Sunday, March 11, 2007

Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral. Frank Lloyd Wright (Famous American Architect,1867 – 1959). Actually, we’ve been building a rabbit hutch but you can never get a useful rabbit hutch quotation when you need one. We’ve had some strange goings on in our chicken house recently and some unanswered questions, so do post a comment if you know the finer points of chickens going broody. Ever since they started laying eggs, all our hens have been conveniently leaving them in the purpose-built and regulation-sized nest box. Even when let out to free-range, they dutifully come home to lay their eggs where we can collect them later. But spring is in the air and a young hen’s mind turns to having a family…perhaps? We’ve recently added some more young hens to our flock and whilst they settled in within a day or so and started to use the nest box, the speckled hen then made her own nest by our stored straw (one of those huge round bales) and started leaving eggs there.

Passing an egg always leads to a right old din with loads of loud clucking and bok-bok-bokking, which seems to be saying, hey girls, come and lay in my nest. The result is that there is one mother to a right old mix of chicks; our friend Caroline (who has given us most of our hens) had a hen with a mixed brood of no less than seventeen chicks last year. Our clutch got larger by the day with several hens now contributing but with no sign of any of them wanting to sit. Finally, we marked the existing eggs with a marker pen so we could remove the fresh eggs and still leave the clutch there in case one began to sit. The books we have were scant on detail on all of this but one did say that if one feels underneath a broody hen, she’d be very warm, as if she’s got a fever. Taking the opportunity to check this out in the evening, when the birds are on their perch for the night and quite sleepy and docile, we picked them up and felt underneath: nothing notable, temperature-wise.

Now for our question: what is a broody hen and how does she behave? All the eggs hatch in a clutch at about the same time, so we were under the impression that the eggs were laid over a period of days before the hen settled down to sit on them. But does a hen go broody first, then decide to make a nest, or make a nest and then go broody? Cecile, the sister-in-law of our farming neighbour Christiane, has offered us some fertilised Silky (see photo) eggs to put underneath one of our hens when she goes broody. We told her about the nest and a few days later she told us she had six eggs ready for us. It’s clear that ours weren’t sitting so we asked our neighbour Annike if any of her bantams were broody, which they’re noted for. She said no, so we declined the Silky eggs but a day or so later, she arrived at our front door with the news that she now had a broody bantam. This broody bird was sitting on an empty nest all the time, just making occasional forays out for food and water. We’d heard that hens that go broody stop laying, so how does all this work. It seems like another of those “chicken and egg” conundrums! In the end, we decided to give her six of our own hens’ eggs to put underneath the sitting bantam and so, if our cockerels is not firing blanks (he’s certainly making the chickeny-lurve regularly enough) we should be having our first chicks arriving very soon, courtesy of some surrogate mothering.

Read my updated notes on what happens when hen goes broody and other chickeny mysteries.