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Broodiness

May 22, 2012

About a year ago, we undertook the project of renovating a chicken tractor to make a coop, building a fenced-in run around the coop, and welcoming four chickens into our yard.  There have been some funny stories since, like the morning last August long weekend, when we were packed to head off camping, and woke up to…crowing!  Turned out one of our birds was a rooster!  We have really lovely neighbors and didn’t want our rooster waking them up with his voice-breaking, teenaged rooster rehearsals.  Thankfully the person we got the chickens from was happy to exchange Rainbow (who turned out to be aptly named for her gender flexibility) for Daisy. 

Since then four chickens have been providing almost enough eggs for our family of five.  In the winter their laying slowed down (and we didn’t want to artificially encourage them with lights; everyone deserves a break), and then once in while I would do some extra baking, or have family over for brunch, and would need to supplement our supply.

The guy who sold us our hens lets his birds co-mingle, so they are a combination of different breeds; mutts, if you will.  One of our birds is exceptionally beautiful.  She is grey with feathered feet, and extra plump.  She’s somehow more dignified than the others.  She was the only one with the sense (?) to sleep in the coop during winter storms, instead of out on the roost with the other dingdongs.  She has feathered feet, and we laughed when she was the only bird who would brave the snow last winter, guessing it was her built-in moccasins that let her walk around comfortably.  My Big Boy named her Eagle, which sets her apart from Daisy, Petunia and Rose (named by my daughter, obviously). 

Recently Eagle has been staying in the nesting box all day, patiently sitting on her eggs.  She takes brief breaks for water and food, but her dedication is so touching, I thought it would be neat to put some fertilized eggs under her so she could experience the pleasure of being a mama.

Where to get fertilized eggs?  Luckily we live in a rural area where lots of people keep chickens, as well as cows, goats and sheep.  If you have chickens and at least one rooster, you can assume the eggs are fertilized.  The local petting farm, Tiger Lily, said they would keep some fertilized eggs aside for us and we could put them under Eagle and let her hatch them out.  After talking to a chicken expert friend, however, I started having second thoughts.  She said it’s best to create a separate coop and run for the mama to hatch and raise the babies in.  Even a large dog crate surrounded by rebar stakes and chicken wire will do, she said.  I wasn’t sure about setting up new infrastructure.  I just wanted this to happen as naturally as possible.  The farmer at Tiger Lily said sometimes if you move a broody hen to a dog crate or separate coop, she’ll stop being broody. She suggested letting Eagle hatch the eggs out in her own run, then keeping an eye on the babies to make sure the other hens weren’t picking on them.  All of this was going to require a lot more supervision than I was prepared for, since I’ve started working outside the home again, and I don’t want to be an instrument of animal cruelty by being negligent.

We decided instead to bring home a couple of six-week old chicks from Tiger Lily.  In about three months they’ll be laying, and maybe Eagle will get some pleasure out of being a surrogate mom.  (Our family kindof rolls like that.)  Having been raised at a petting farm so far, the babies are extremely social.  If you sit down near them they’ll climb up on your lap and nestle in.  I’d forgotten the lovely, wheezing peeps baby chickens make, and how amazing it is to cradle a warm body in your palm and feel its tiny heart racing.   The kids have named them Coal and Princess. (Any guesses who named who?) 

Now the problem is, how to acclimatize them to the existing flock?  I’ve had them in a dog crate in the run, and let them out in the evenings, but two of the big girls chase them and peck their butts!  From what I can tell from researching online, this is normal as the girls establish a new pecking order.  As long as the babies aren’t getting pecked in the head, it’s okay to let them figure it out.  Some articles say never to introduce young chicks to older girls, or if you do it can be a months-long process of adjustment. So, I have kept the babies’ free time in the main run brief, and have stayed nearby to make sure none of the “aunties” are going at the babies too hard or for too long.  Over the last few days the chasing/butt pecking has become less frequent. I’m hoping one of these nights I’ll go to close the girls in and find the babies in the coop with the hens, accepted as part of the flock.

Needing to be near the run and supervising all this has given me an outlet for my mothering when the Big Kids are away.  It’s made me realize how much I need to be needed, and how satisfying it is to find another place to focus that nurturing when it is arrested by the Big Kids’ weekends with their other dad.  I can relate to Eagle’s broodiness, to her primal need to mother.  Being in the garden, or fussing over the birds definitely satisfies that need in me.  I’ve also spent more time in the garden just watching everything grow, being attentive and appreciating this time of year for the smell of flowers and light rain soaking into thirsty earth, the sound of birdsong and waves crashing on the beach, and the bright green all around as new growth takes hold.

Finally, here’s a book recommendation about Happy Hens and their antics:

Daisy Comes Home

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Selka permalink
    May 22, 2012 12:29 pm

    Wonderful! Sigh… :)))

  2. seethesea permalink
    May 22, 2012 11:35 am

    Love this story and how it parallels the human experience.
    Lucky girls to be so loved.!

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