May 18, 2012

In the Mood to Brood

Do I really have to explain the "birds and the bees" to a...bird?? Apparently, yes I do. Yesterday, one of our hens, Professor McGonagall, decided that she wanted to become a mother.

The broody professor

This is known in the chicken-rearing world as "going broody." She planted herself on a nest full of everyone else's (non-fertile) eggs and sat there for the next eight hours straight. Not a good situation for a few different reasons, not the least of which is that the chance of success is zero. The way it works, honey, is that ya need a mate to produce viable eggs, and all you've got is sisters!

The only way to explain that to a broody chicken is to "show, not tell" her; in other words, take action to remove her from the nest, repeat as needed, block access if necessary, and hope she gets the message. In this case, Professor McGonagall fluffed up her feathers and made some "don't-you-dare-take-me-off-these-eggs" noises at me as I tried to coax her out. Eventually she caved, without even a peck at my hands, and I extracted her from the nest box.

Don't even try to move me!

Now I love my chickens and their individual chicken personalities as much as the next chicken keeper, but I won't argue that they're smart. They have excellent instincts which serve them well in a variety of situations ("lookout, it's an airplane--take cover!!"), but that's not the same as intelligence.

For example, after I blocked the entrance to the coop house, I watched the not-so-smart Professor jump onto the ladder, walk up to the sealed pop door, decide there was no way back in to the nest, jump off the ladder, and then turn around and do it all over again...and again...and again. All afternoon. That is one stupid persistent chicken!

Should I try again?

Huh, imagine that, the door's still closed!

At some point Professor McGonagall took a break from checking the pop door, wandered outside the run, stared up at the locked egg door we use to collect eggs from outside the coop, and stood there looking for a way in (okay, that did seem kind of intelligent, actually.) I started to feel a bit sorry for her, but then I just had to laugh. I think that's what the rest of the chickens were doing, too.

"What the heck is she doing in there?"

In all seriousness, broodiness can be a real problem in certain situations (assuming you're not looking for a mama to hatch some fertile eggs, in which case broodiness is a fantastic trait!) For one thing, it's hard to collect eggs when they're pinned underneath a hen hell bent on turning them into chicks. Fortunately for me, the Professor didn't get too nasty. Also, a broody hen stops laying eggs for about a week, assuming you break the habit quickly; the longer you allow a hen to sit in the nest, the longer it will be before she starts laying eggs again (up to a few weeks.)

Most troubling, though, was the fact that the Professor was forgoing food and drink in favor of keeping the eggs warm, and hens can't survive long without water. When I consulted my favorite chicken book, Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, I read that in extreme cases a particularly stubborn hen can actually starve herself to death if she refuses to leave the nest. In our case, the Professor just had a frustrating afternoon searching for those missing eggs.

All fluffed up and ready to be a mama

Ever had a hen go broody? Or maybe you're expecting and can identify with her nesting behavior? Any advice for the next time it happens (or in case she's still at it tomorrow?)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that chicken really does look like Maggie Smith!