Thursday, May 29, 2014

How to Change the Mood of Broody Hen

Broody Little Red Hen

The term often used to describe changing the mood of a broody hen is "breaking a broody hen."  The language may not sound gentle, but for Little Red Hen as we call her, it seemed a welcome relief.  She was just in need of a bit of encouragement to change her mood.  I admit, she is my favorite in the flock and the only one that we call by name.  

Going broody means the hen camps out in the nest box.  Permanently.  In Little Red's case, other hens would kick her out so they could lay eggs and then right back she would go to sit on the eggs.  When I reached around and under her to get the eggs anyone else has laid in there, she bristled up like a porcupine and screeched with irritation when normally the hens don't mind a bit of searching for eggs if they are in the nest boxes.  

Broodiness is a mothering instinct.  The chicken of choice in industrial egg factories are White Leghorns, and they have had the broodiness bred right out of them.  They are little egg laying machines, and in the industrial setting, doomed to a short life of confinement, stress, and constant laying.  Leghorns in a happier setting can be great farm chickens and just as productive, but they are lighter, smaller, more nervous, and are better flyers.  Little Red Hen is a Partridge Rock, a dual-purpose old-fashioned hen, yet good for an urban setting.  She is heavier than a leghorn, a great forager, can stay warmer in the winter, and like other older breeds, still retains the broodiness trait.  And she lays pretty pale brown eggs.  Well, she did until she went broody.

The hens are a few months over a year old and this was the first broody hen I have had.  Her instinct is to sit on her clutch of eggs and hatch them out as chicks, but we have no rooster so these eggs will never hatch, no matter how hard she tries.  I could have put her in her own private space with some fertile eggs or chicks procured elsewhere, which can sometimes work, but there is no guarantee she will be a competent mother and frankly, I didn't have time for that when she went broody so I just let her sit on the nest for two weeks.  Having a broody hatch some eggs is definitely something I want to try at some point, but this was not the time.   

After weeks of her sitting in the nest, we had a heat wave and she was just hot and pissed off, sitting on the nest full time with no success and me taking away all the eggs.  It just wouldn't do, so, I set up our go-to dog crate with food and water near the coop.  It was under a covered area so she couldn't get rained on, and I put hardware cloth down in the bottom so she wouldn't twist an ankle.  I propped it up on bricks to let the air flow up underneath her.  A broody hen wants a warm, dark nest.  To put her in a lighted, airy cage with no bedding can change her mood.  After 1.5 days in the cage, I let her out.  The whole day she ran around with the flock and happily foraged. Then, late afternoon, I caught her on the nest.  Two hours later, she was still there.  So, back in the cage for another 24 hours.  After that, she was broody no more and happily back to digging worms.  

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