Monday, 1 May 2017

Spring time is a time for new beginnings & Broody Hens

Spring time is a time for new beginnings, broody hens and baby chicks. When hens want to hatch some eggs of their own, they become broody. When broody, they puff out their feathers and hunker down inside the nesting box. They stay dedicated to the thought of hatching eggs.

A broody hen can be a godsend if you are trying to hatch chicks. No worries about incubators, brooder boxes or heat lamps... the hen will take case of it all.

However, if none of your eggs are fertile or you aren't interested in hatching any chicks a broody hen is not something you want. Not only do broody hens stops laying eggs and pluck out their breast feathers, they only leave the nest for short periods of time to eat and drink a bit (but not nearly as much as they really need, resulting in weight loss and possible malnutrition they also make it duffer cult for the other hens to lay their eggs by hogging the nest.

Other hens may start pecking at the broody trying to get her to leave the nest, which can not only injure her, but lead to cannibalism. Also she might be bullied once she returns to the flock since she has been absent for several weeks. Normally the peeps of the hatching chicks signal to a broody that she is done siting but clearly if eggs never hatch under her, she never get that signal to stop, so you need to encourage her. 

Broodiness is also contagious to some extend and one broody can induce others to go broody. 
Broody hens also have a grater chance at contracting mites and other parasites, although using herbs in the nesting boxes can alleviate the parasite concern to a great extent. Bottom line though it is far healthier for a hen to be out being a chicken, scratching for bugs, dust bathing and socialising with the others than sitting on an empty nest.

In the past two days it seems that Missy, one of our columbian blacktails has gone broody. My first clue was that every time I went to collect eggs, she was siting on a nest. When I walked into the coop she puffed up and growled at me. She also clucked a deep, throaty cluck (that is the voice she will use to call her chicks). Some broodies will also peck at you when you try and take the eggs so a pair of gloves is a must. A broody hen will literally feather the nest and start pulling out her breast feathers and depositing them in the nesting box. She does this both to cushion the eggs and because her bare skin will keep the eggs (and chicks once they hatch) warmer being right up next to her. 

Eggs are not even a requirement to being broody. Often my broody hens will perch themselves upon imaginary invisible eggs. Sometimes chicken keepers try to break broody hens from this trance like state. There are all sorts of technique out there. Some believe that hens will perish if they remain in a broody state. Others break broody hens because when a hen is broody, she will not lay any eggs. However, I prefer to let nature take its course and closely monitor these hens during this time. Some breeds tend to go broody more than others and nowadays most breeds have had broodiness bred right of them.

Once you have had one broody hen, you will immediately recognise when the next one goes broody. The signs are pretty unmistakable. 

Broody Columbian Blacktail

Our eggs are not fertile. I'm not ready quite yet so Missy needs to be broken of her broodiness. If a hen isn't sitting on fertile eggs, its not healthy for her to sit all day in the dark nesting box, although that is what her maternal hormones are telling her to do. But she needs o be outside getting exercise and fresh air and being a chicken. Also, a broody hen will stop laying eggs when she goes broody and won't start up again possible for several months - the 21 days it takes for eggs to hatch plus the time she would caring for her new chicks so its in both your best interests to break them as quickly as possible.

 If you let nature take its course, the broody period typically lasts about 3 weeks. Hens can go broody at anytime during the year, but are more likely to go broody in springtime and warmer weather.

1 comment:

  1. We had a broody when they were in lock down during avian flu. I let her get on with it but it was winter and none hatched. Then a fox got our lovely cockerel and we've not got another yet :( my incubator is broken so I think I a broody hen is our only hope if we get another cockerel