Some hens never feel the need to raise a family, while other hens do and are great mothers. Then there are the “wanna-be’s”, who feel the urge but do a poor job of executing. They’re just a pain.
A proven broody is a valuable commodity around our muddy valley. Not only does she do all the work, she will usually accept any number of extra chicks quietly slipped under her after dark. As those of you who have spent any time at all scraping stinky chick poop out of basement brooders will agree, that’s a real plus!
Non-broody hens are pretty fine too, they don’t take time off like broodies do, they just keep popping out those delicious farm fresh eggs. In fact, I prefer that most of my hens be non-broody. I only need so many, especially because I find it impossible to say no to a wanna-be.
People “break” broodies all the time – discouraging them until they give up the idea of motherhood entirely. They house broodies in breezy wire cages hung from the ceiling, to cool off their nether regions; or plunge them in cool water several times a day. But I can never bring myself to deliberately break a brood. It just seems unfair to me, to let some hens raise families and others not. Every hen should have the opportunity to fulfill her procreative purpose.
I doubt the chickens have as keen a sense of justice and equality as I do, but the wanna-be’s certainly benefit from my impracticality on this subject. A tried and true crazy chicken lady, I give everyone a chance. Or two.
A couple weeks ago, two year old Welsummer hen went broody for the first time. I already had more than a dozen hens either setting or raising young, plus I know that older wanna-be’s are often extra hopeless, but I pushed away my reservations and set her up anyway on a few Legbar and Marans eggs. She stuck like glue for the first twelve days, but started to get restless over the weekend. Today when I opened her broody box to feed and water, she flew the coop.
There was a chance she only wanted to stretch her legs, to escape for a little sun like Daisy Mae in Dr. Seuss’s ‘Horton Hatches the Egg’, and that she’d return to her eggs after her holiday. But the broody box is a restricted entry facility, so I carefully moved her eggs next door to an open nest box. Maybe that would tempt her back to what she had already invested two weeks in. I knew the eggs would likely be fine no matter how much she dithered, I have seen hens let half-baked eggs get cold for up to 24 hours in mid-winter, and still got a decent hatch. Chickens are pretty amazing that way.
Hours later I returned to find Welsummer still hanging out in the sun, casually flipping dust through her feathers with her pal Lavender Orpington. “Well that’s that, she isn’t interested” I thought, feeling bad for the poor little chicks still a week away from hatch. But when I peeked into the nest box, there WAS a broody hen diligently setting on those eggs, my half-pint Tiny Chicken, an OEGB no bigger than a pigeon.
With a look of intent concentration on her little face, she had flattened herself out to her utmost to cover those six eggs. That’s when I remembered that Tiny had been trying to set the past few days, but having no spare box to set her up in, I had been in denial about my little broody #14, and just kept scooping her up off whatever eggs she had gathered that day and setting her down outside the coop.
“Well,” I thought, “awesome, it looks like Tiny has saved the day,” and I carefully moved the eggs, and then Tiny, over into the broody box. An experienced mama, Tiny settled down right away again, the good little thing.
Tonight I candled, and removed two quitters, leaving her with a more manageable four eggs. In about a week, if all goes well, Tiny should get her reward!