Published Saturday, May 02, 2009 Chicken mothers kittens By Alex McRae The Times-Herald Nell Chester has always known that a fox in a henhouse meant bad news. Now she knows what happens when a hen gets in a cathouse. Nell has lived on her south Coweta spread for 25 years. In that time, she's had a crowd of critters that included chickens, guineas, horses, mules, dogs and cats. These days, three cats and two dogs call Nell's place home. A few weeks ago, a chicken was also part of the family. Then things went terribly wrong. "I love animals," Nell says. "I've been around them all my life. But I've never seen anything like this." Nell has always been careful to keep her animals spayed and neutered to control the household pet population. But earlier this year, a new female cat escaped briefly and started courting before she was fixed. The cat wound up in a family way. By early spring Nell knew the cat was carrying but did not have a firm delivery date. She did not have a kitty nursery either, but knew the mama cat would find a nice place to give birth. Time ticked on, winter turned to spring, the animals played happily and every day Nell's chicken laid a few more eggs in the animal carrying crate on the back porch that served as a henhouse. Then, on April 4, the blessed event occurred. Nell got the news when she went to the crate to pick up some eggs and found a batch of four showroom-new kittens, cute, cuddly and happy as could be. For the next two days things rocked along nicely at the nursery. The mama cat and her babies were happy as could be. Unfortunately, the chicken wasn't. One night it decided to reclaim its former roost. The next morning Nell was astonished when she looked in the crate and, instead of a mother cat, saw her chicken squatting on top of the four kittens, gently fluffing her feathers and cuddling them beneath her wings. "I guess she thought they were her babies," Nell says. "She was a little confused." When Nell saw the chicken scare off the mama cat, she reached in to shoo the chicken away and was greeted with screams and squawks and a flurry of feathers as the hen tried to run her off, too. "I said, 'You can't stay in there 'cause that mama cat has to get in there and take care of those babies,'" Nell says. "But that chicken kept fussing at me. She was protecting those kittens." Nell put on a heavy glove and removed the chicken. The mama cat moved right in and got to work. For several days the morning routine continued, with Nell moving the chicken at breakfast time so the kittens could get their fill of milk instead of feathers. Finally, the animals agreed on a schedule. The chicken roosted in a tree overnight while the babies nursed. The chicken came back down every morning to cluck the day away on a squirming pile of kittens. Nell knew the situation wasn't in the kittens' best interest, and after some serious soul-searching, realized she had to part with the chicken. "I hated to see it go, but I knew those kittens needed their mama," Nell says "So I gave the bird away." Nell arranged for the chicken to move in with a neighbor who owned several chickens and lived a mile or two away. When he came to pick up the chicken, Nell made him put the fowl in the floorboard of his vehicle so the chicken couldn't see where it was going and try to find its way home. "I didn't want it coming back," Nell says. Nell hasn't seen or heard from the chicken since it left. Meanwhile, the kittens continue to flourish. Now both of Nell's female cats are nursing the kittens and the dogs keep constant guard, sleeping soundly day and night on or near the kittens' nursery crate. Nell Chester knows she did the right thing, but has learned the hard way that doing right doesn't bring happiness to everyone. "I wanted my chicken to be happy and with all those other chickens, I know she will be," Nell says. "But to tell the truth, I sure do miss her."