Chicken Behaviour, Chickens

Moody Broody

broody hen
Apologies for the poor photo quality, I used a mobile phone to take quick snaps.

One of our ex battery hens went broody about a month or so ago. Since then most of my time has been spent looking after a very moody hen, trying to ‘break’ her broodiness by removing her nesting material and locking her out of the coop to stop her from sitting (I failed, she sat in the dust bath trug instead, or, the floor would do), eventually searching for hatching eggs and then frantically driving a long distance to a friend for two-day old chicks.

At first, I didn’t think she’d actually bother to sit for long due to being selectively bred to never feel the urge to raise a brood. It was a surprise she’d gone broody in the first place and I didn’t think she’d see it through. But I was very wrong. She sat dedicated on an empty nest, turning invisible eggs and clucking. Seeing her like this I decided to allow her the right to raise chicks herself, I guess I’m a bit of a soft touch with this hen. I refused to carry out some of the usual tricks to break a broody hen, such as dunking her in cold water or putting her into a cage (the very thing that traumatised her), so I got her some eggs to hatch instead. Don’t get me wrong this was not an easy decision to make, hatching boys doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I’d never cull a chick for being male so I had to think very carefully about what I was going to do if she hatched cockerels. As cute as chicks are, hatching is not something I’ve yearned to do as a chicken keeper.

I found a great home for 2 cockerels and I was prepared to keep one if it came to it. The lady who I bought the eggs from offered to take any remaining boys if my hen hatched all males, with the absolute promise she wouldn’t cull. I had all bases covered and my conscience felt better, so I went ahead and placed the eggs under her, marking 21 days on a calendar. ‘Pumpkin’ is the type of broody that will not leave the nest herself, she wouldn’t defecate regularly or eat, drink or dust bathe. She’d just sit there in a trance, dreaming of becoming a mother. This left me with the job of looking after her health, hygiene and well-being closely, each morning I’d lift her off her nest (much to her disgust) and wait for her to poop, then I would hand feed her until she refused my tasty offerings. She wouldn’t drink either, so I fed her halved grapes and over ripe strawberries to prevent her from becoming dehydrated. I placed a little bowl of food and grapes right by her nest, sometimes she’d eat a little more and sometimes she wouldn’t, eyeing it suspiciously before pushing it away from her precious nest.

A week into sitting she accidentally broke an egg,  I cleared everything away for her and she continued to be a dedicated mum-to-be. Day 20 came and 2 eggs started to hatch, sadly both chicks didn’t make it, the hatching process went wrong and they died while still partially inside their shell. I guess Pumpkin didn’t move at all as the chicks struggled to free themselves, she sat very tightly. It was sad, what should have been a happy and exciting moment quickly turned to disaster. Pumpkin continued to sit but the 2 remaining eggs didn’t pip ( I tried to candle them but failed miserably, I guess I worried too much each time I removed an egg and my hands would shake so much each time Pumpkin screeched at me I was worried sick I’d drop them). I could smell sulphur (rotten egg) and the other egg just didn’t hatch at all. This left me with a huge problem, Pumpkin had been broody for over a month now and she was losing so much weight and condition, she wanted to be a mum, she’d seen this process through and was still sitting, waiting. I couldn’t possibly allow her to sit for a further 21 days on a new batch of eggs, I worried I’d end up with a dead hen and to be honest I was completely put off. There was only one thing to do, I’d have to get her some chicks to adopt.

chicks

I found out I could get some sex-link chicks from a friend who occasionally takes surplus chicks from a hatchery, these chicks were destined to end up in the very place their potential mother had been. I drove the long distance to collect these unwanted children for Pumpkin, and listened to the advice given very carefully. When I got home I made sure the chicks had food and water and a good rest under a heat lamp. I waited till it was very dark outside and took the babies to Pumpkin’s nest. I put the babies under her, removing the remaining eggs underneath as I did. No torch, no speaking, just a quick switch over and then walk away. This filled me with absolute dread, it was quite possibly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. If it went well it would solve a whole heap of problems, not just breaking my hen of her broodiness that would eventually make her very weak, but she could have company at last. Pumpkin is a traumatised hen from her time in the battery cages, described as one of the worst cases the rescue had ever seen. She screamed like a child for over a month, afraid of everything. Eventually she turned this fear into aggression and I’ve had a hell of a time trying to integrate her with other hens. She just wouldn’t accept any of them and was extremely aggressive to the point of being quite dangerous. The broodiness being an added problem to deal with.

