We’re seeing fewer and fewer eggs around the farm these days.
A handful of hens are currrently molting and another little gang have gone broody. Both of these activities signal a break in egg laying for the hen in question.
In addition to our mature flock of 27 chickens, we have added seven pullets (female chickens under a year old) and one cockerel (male version of the same), and have hatched another ten birds with our incubator. While the eggs were incubating, one of our Brahmas went broody. This meant that she was going to sit eggs whether they were hers or not and whether they were fertile or not.
It is a lucky thing to have a broody hen when you are already trying to hatch. A hen does the job of turning the eggs, as well as maintaining proper heat and humidity, much better than any incubator. Add to that the fact that the hen will care for the chicks once they are hatched, and it seems to be a no-brainer to let the real deal do the work.
The only thing that prevented us from putting ALL of our hopeful hatchlings under the broody mama was that about half of the eggs were earmarked to be given away upon hatching.
Now, I’m sure folks have allowed hens to hatch chicks and then taken those chicks away, but I’m not the kind of girl who can do such a thing. I’d never be able to handle all the dirty looks I would undoubtedly get from the mama hen afterward.
Besides, there aren’t many things as adorable as watching baby chicks being taught how to be chickens.
So, in order to give her a decent chance at a successful hatch, we put four eggs under her that were already about a week into the incubation process. One of these was crushed by an interloper during one of her very infrequent potty breaks and another simply never hatched. The remaining two, however, produced beautiful little chicks that she sat on for about two days before starting to shuttle them around the farm, teaching them to scratch and peck and generally behave chickeny.
When we put eggs we know to be fertile under a broody hen, we always mark them with an X. This way, when/if another hen decides to sweep in and lay in that same spot, we can remove the new egg and be sure we are leaving her with the right ones.
From the incubator, we hatched another ten chicks, four of which were given away within about four days of hatching. The remaining six are currently still with us and the difference between them and their hen-hatched counterparts is astounding.
While The Six are healthy and feathering and also learning how to be chickens, they are clearly operating at a deficit without the aid of a mama hen to show them the ropes. While the other two have already circled the entire farm multiple times, negotiating high grasses, mature chickens, rain, and wind, The Six tend to remain huddled in a protective ball in a corner of their chicken tractor when the sky is anything but calm and sunny.
It’s all very Orphan Annie up in here.
In the meantime, three more of our chickens have gone broody.
Not all chickens go broody, however, and not all feel a need to sit on eggs. Sometimes, they feel a stronger need to simply sit on one another.
Because we want more chickens (our flock was up to 56 birds at one point, but the hawks and foxes cut that number just about in half by the time autumn rolled around), we are happy to let the broody ladies do their thing. It is possible, however, to “break” a hen of her broodiness if you a) don’t want more chickens , b) don’t have fertile eggs, or c) happen to enjoy torturing chickens for fun and sport.
As it happens, there was a time last year when we did need to break a hen of her broodiness. While we didn’t necessarily enjoy it, it was quite easy.
Well, I should clarify. It was quite easy for US. I tend to think she’d disagree.
There are many ways to break a hen of broodiness. We put her in a large metal dog crate with a roost pushed through it and no bottom tray. We kept her supplied with fresh water and food. The crate was suspended between two chairs with a fan positioned under the crate, set to low, blowing up. She stayed like this for three full days.
This method literally cools the hen down, stops the broodiness, and gets her back to egg laying sooner.
Obviously, we want to battle Nature as little as possible, so if we can allow the broodiness, that is the best possible thing.
Eggs take almost exactly 21 days to hatch, so we should be seeing another little blast of freshly hatched chicken nuggets late next week.
After that, it would be really nice to see the ladies go back to egg laying.