. Hearing us complain about Arugula always trying to brood, Les brought in four fertilized eggs for us to take home for her to try to hatch. Since we got home after dark, we tried to sneak the eggs under her while she was “asleep,” but all we managed to do was spook her back to her perch. We brought the eggs back inside until the following day when I was able to gently roll them under her.
She spent the next 20-some days parked on those eggs, getting up only briefly to run out the house to forage and get a drink. We started getting a little worried as the winter temps started dropping (I don’t care how much you “real winter” people laugh at us, 16 degrees F in the Willamette Valley is COLD!!). Our coop is not heated in the least bit–it is protection from wind and rain and predators, but it will not keep their water from freezing if it gets cold enough outside. The Girls seem to be doing just fine with it. Arugula fluffed up in her nest box, the rest lined up on their roost.
Not that we really had much of a plan or set up in place for baby chicks, but checking on them this last weekend, we noticed Arugula behaving differently on the nest, and hadn’t got down to feed like normal. Ben pushed her aside enough to get a good peck and hear a few little peeps. Well, what do you know. . . Arugula’s a mommy! Ummm. . . Now what. . .
We filled the bottom of a Rubbermaid tote with bedding shavings and pulled Arugula off the nest to find three chicks and one remaining egg. They went in the box and not having a good way to keep everything warm, we put Arugula in there with her babies and brought the whole tote inside our unheated garage. We did find a heat lamp to place over the top and the chicks seemed pretty happy nestled under “mama”.
The following day I was able to get a waterer and feeder and chick food all set up in the tote and find that the fourth egg had also hatched. It’s really neat to see the traits that made Arugula such an ornery “pet” being used in her favor as an excellent mother. The phrase “mother hen” has all new meaning. She completely covers her babies in her wings, she talks to them, coaxes them to water, cracks bits of food for them with her beak, then drops it for them to eat. . . Needless to say, Arugula will not be what’s for dinner any time soon. We’re hatching new plans for her if this little experiment continues to go well 🙂