Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Broody hens (and ravens)

A sneaky broody hen taking a quick break
When a hen who is living a natural lifestyle decides to raise a family, she goes about it like this:  She finds or makes a nest in a quiet, dark spot.  Every day, she lays one egg in it.  When the size of her clutch satisfies her, she "goes broody", sitting on the eggs to keep them warm for three weeks.  Since all the eggs start to develop on the same day, they all hatch out on the same day, too.

A broody hen goes into a state not unlike hibernation.  Her metabolism slows down, so she doesn't need to eat as much.  She's very quiet and once she's well into the incubation period. she won't peck at me if I slip a hand under her to check on the eggs.

A truly determined broody hen will continue sitting on a nest even if you take the eggs away, and she may even starve to death trying to hatch out non-existent chicks.  I've read about many ways to discourage such hens and get them to start laying again, but I've never had any of these methods succeed.  Two of my hens are seriously broody right now.

I really don't want lots of chicks, and especially not in the spring.  Chicks born in the spring, when the ravens are also hatching out their own, hungry families, don't last very long at my place.  I try not to allow my hens to hatch any chicks until after the raven chicks have fledged and their parents have taken them elsewhere to hunt.  However, I've given in to my two hens now.  They are more stubborn than I am.

The gosling's pen
I gave seven eggs to a black hen in the barn.  She may have trouble because she's chosen a nest where other hens also lay.  If they fight over the nest, eggs could be broken.  I gave ten eggs to a larger white hen who has found a good spot near the house, in a pen we built for Tobias last spring.  I'm hoping that this year, Charlie will decide that he needs someone new to take care of, and guard the chicks as closely as he guarded the goslings last year.

The white hen on her nest

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