Orphans, a farm life reality.

Back in June our peahen took an interest in nest boxes on par with a vegan’s interest in the Whole Foods produce department. Eventually she selected her  box. Over the next few weeks she lay three large, buff-colored eggs and then started setting.

I was so excited. I looked up how long it took to hatch peacocks. I made a note on my calendar. I settled into the role of expectant grandmother. Three days later she missed the freedom of a child-free life and abandoned the eggs.

I was crestfallen, but before the eggs got cold they were added to the nest of one of the turkey hens. Said turkey had led her spring brood out into the woods to hide them. The next morning her chicks were gone, her body mauled. One of her toes had been torn off. After a long convalescence she healed and then she started sitting on any egg she could find, moving from nest box to nest box, determined to replace her lost brood. She did this for months. As she moved I moved the peacock, and a few turkey eggs, with her. Eventually she stayed (mostly) put and to everyone’s surprise a chick hatched out on a Thursday in mid August. By Saturday there were two chicks along with a noted stench. The turkey was lifted off the nest so the source of the smell could be investigated. There, crushed by the hen was the rotting body of a half-hatched baby, the two live hatchlings glazed in gradeaux from the long-dead nest mate.

The fuzz of the live chicks was caked to their bodies. They couldn’t retain heat and were near-death. I collected the too-cold little birds, and took them back to the RV where a marriage and three dogs already try to coexist. It is one of the sacrifices we make as we wait for our barndominium to be built. I prepared the chicks a bath. They chirped contentedly as I scrubbed sibling-rot out of their fluff, eventually falling asleep in my hand as I held them in the warm water.

After the bath came a session with the blow dryer and meal of sweetened egg yolk. They got another dropper full around 1:00 AM when their chirps grew insistent.

At three days old these should-be-balls-of-fluff are barely alive and caked in rot.

Turkeys and peacocks are close cousins. Turkeys are Meleagris gallopavo, peacocks are Pavo cristatus. Many of their vocalizations are similar. Males of both species parade with fanned tails at full mast. As babies a leucistic peachick is visually similar to a Royal Palm poult. Two giveaways identified both chicks as peacocks: no nose wattle, and both had blue eyes.

By the 4th day both were doing much better although one was notably more robust. The smaller, needier chick had trouble staying feet-side-down as well as not eating well. He was named Hei Hei after the quirky chicken in Disney’s Moana®. The other one became Not Hei Hei.

Hei Hei and Not Hei Hei eating dinner.

On day six there was a notable difference. Hei Hei struggled to thrive. He was fed via dropper until he fought it. He only wanted to sleep. Conversely, Not Hei Hei had transformed into a curious, famished, constantly vocal pest.

Not Hei Hei sharing a food bowl with our Jack Russell, Teazel.

It’s now day six. Hei Hei will not likely see another day. He’s tucked in, warm, and as comfortable as we can make him. Not Hei Hei is now always where he can see and hear me to stop the plaintive wail he makes if left alone. He is either being carried in the pocket of my garden vest, on the table tearing chunks off a slice of bread, or (like at this moment) on my chest preening, pecking occasionally at the screen as I type.

Hei Hei’s final hours. He has become tired, quiet, and disinterested in food. He is a reminder of the often heartbreaking side of farm life; of life in general.

Life causes us to dare hope, to strive, to go forth often in the face of poor odds. The potential magic outweighs the fear of loss and disappointment. As Hei Hei fades, Not Hei Hei has integrated into our life and for now, brings the occupants in our tiny RV to two humans, three dogs, and a peacock.

Published by c ben-iesau

From L.A. to LA... I'm a New Orleans based artist and writer.

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