This spring three of our hens have gone “broody”, meaning they want to sit on their eggs and hatch baby chicks. Because we have no roosters and thus no fertile eggs, it’s a pointless exercise. Also, it means the hen is not earning her keep, as she quits laying eggs once the broodiness sets in. If not discouraged from this, she may stop laying for several weeks or even months.
The brooding cycle can also have some negative consequences for the wannabe mama. She will often leave the nest only once or twice in a 24 hour period to eat, drink and defecate – in the form of a particularly large and malodorous chicken dropping – so it is necessary to take her out of the nest several times a day. Her temperature also rises and she may pull the feathers from her breast, the better to warm the eggs. All this can happen even without a single egg in the nest!
Our approach is to “break the brood” as soon as we see signs of it. The first time we experienced this phenomenon with Natasha Nogudnik we researched it on the web and tried out various methods, including removing her from the nest several times a day, dipping her tummy in cold water, and finally isolating her in a dog crate for a week. The isolation seems to do the trick.
This year Eddie converted the chick nursery to a “henitentiary” by removing the floor and replacing it with wire, making it impossible for the hen to nest. We put it in a cool room inside the barn and placed Henrietta, a Welsummer, and Antoinette, a Cuckoo Marans inside. Within a week they snapped out of it and were allowed to return to the general population.
Last week we noticed Irena Szevinska, a Polish hen, was spending more and more time on the nest and protested loudly, puffing out her feathers and pecking at us, when we tried to remove her. So she was sentenced to solitary confinement in the henitentiary for a few days.
This morning I let her out and she cackled loudly, ran around the hen yard, ate some hen scratch, and finally settled herself into a nice long dust bath. Welcome back, Irena! Now let’s get started on that egg business again.