Thank you God for abundant life, new life, full life, life that never ends. Amen.
I had a lovely visit home to see my American family members. Phil did a superb job of looking after the chickens while I was away…maybe too superb:
Cinnamon, the bully hen, has gone broody. She wants to be a mama. And, having nothing else pressing on me time-wise, I have decided to let her try.
Broodiness occurs in cycles, typically in spring and summer. A typical broody bird will begin to direct all of her energy on creating a clutch of eggs, then sitting on them until they hatch, then raising any little chicks that appear.
I have had to do some quick studying to find out about ‘broodies’ and babies. Because of the breeding of wild game fowl into commercial egg layers, these chicken are not good a brooding. As broody hens stop laying while they sit and raise chicks – a total of 2 months or more with no eggs – the drive to brood has been bred out of them and they are typically culled for meat before Nature has a chance to kick in. Some hens may never feel the biological urge to sit on eggs, while others may feel the urge but not have the staying power to sit for the full 21 days (maybe longer), and others still may sit through to hatching only to cannibalise the newly hatched chicks. Joy.
So, this is all a bit of an experiment.
Now, we have three hens that lay eggs, and we have two roosters who I have seen trying to mount the hens, but I do not know if the roos have been successful. This is in part due to the difference in size between my little roos and my regular hens. It is also because I have been away for a couple of weeks: I don’t know what they’ve been up to. Whether these eggs are fertile will become clear in due time, but for right now I am assuming at least one egg is and tending to Cinnamon, accordingly.
For the last four days she has been sitting on a nest of five eggs and doing very little else. This is normal. A broody hen leaves the nest only once a day to eat, drink, and poo. She may also have a quick dust bath but her time off the nest typically lasts only an hour or so. During the final days of sitting she may not leave the nest at all.
A Chicken Keeper’s job at this point is to make sure the broody hen is undisturbed, and eating and drinking. Some keepers will move their broody hen into a maternity ward – away from the other chickens who may bother them – in order to ensure the best start for all, but as my flock is so small, and the others don’t seem to be bothering her, my plan is to leave Cinnamon as she is in the communal coop, with one change. I’ve put the nest in a movable box.
The nest box area, which is not subdivided, is big enough for two or three hens to sit side-by-side, and all three hens have been laying in the one area. (Cinnamon will stop laying while she is sitting). When she went out a couple of days ago I moved the eggs in the bottom half of a cat carrier, added some straw, and put the cat carrier in the nest box area. This has given her a bit more privacy and will make it much easier to move her and the eggs if/when the need arises. But it has not stopped Ginger and Clover from laying in there.
A hen can comfortably brood about 12 eggs. Typically, if she were on her own, she would lay one a day until she got a good sized clutch, but she would not really start sitting until the last egg is laid. In this way the first eggs don’t begin developing until the last egg is laid; this ensures they all hatch within 24-36 hours of each other.
As I don’t know if these eggs are fertile, or if Cinnamon will stay the course, I have decided 5 eggs, which are a mixture from the three hens, are enough for this experiment. I have marked the five eggs with a pencil so I know which eggs are to stay in the nest. Each morning when she comes off the nest to eat I remove the new unmarked ones. If I were to leave new eggs at this point, as she is already 4 or 5 days into her 21, she would abandon them when the first ones hatch, and they would die. Not ideal.
I have noticed quite a difference in Cinnamon’s posture and behaviour. She is all puffed up all of the time, clucking to herself, and more wary of everyone. Mama hormones do that. I have told the cats and the dog to steer clear of her, and find it is best if I give her plenty of space, too.
She has lunged at the other hens if they get too close when she is eating – she is obviously trying to get as much food as possible in the shortest time, so this makes sense to me and I won’t try to stop her.
I have read that a hen’s food and water intake decrease by 80% while they are brooding, so if they will take food from your hand, it is good to let them have it. And when she has come off the nest when the others are free ranging I have given her a bit extra corn just to make sure she is getting calorie-rich food.
The biggest worry is water intake. Dehydration will end her life. I have not seen her drink anything, but her poop isn’t too dry. This is a good sign.
Non-broody hens poop all the time. Broody hens hold all their poop until they come off the nest. These once a day poops are huge and stinky. These are know as ‘broody poops’ and are to be expected.
In a few more days I will attempt to check the eggs for embryonic development. This is done by shining a bright light through the egg and looking for veins and embryos. Known as ‘candling,’ folk use flashlights these days.
Candling is best done at night as the hens go all dopey in the dark and don’t mind you poking round under them quite so much. However, it doesn’t get dark until 10pm and that is way past my bedtime. I will try to sneak the eggs into a dark room while she is off the nest. With the light behind the egg and shining through it, I will look to see if I can see veins under the shell. If there are veins that means the egg is fertilised and there will be a growing embryo. If there are no veins, the egg is not fertilised and needs to be removed as it is at risk of going off.
About a week later I will candle the eggs a second time, checking for developing chicks. If at this point any of the eggs seem to have stopped developing they will need to be discarded. Additionally, if any of the eggs develop cracks, rotten egg smells, and/or oozing fluid I will remove those, too.
Maybe I should’ve let her have more than 5.
It takes 21 days for an egg to hatch. 26 July is the due date. Fingers crossed!