Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Houston, We Have a Broody

It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose: Flo, our alpha hen, went broody in late June. For those who aren't familiar with the term, it means that a hen is ready to hatch out some eggs, and she will take up residence in a nest box for approximately 21 days- regardless of whether or not she has eggs to sit on. She also stops laying during this period of time, and if you're really lucky (like us) you get to watch as your previously normal hen turns into something akin to Godzilla with feathers.

Things started out normal enough: Flo eased in to being broody over a few days; the only clue being that she was heading off to the nest box in the evenings a little early, instead of getting up on the roost with the other chickens. After a couple evenings of that, though, she went full-on and wouldn't leave the nest box except for once a day to eat, drink and poop. Then she'd take her cranky self back inside, and sit on her empty nest again until the next day. Thinking I might be interested in getting some fertilized eggs if she does this again, I was content to leave her be and let this run it's course.

Alex wasn't so sure... He was worried about her, he said. The weather was supposed to get hot, and he'd read something on the internet about broody hens overheating and dying. I tried explaining that we live in the northwest, and that 80 isn't really *hot* by most standards. Married folks, you know how this goes: sometimes, it's better if you just roll with it. So, after 2 weeks of being allowed to do her own thing, we started picking fights with the chicken.

For our first try, we just took her out of the nest box. She'd protest; puffing her feathers up and clucking at us. She'd wander around for a bit, and as soon as we weren't looking, she'd run back inside.

Our next trick was to take her out, and block off her access to the nest box. Not so easily put off, she went to a different nest. (Really? How did we not see that coming?)

Time to get serious. We tried closing off access to the coop altogether when she was out. This just made her angry- like The Incredible Hulk angry- she'd scratch around in the grass for a few minutes pretending to be normal, and then run at the door shrieking like a banshee with all of her feathers standing on end. Then she'd walk away like nothing happened, only to flip out and try again later. I think I lasted four rounds of that before I gave up and opened the door again.

We even went so far as to try a cool-water bath. You've heard the saying "madder than a wet hen", right? Well let me tell you: it is 100% accurate. After her dunking, she tore around the yard screeching at the other chickens, then me, the dogs, even the fence... you name it. I actually saw her hop 3 feet straight up in the air, just to kick the gate to the chicken run. Flo's a big gal, so for her to catch any air is no small accomplishment.

I gave up at that point. Alex continued to take her out in the evenings sometimes, but nothing seemed to help. It wasn't until the beginning of September that she finally started to snap out of it... and now, she's molting. Poor thing can't seem to catch a break. Next year, I'm getting some fertilized eggs for her to set on, since she's proven to be so determined. But for now, she's getting extra protein in her diet to help her through the molt and so she regains some of the weight she lost over the broody time.

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