Four chicks hatched yesterday, out of a clutch of eight (well, a fifth one hatched and died). These babies were being incubated by our bantam hen, who simply can't resist an egg. She'll sit on any egg, anywhere, anytime. I'm convinced she'd sit on a pile of golf balls, in fact. Everything was going along on schedule, when on Friday, just a day or two before hatch, she inexplicably abandoned the nest. She stretched her legs awhile, had some grain, visited the new arrivals, had a dust bath. We assumed all were lost. In a futile attempt to make something happen with them, we took the eggs and placed them in another, frequently used nest with the hope that someone would sit on them for the mere day or so they still needed. No dice. None of the other hens were buying what I was selling.
Later that day I noticed that the eggs, and in fact the entire nest were covered with ants! A closer look revealed that a couple of them had pipped and the babies were hatching anyway, even with no one sitting them (it WAS nearly 100 degrees yesterday). There were tiny holes in the eggs where the chicks were trying to break free, but ants were moving continuously in and out of the holes. At first we thought the chicks inside were dead, but then we saw movement, and sprung into action. Lots of turning and rocking brought the ants out of the eggs, and we brushed them away one by one. We kept this up until they stopped coming.
Earlier that day, the bantam (we call her Fancy because, well, she is) had resettled herself on a FRESH pile of eggs. Mad though she was, I took them out from under her and replaced them with the ones she had abandoned, just hoping she wouldn't know the difference. It worked! She spread her wings wide and immediately rolled each one under her breast and out of sight. We checked on mama and babies several times throughout the day, and were relieved to see that some of them made it after all. This morning there are still some eggs unhatched, and I suspect that they won't. Four out of eight isn't great, but we're happy to have any at all, against such odds.
Here's the happy family
There are now five babies!