Monday, July 06, 2009

What Happens When a Hen Goes Broody? and Other Chickeny Mysteries, Part 1 :

There are some things your parents don’t tell you and schools simply don't teach and even books don't fully explain. Some “Beginners’ Guides to Whatever” seemingly packed with interesting stuff but, annoyingly often, not the actual answer you need. So, after three years of keeping chickens, and in no particular order of priority, here are some of our observations on chooks, chicks and cocks and what they sometimes get up to.

Broody hens : It seems to us that it’s hormonal. Adult hens lay eggs and then there comes a time when they go broody and sit. And broody hens will sit on nothing and not budge, as firmly as they’ll sit on a clutch of eggs.

Just before they become broody, they may change their behaviour and stop laying in the nest box—where you conveniently collect their eggs each day—and find a hiding place, where they’ll lay an egg a day until they have a clutch, whereupon they stop laying, start sitting and go missing. Or, they continue to lay in the nest box, so you see no change to the routine until one day she sits down and doesn’t leave.

They also persuade other hens to lay in their nest, evidenced by clutches of mixed chicks hatching out under one hen. The largest clutch we found was of 22 eggs, which we reduced to a more manageable dozen, eleven of which went on to hatch out.

Perhaps you do notice a change, that you’re not collecting the same amount of eggs as usual each day from their nest box. Then one evening, when it’s time to round up your free-range flock into their fox-proof henhouse for the night, you notice a hen missing. You check out the usual places, call to her, rattle the food bucket and all to no avail. Your heart sinks as you think you’ve lost her to a fox or a dog.

However, the following day, you catch a glimpse of her at feeding time. But then she disappears again. Putting two and two together (lower egg count and missing-appearing-missing hen), you realise she’s gone broody and native at the same time. You continue your sleuthing, as Sherlock Holmes would have done, had he kept chickens, and set up an “obo”, patiently tracking her when she slopes off again, back to her nest. With the help of an assistant, you then grab her and carefully pick up all the warm eggs, transferring the nascent ensemble into another nest box with enclosed run—we use our chicken tractor—where she can sit in safety for the rest of her “pregnancy”.

Part 2 soon … along with the reason why we now date the eggs under our broody hens (see photo at top).


Deb Pun said...

Do you sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth (DE) in the brooding area to prevent mites? I chose not to keep roosters in our flock of 13 so I have not experience a full cycle of egg > chick clutch. I quarantine the broody (usually a Buff Orp) hens in a separate hen spa.
It's wonderful to see an overview map sketch of your homestead!

lyrebird said...

can't wait to have chooks! thanks for visiting my blog again. i get so excited... we are assuming everything will settle with bobo creek now we've paid the deposit, and have found a permaculture consultant who will come up and camp with us for a few days this weekend and draw up plans and advise us. her husband is an architect and he's coming too.. yipee - it's all happening. cheers to you two.

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi Deb and Lyrebird and thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments, which are much appreciated.

We don't sprinkle diatomaceous earth in our brooding area, in fact I don't even know what that is and shall have to go and Google it. We have also, for the first time in our three years of keeping chickens, got an infestation of red mites, even more reason to learn about that earth!

Stuart and Gabrielle said...

Hi again Deb,

Hoping that you get to read this reply to your comment:

I've just read about diatomaceous earth on Wikipedia and would like to get hold of some to try it out against mite infestation. Where do you get hold of yours please?

Deb Pun said...

Aloha Stuart & Gabrielle:
Food Grade (Amorphous) Diatomaceous Earth or Fossil Shell flour= I purchase at our Garden Supplies Co-op at 50 lbs. sacks; the label is called DiaFil (CR Minerals Corp). You might be able to find it at a pet store, or maybe natural foods store.
Try this "Perma-Guard" Food Grade DE and detailed info against mites Wolf Creek Ranch.
Do not buy [Swimming] Pool Grade DE; it's been chemically treated, not for dry sprinkling on dirt.