Mother Hens: Raising Chicks on the Farm

Short story recounting the fateful year Marilyn Monroe and Dirty Red raised their baby chicks on the farm.

Marilyn Monroe was a Buff Orpington, just like this fetching hen.


Marilyn Monroe was a Buff Orpington, just like this fetching hen. Photography by John Cornford / Alamy


Story by Linda King

St. Francisville, Louisiana

Marilyn Monroe was a beautiful chicken, a buxom blonde with movie star appeal. Despite her Hollywood looks, though, her biggest ambition was to be a mother. Marilyn was a Buff Orpington, a breed known to be broody—that is, she would sit on rocks if she thought she could hatch them.

One spring she had competition at brooding time. A young Rhode Island Red named Dirty Red wanted Marilyn’s job. Whenever Marilyn left her nest briefly, Dirty Red rushed to settle herself on the coveted eggs, and a fight would ensue. To maintain peace, I gave Dirty Red her own egg. She settled into the adjacent box, and the two hens became amicable neighbors.

Marilyn had a head start on Dirty Red. On schedule, the morning of their 21st day, Marilyn’s charges began to pip their shells. One by one, the tiny chicks emerged damp and exhausted. Marilyn drew them under her wing to rest and dry. Before long, the fluffy hatchlings ventured from under Mom to peek at the world.

Dirty Red listened anxiously as Marilyn’s eggs hatched. She adjusted her own egg, calling out to it, but another few days would pass before her efforts were rewarded.

In the meantime, Marilyn had already taken her young for strolls around the pen, introducing them to food and water. The other hens gathered to admire the chicks with approving clucks not unlike the oohs and aahs of women meeting a newborn.

Dirty Red persevered until it was her turn to hover nervously while her chick worked his way into the world. And his arrival was certainly worth the wait, because he was huge—bigger than any of Marilyn’s brood! His father was the largest rooster in the barnyard, a Brahma named Big Foot.

Dirty Red did everything that could be expected of a new mother. But the large chick, which we called Big Baby, was overwhelming. He constantly peeped for attention and hid underneath her wing at the slightest provocation, even when he was so big that his bottom and giant feathered feet remained exposed.

There comes a time when a mother hen cuts the apron strings, chasing the young ones from her. The chicks cry some, but soon they are absorbed into the flock. A good mother may watch them awhile, returning briefly if they get into trouble, but basically her job is done. Probably because of her inexperience, Dirty Red quit motherhood prematurely. Big Baby cried his heart out, wandering the barnyard pitifully. When it was apparent Dirty Red was done, Marilyn approached the chick, nudging him gently. Gratefully, he joined her brood.

But he was the last chick she would raise. Marilyn lost her life defending him from a hungry coyote. Unfortunately, life is fragile for a chicken. But her sacrifice was not in vain: Big Baby grew to be a fine rooster, eventually taking his daddy’s place as head of the flock.

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