Saturday, July 31, 2010

Broody Hens

Definition: broody |ˈbroōdē|
adjective ( broodier , broodiest )
1 (of a hen) wishing or inclined to incubate eggs.

I briefly mentioned this little problem in yesterday's post. And right now, I have two of them, both French Marans, who are suddenly so inclined. If you ever wondered if your hen was broody, no need to doubt. You'll definitely know it.

First, the two girls are hogging the favorite nesting boxes and causing my overall egg production to decrease. They are constantly in the boxes, won't get out to eat, and want to sit and sleep there all day and night. Second, whenever I go near them, the fluff up all their feathers to look large and foreboding, while making a strange, rapid fire, but somewhat quiet clucking sound.

If you reach for them, most are going to get loud and mad while shaking and fluffing their feathers a bit. And they'll probably go for you in an aggressive manner. Fortunately for me, the French are a bit more refined and have allowed me to gently reach in and pick them up. But not without their claws clinging to any part of the nesting box they can get ahold of! They do not want to come out!

Earlier I had placed some golf balls in each box because one of the Amarecanas continually pecked at the eggs. This worked fabulously and after about 2 weeks, we no longer lost eggs due to her pecking them. But the French Marans have found that they always have an egg to sit on (uhhh... golf ball) and they seem to be pleased as punch about it. So I've removed all the golf balls until they are needed again.

Just getting the girls out into the fresh air has not been enough. And this is likely to last for quite a while. Some can be broody for up to two months! I'm so glad that we built the chicken coop with two rooms! Last night, I decided it was time to separate them from the flock. 

This extra room has roosts, a chicken door, and plenty of space for two birds, their water, and feed. What it doesn't have is a private run. It's in the plans to add one, but since it wasn't a high priority need, we moved it down the list. However, I could really use it now that I have the two hens over there. Every time open the door for them, they rush around to the other side and into the nesting boxes. {Sigh}...

In the old days, to break the hen of her broodiness, one would dunk the hen in water, only to have the chicken fly "mad as a wet hen" (thus the saying that you've all heard!). I do not recommend this. Nor do I recommend that you withhold food or water, as some might suggest. Broodiness is actually a good thing. God gave them this instinct in order for them to sit on a nest of eggs for days on end. And if you have a rooster and wish to have a hen hatch a clutch, be thankful for broody mommas! Many breeds have had this tendency bred out of them.

For those of us who don't have roosters and are more interested in egg production, we must learn to live with this part of chicken life, just as we do other things, such as pecking eggs. 

How can you break up broodiness in a hen?
• Isolate the hen without a nesting box or material of any kind, but providing roosts, food, and water.
• Isolate the hen and bring in a rooster with her so that she has little time to sit or use a nesting box. 
• Give her a box without nesting material in it, one that has a wire bottom, and is elevated so that a fan or cool air can circulate underneath making it less than ideal for her
• Place her in a wire cage that is reasonable in size so that she can move around and elevate it so that cool air can circulate underneath.

How will you know when she's ready to go back with the flock? 
When she lays an egg and signs of broodiness are gone. Don't be surprised if she molts after broodiness though. 

What can you do to discourage broodiness?
• Don't allow eggs to accumulate in the nesting box. Try to collect them as often as possible.
• Remove any plastic eggs or golf balls as soon as chickens have been trained not to peck at them.
• If you notice a hen sitting all day, immediately remove her, check for illness or distress, and if she is fine, move her outdoors for a while. Hopefully, if her instinct isn't too strong, she'll move on with life, scratching around in the dirt.

Thankfully, broodiness won't last forever. It too will pass in time. However, if you've had to help things along in your own coop, please share your tips and ideas for discouraging a hen's mothering instinct.


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