Thursday, June 07, 2007

Esmi, our “mystery animal” on the last blog, created a lot of interest and many comments. Philippe, our new neighbour told me today that he’d seen the blog and asked whether it is a brebis (ewe) and I realised that, in all the talk of Berrichons, Avranchins and Cotentins (click on the green “comments” at the bottom of the blog) we hadn’t actually specified what she is: a sheep, owned by Renée. Seeing that our readers like a challenge or possibly the excitement of a competition, we’ve got another guessing game for you, a prize for the best name or most humorous comment on our latest mystery animal: see photo above.

I promised, a couple of blogs ago, to tell you more about our chickens’ behaviour. Back on Sunday, March 11th, stumbling around in the darkness of incomprehension (and being beginners in all this) we posed the question, “which came first, the broody chicken or a clutch of eggs?” We had many helpful comments, notably from Gia and Monica, but we can now report our own experiences. Adult hens lay eggs, perhaps as often as one a day but mostly show no sign of sitting on them. We collect them daily and the hens lay again, in the same place the following day. After laying, the hen makes a tremendous fuss and palaver, unsurprising, you might think, having just passed such a large object. In fact, descended from foraging jungle fowl, what she is doing is attempting to relocate the rest of the flock, having been away for anything up to an hour, and the other cockerel and hens answer, creating a right old din for a few minutes.

Our hens habitually use a nest box in the hen house where, following instructions in a book, I didn’t divide into individual boxes as the birds often favour sharing one place. It was when they chose to lay in a nest in our large roll of straw that we thought something was up. Different hens laid in the same place but none showed any sign of wanting to sit. We wondered if they were waiting for a “critical mass” before one of them sat but no, and we marked the existing eggs with a pencil and began collecting the new ones thereafter. Then Annike, a neighbour, arrived to tell us that one of her bantams had gone broody and did we want to put some eggs under her. The bird had begun sitting but on nothing and, when they go broody, hens stop laying. Whilst she made a bit of a fuss when Annike picked her up to place six of our larger hens eggs under her, she immediately settled down on top of them, where she sat patiently for the next twenty-one days, making brief forays out for food and water.

Then one of our black chickens went broody on just one egg, away from the henhouse, by the straw. We managed to relocate her into our nursery cage, which we placed close to where she was, to make her safe from nocturnal foxes. Each day she would call, much as they do when eggs are laid, and the cockerel would come by the cage. This seemed to be her way of just reconnecting with the flock. After many days, we took the wire run off the front of the nursery house to see if she would benefit from being able to nip out to say “Hi!” to her mates and feed and then return. What she did was to return, without her egg to the original nest and sit there, letting the egg go cold: seemingly a stronger drive to go back to the original nest than sit on her egg! Full of remorse, I picked up this struggling, squawking bird and put her back on her egg and reattached the wire cage. Several days later, when we were convinced she’d gone over time and the egg was a dud, I made my morning inspection of the animals to find her chick hatched. Our conclusion, from all of this, is that going broody is purely hormonal, rather than being a function of how many eggs are in the nest or other factors. Just as the bantams are noted for going broody, the standard farm egg layers seem to have had broodiness bred out of them; Annike has never known one of her large brown chickens go broody. When the bantam (which Annike gave to us) went broody again, we immediately knew what was happening. She sat where all the other hens lay their eggs each day, causing all manner of disruption, until I moved her into the aforementioned nursery cage, placing half a dozen eggs under her, where she remains, chicks to arrive soon.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Hooray! I'm glad someone finally went broody.

Some breeds of chickens are more likely to go broody than others -- just as you say, some of them have had their broodiness bred right out. Others have not, and so they have excellent broody instincts -- staying with the egg and never wandering off on day four or anything like that. If you are planning to raise chicks as part of your operations, then you may need to invest in some hens of a more maternal breed. She can brood over her own and other hen's eggs, as you've seen.

Some egg raisers who don't have time to deal with broody hens, will wait until cover of darkness to slip baby chicks (purchased from the store) underneath the broody hen. It works even if the hen was only broody for a few days. She wakes up in the morning and -surprise!- finds that she is a mother. She gets up off her next, starts caring for the chicks and laying eggs again. You have to introduce the chicks in total darkness, because aparently the adoption plan fails if she sees the chicks before they've slept underneath her all night.

Isn't nature, after being tampered with by breeders, strange and wonderful?