Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A chicken experiment

One of our lovely Blue Laced Red Wyandotte hens has gone broody and wants to stay that way. For those who don't know, "going broody" means a hen wants to sit on a nest of eggs, whether they're hers or not...and whether there are actually eggs in the nest or not. It's a biological clock gone annoying. See, when hens set, they stop laying eggs, and if the farmer doesn't really want or need chicks, then it means getting hen pecked (!) on the hand every time you reach underneath the hen to gather the day's eggs.

This hen has been broody for about a week now. I've done some reading up on the best ways to stop the broodiness, both of which require lowering the hen's body temperature, which apparently rises in order to keep eggs warm. (Given they pluck their own breast feathers out to "feather the nest" and have their bare skin in contact with the eggs, elevated body temperature makes some sense.) The first method involves isolating her in a wire-bottomed cage with no nest material inside for a few days, preferrably one raised off the ground so air will circulate all around, thereby reducing her body temperature gradually. The second one, distasteful to me, requires dunking her in ice cold water for several minutes at a time to snap her out of it.

After talking to Paul about my broody little darling, we decided I should put some eggs back under her and see if she hatches any. True, I really don't want any chicks and certainly don't need any more hens, given I have a real lack of egg customers right now, but when I realized I could raise youngsters in a chicken tractor out on the pasture, where they could scratch the cow poo and fertilize the land a la Salatin's methods, I decided to give it a try.

I selected a dozen of my flock's room temperature eggs, mostly brown, a few blue green, and made a point to grab the larger brown eggs since Paul pointed out any female hatching would have large-brown-egg-laying genes. (As an aside, I had gotten about a week behind on cleaning and refrigerating...the same "problem" I had a year ago that resulted in me being able to have my friend incubate fertilized eggs from my recently murdered flock...sometimes it's good to have unrefrigerated fertile eggs around!) I placed the eggs in a bowl and transported them out to the coop. After nicely arranging them in her favorite nest box, I removed the hen from the dog crate I'd temporarily put her in and set her down. She made a bee line for the nest box, climbed in, and immediately began fluffing and clucking and shifting those eggs into the perfect pile, her bare breast and feathered wings starting to warm them up.

These eggs may not hatch, and even if they do, she could turn out to be a really terrible mother, but it's worth a try. We still have our friend's wooden brood box and light in the garage, and if we get any chicks, I'll stow them in there. Hopefully the hen will get over it and get back to laying and being a normal chicken. I figure we have about 21 days from today before we know. For now, I'll let her be and start researching chicken tractors!

Amysflock III?

1 comment:

  1. Eight days down...
    I have eggs under my blue Silkie cross. They were due to start hatching on Tuesday. Seems they decided they didn't want to wait. I have one working on it tonight (Sunday).


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