As was mentioned before, Donna was born to be a mother. For the first year that the girls were living on the farm, Donna was the one who kept the girls together. Chickens naturally establish a pecking order, which decides who gets to eat first, who leads the flock around and who gets picked on when the other girls are feeling annoyed. Donna never let anything get too out of hand, and if anyone started picking too much on anyone else, Donna would step in and break it up.
This all changed in the early Spring of the second year on the farm. Donna became “broody” which means that she wanted a baby to take care of in the worst way. Taking care of her sisters was nice, but it wasn’t the same as raising a little one. She began spending more and more time sitting in the nesting box and not going on adventures with her sisters. This made Mommy a little concerned, but since she didn’t show any signs of sickness, Mommy let it go.
It continued for some weeks, and became more serious. Donna barely ever left the nesting box, and stopped laying eggs. When her sisters laid eggs, she would gather them up and sit on them. Every day Mommy collected the eggs and that upset Donna. She would beg Mommy to leave them there, but of course, if Mommy had, they would simply rot. There were no babies in those eggs.
Mommy would tell Donna to get up and go play. Her sisters would come by and tell her to get up and go with them around the yard.
Amy went to her and said, “Donna, why are you sitting here waiting for the impossible to happen? You are missing the whole spring! The raspberries are ripe, and Cartoon figured out a way to get them from Mommy. There are delicious plants to nibble. The blueberry bush is just waiting to be picked. And winter knocked down some trees that made more neat places to explore! You’re missing everything!”
But, Donna didn’t reply. She just sat and sighed because nobody understood what she was feeling.
Months went on and Mommy got nervous. Donna was starting to lose weight, her comb was fading from bright red to a muted pink and she would just sit in her nesting box and make sad sounds. Mommy would pluck her from the box periodically and bring her to her sisters. “This will cure her for sure. Once she gets a taste of what she’s been missing, she’ll forget all about wanting a baby that she can’t have.” Mommy thought.
It didn’t work. Donna’s sad behavior continued. Her sisters changed from pleading with her to come out and play to making fun of her for being foolish. They started getting a little rowdy and bullying one another because Donna wasn’t there to break it up. Donna didn’t budge. She whispered to herself, “I believe in miracles. What do they know, anyway?” Her confidence was emboldened when Ben went out to Donna and told her to, “keep believing because miracles can happen.”
When it became clear that Donna was not going to just “get over it,” Mommy talked to a friend who had eggs with babies in them and he gave her seven of them so that Donna might hatch a baby.
When Mommy first put the eggs under her, instead of taking them out like she normally did, Donna looked surprised. “What’s this?” she said. But, when Mommy stood and watched, and didn’t take them away, Donna got to arranging them into a comfortable clutch and eased her fluffy body onto them to keep them warm.
Donna’s sad sounds changed to sweet cooing sounds. She was talking to the babies, and singing to them; dreaming of the joy she would have when they finally came out to meet her. Every day she would turn the eggs, rearrange them, and care for them.
On the twenty-first day of Donna’s egg-sitting, one began to move. It bumped. It bumped some more. It cracked. It made adorable little peeping sounds. After a few hours, a little beak appeared. Then a head, little wings and body, cute little feet and finally a little nub of a tail. Within a short time, the baby was all dried off and fluffy as a new chick could be. He was a dark gray with a little tuft of white on the top of his head and a little yellow around his face, near his beak.
The baby stayed under Donna, who stroked him with her beak and cooed to him. Whenever visitors came to see the new baby, Donna would puff up and make warning noises—she didn’t want anyone getting too close. The baby was very curious, and though Donna wanted to keep him away from everyone, the baby’s little head would always poke out from under Donna to see what was going on and who was there. She let Mommy pick up the baby, but would make warning sounds if it lasted too long.
Donna was a great mother—she was protective and caring and it was clear that that baby was the apple of her eye.
It was at this time that Mommy started learning chicken language, because while it’s hard for a human to understand, Donna was speaking the language of motherhood; and all moms know that. Donna had different ways of talking to the baby when he wandered too far from her, when there was a new food she wanted him to try, when there was possible danger, and when it was time for bed. She also spoke differently to her sisters to warn them not to get too close to her baby.
As the baby grew, Donna became more comfortable taking him around the yard with her sisters. The baby’s feathers started changing from the fluffy down of a newborn to the smooth, sleek feathers of a mature bird. And his markings made it apparent that he was part Barred Rock, like Cartoon. His attitude—spunky and bold—was very much like his Aunt Cartoon, too. The only difference was the feathers that began to sprout from his feet—kind of like a Hobbit. So, having a sense of his personality, and when it finally became clear that he was a rooster, it was time to give him a name. He was called Chanticleer.
Balance has been restored to the flock. Donna is now back in the daily life of her sisters, keeping everyone on track and taking care of her ever more independent baby. She is happy, and the lives of the whole Blackwater Farm family are enriched for the addition of Chanticleer; Donna’s little miracle.