Friday, February 6, 2015

Broody hens

Broodyness means your hen wants to set on eggs for the next 21 days, until they hatch. She wants to be a mother! She will take over one of your nest boxes and tuck in for the duration.

She settles herself down, fluffing out her feathers so that she can cover the maximum number of eggs. All broody hens think big when it comes to being a mother. She'll stay there all day and all night. If you approach her, she lets out a chirping yodel of alarm. She'll peck your hand if you reach under her.

Lady Fanny, a Speckled Sussex, loves to be a mother.
She'll probably get up once a day, to get a drink of water and take some light refreshment, and poop. Then she's back on the nest, whether there are any eggs in it or not. You can remove her from the nest, lock her out, dunk her in cold water, and she'll persist. Eventually, if she doesn't have any eggs to hatch, she'll get up and resume her usual place in the flock.

I like to get some fertile eggs and let my broody hens be mothers. It's a natural behavior and the hen clearly enjoys it. It seems difficult to us, but what do we know? One observer described broodiness as "a state of continual bliss." Writer Eva Le Gallienne described her impression of what's going on with hens in her 1949 novel, Flossie and Bossie. She imagines one practicing arpeggios.
The illustrations by Garth Williams capture their broody essence.
The eventual reward is the joy of motherhood.

Many chicken owners don't want broody hens, because they stop laying while they are brooding. Obviously, they can't be laying more eggs while they are incubating a clutch. Broodiness cuts down on egg production. So broodiness has been bred out of many breeds, which are then called non-sitters. Heritage breed flock owners usually value it. It's an instinctive behavior that allows hens to keep the flock going.

Hens, like other birds, look for some number of eggs that signals a clutch ready to be hatched. Usually, it’s eight to twelve eggs.  That’s the reason hens often take turns laying in a single nest. They are looking for that magic number.

One of the marvelous things about hatching eggs is that although an individual hen will lay one egg a day, she will keep on laying until she gets a clutch before beginning to incubate them. Then they all hatch together. This seemed like a miracle to me until I understood how they arrange it. When the hen is off the nest, the egg is too cool for the embryo inside to begin developing. The eggs patiently wait for her to settle on them and warm them up to about 100 degrees. Some hens pluck feathers off their breats, to get that warmth closer to the eggs.

The broody hen will turn the eggs several times a day. That prevents the embryo from sticking to the inside of the egg. 

All this is much easier for the hen to do for humans to replicate with an electric incubator and egg turner. Hens are best suited to incubating eggs.

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