In my previous blog, I wrote about the joy of discovering our guinea hen with her newly hatched brood of keets and my excitment about how all the adults were caretaking the babies (see Cooperative Edge?). I hoped to watch the tiny, adorable little beings develop into full-grown birds.
When I first noticed Mother Hen with her babies, I spotted at least 15 keets. I had difficulty counting as sometimes they were underneath one guinea fowl, then moved to another. And when they were out-from-under, they ran around so rapidly, peeping and chirping as they went, that I had difficulty counting.
The adult guinea fowl initially hovered over their babies, protecting them from the cold, and moved around very little. But as day one moved into days two and three, their attentiveness to the baby keets appeared to wane. While they continued protecting and teaching the keets, their focus turned to foraging for food. They moved at a faster pace and travelled further before stopping to eat or rest.
I watched tiny little bodies scurrying, trying to keep up with the adults. They encountered many obstacles that the adults readily walked over. A small stone became an insurmountable mountain and a twig a hazardous zone that their tiny legs had difficulty negotiating. But try they did. The feisty little souls scrambled up and down, running as fast as they could after the adults. A noisy little bunch, for they peeped, and peeped and peeped.
While the adults still tended their baby keets, they appeared oblivious to the keets’ inability to rapidly negotiate terrain with tiny bodies and fragile state. I watched in despair as the parents ran ahead, seemingly unconcerned about what was happening behind them and despite a keet’s loud frantic peeps.
At the end of each day, Mother Hen found what she considered to be a safe place to spend the night and gathered her keets under her there. Once I located her under a saw horse next to Harmony Center. Other nights I didn’t know where she slept, but she and her brood re-appeared in the morning, sitting outside the guinea house, waiting for her “husband” and other pals to join her.
I thought, “if only Mama would take them into the coop. Then I could lock them all up for a while – keep them safe, give the keets a chance to grow stronger.” Hoping that she might, praying that she would, I readjusted the ramp into the coop to ensure that the keets could readily walk inside. Doing everything I could think of to entice Mama inside, I sprinkled food on the ramp and turned on the light.
As one day led into the next, my baby keet count went from 15 to 10, then down to 8. I found two small bodies sprawled, lifeless on the ground. Gathering these remnants of once spirited beings, I said a few prayers and buried one white and one speckled inert form.
Day four dawned, and as the day developed, one after another baby keet succumbed. Finding two little souls struggling after the pack, I picked each one up separately and held him, or her, for a while, thinking that I might warm the probably cold body. But when I put him / her down, I watched each little body struggle to run, only to fall over, struggle again, and fall yet again. I realized that they’d each broken a leg, probably caught on a twig, or a rock, or who knows what.
During the afternoon, I buried 2 more bodies, and watched two spirited little beings running through the brush, still managing to keep up with the pack. At the end of the day, when I went to lock the guinea house, all five adults were there. But none of their babies.
After all the joy and excitement, I feel deep sorrow, broken hearted. Such feisty little souls, so full of energy and happy peeps – broken legs, exhaustion, cold – I have no idea how each one perished. They struggled and suffered. I hope not too much.
Walking around outside, I miss seeing tiny exuberant bodies scurrying around. I miss hearing boisterous, happy peeps. Yet those feisty little keets live on – inside me.
Living on Harmony Farm, experiencing nature’s cycles, carries mixed blessings. Despite my sorrow, I feel very blessed.