March 27, 2015

When a Good Hen Goes Broody - Photo by organic maven/Flickr (HobbyFarms.com) 

The Girls (Cabbage, Peanut, Soupy, Ham and The Andrews Sisters, because I can’t tell the other three apart) pretty much worship me. When they’re foraging around the yard and I come out of the house, they come running, their little yellow feet pitty-pattying across the deck. I’m sure it is because of our true and deep bond and not just because I often have treats in my pocket. Well, pretty sure, anyway.

So it worried me the other day when only six of my seven girls showed up for a nibble. Was the Gigantic Coyote back? Had a bobcat or hawk made off with one of the Andrews Sisters? I tossed a handful of goodies onto the lawn and went looking. Maybe she was just in the middle of laying an egg, and couldn’t be bothered to come and visit.

I popped open the hatch to the egg box, but no fluffy little hen butt. Fearing the worst, I scanned the yard, looking for a telltale pile of feathers. Nothing. Hmm. I noticed then that the egg boxes could use a little TLC, so I bent down to get the bag of shavings I store under the hutch. Aha! There was LaVerne or Maxene or Patty, snuggled down in the bag atop four eggs. She’d gone broody.

This was a new thing for me. Should I leave her alone? Would she find her way back into the coop at night? I don’t have a rooster, so it wasn’t like those eggs were ever going to hatch. I nudged her out of the shavings bag and picked up the eggs. She glared at me and made some threatening motions with her head. In case you’re not familiar with chickens, their heads are fitted with “beaks,” sharp, pointy protrusions that can be used to poke holes in bare calves. I retreated with my captured eggs and headed for the interwebs.

It seems that most people are excited when their hens go broody because it means that soon there will be a new batch of chicks. But without a rooster, the future of the clutch of eggs the broody gal is harboring is, well, grim. My friend Carol bought her broody hen a dozen organic fertile eggs at the grocery store, right out of the cooler, and hatched out nine chicks! But I wasn’t ready to add to my flock just yet. The solution? Break her.

Nooooo! I don’t mean “break” as in neck, I mean “break” as in change her behavior. I found a number of suggestions, but I didn’t really want to suspend her in a small wire cage for four days … it reminds me of that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean. I went back out to check on her, and she had relocated to a new spot under the deck, snuggled inside a roll of (ironically) chicken wire. I left her there until it was time for bed, then crawled under and extricated her.

For the next few days, we played this game: Patty or Maxene or LaVerne would hide in a new spot. I would locate it, let her stay there until evening, then remove her and put her safely to bed. I believe that I enjoyed this game more than she did; she was decidedly cranky when I’d arrive to tuck her in, much like the kids back in the day when I’d interrupt a Sponge Bob rerun with the unwelcome news that it was bedtime. Except the kids didn’t peck, kick or squawk quite as much as MaxenePattyLaVerne.

After a few days, Ms. Andrews gave in and rejoined the other Girls in their daily routine of foraging, dusting and pecking at the front door begging for treats. She seemed to have forgiven me. Next time, maybe I’ll buy her some fertile eggs and let her do her thing.

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