I didn’t sleep much the night I put chicks under Pumpkin, I went out to her nest as soon as it as light enough to see. As I lifted the lid of her coop my heart was hammering, because of her temperament and unpredictability I was terrified I’d find dead or injured chicks. I was greeted by the sight and sounds of Pumpkin happily clucking, with four little heads poking through her feathers. What a huge relief! I spoke softly to her, telling her what a clever girl she was, as far as she was concerned she’d hatched those babies and they were hers. I placed some food and a drinker inside the coop, locked it back up and left them to bond further. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, I was exhausted!

hen and chicks

The chicks will be 2 weeks old this week, they’ve grown so much and Pumpkin is a brilliant mum. She adopted the chicks without any problems, and she’s calmer than ever. I’m hoping she’ll want to continue to live with her daughters once they’ve grown, they have plenty of space but I guess it’s just a waiting game to see how this works out.

37 thoughts on “Moody Broody”

  1. What an experience – I hope it continues to go well! We did have one broody hen – she is also very aggressive, and I was too scared to find her some eggs to sit on as I wasn’t sure how she’d be with the chicks. We might be buying in some chicks soon – we’ll have to go the heatlamp + cardboard box route – but I’m sure being reared by a hen is the way to go!

  2. Wow, Is all I can say. I love your heart–the love you hold for a temperamental and damaged little soul–helping her heal. Many lessons here for the power of tenacity, ingenuity and simple love.
    I’ve yet to get my chicks yet as the feed and seed stores only carry them in the Spring. Our son got married two weeks ago and I had told my husband I could only handle one life trauma at a time–first it was the year prepping for the wedding and once I had that behind me, I’d settle in learning to raise a few hens.
    Well it’s about time for me to seek out some little ones. We need to build a “run” around the coop and cover it with some heavy duty wire as we have hawks, fox and coyotes. . .
    I know I’ll have many questions to send your way once I begin this new adventure.
    Thank you for sharing the story of Pumpkin—-so thankful all is well!!
    blessings—Julie

  3. Wow, what a journey for Pumpkin I remember the day you posted about adopting her and what a trauma for her and you on the broody journey. Having just gone pretty much through this with my beloved Speckledy who has just successfully hatched two boys (both have homes back with the breeder) unfortunately two eggs non viable, one broken and one chick died on Monday. She’s been just like Pumpkin in terms of not wanting to leave nest to eat/drink/poop the resonance here is incredible – grapes, watermelon, oh my word. We had our moments of trauma along the hatching process when she left the temporary coop and refused to go back, wanting to be in the main one with the other girls, so I had to move her back in and eventually got her in a crate. Like Pumpkin she is now being a lovely mum up to now and I just keep my fingers crossed. Well done Karen and Pumpkin for your perseverence. I figured that as a hybrid Shaunie may not have another chance (2 1/2 now) and that this determination to be a mum ought to be given. It is a frought journey but seeing her with them now, and your lovely photos of Pumpkin above, convince me that the right thing has been done. 4.30 alarm clocks here too. Bravo.

  4. I loved reading this. What an experience! I’m so glad things that worked out okay in the end for Pumpkin. Hope her and the chicks continue to do well.

  5. You state that you are anti-culling. It makes me wonder where you source your hens when you need replacements. You must be getting them from a farm that raises the boys to eating size?

  6. Yes I am anti-culling. The sad fact remains that it does go on, regardless of how I feel. I rehome rescued hens Jimmy, from cages that hold them for egg purposes. They’re never ‘replacements’, just lucky to have a chance at life. The boys are minced alive at 1 day old by the hatchery.

  7. Great for letting the broody hen have a clutch of chicks. I’ve had many hens hatch and raise chicks since 2010. After watching my first hen raise chicks and seeing how much she loved them and how much they adored their mother, I’ve pretty much stopped getting hatchery chicks and letting my hens hatch and rear them.
    Each hen has a slightly different rearing style. Some are strict, others are more carefree. They will raise them for one to two months. Some hens when they are done, break ties with the chicks immediately. One minute they are doting moms. The next minute they are finished and shoo the chicks away. Others encourage the chicks to follow her up onto the roost when she is ready to join the other hens.
    Enjoy the chick raising. It goes by fast.

  8. Thanks amanandhishoe, I’m hoping my hen becomes the sort of mother that encourages them to roost and become a flock. She doesn’t have any other hens to join, she made sure of that! So, hopefully this will work out for the best. If it doesn’t and she wants to part ways, then she’ll probably be housed on her own again if she becomes aggressive to them (within sight of the other hens and her daughters). I truly hope it works out for her but I will be guided by how she chooses to live her life.

  9. Reblogged this on Green Lizard's Blog and commented:
    This wonderful story, which illustrates so well the challenge faced by battery hens to ignore their true instincts really moved me today. It’s a really well written thoughtful piece.

  10. Well done and well written. You had me completely engrossed. We had a broody hen and gave her an egg but it was also unsuccessful. But we managed to persuade her off the nest after that. It’s so tricky!

  11. It was a life changing day for Pumpkin when you found her, Karen. No wonder you loved helping out at the City Farm near me, those early passions have stayed with you. This is a story with a (so far) happy ending; I hope it all continues to work out. Cx

  12. That was a sweet and thoughtful gesture that you did for her. You really went out of your way to show care to one of God’s little creatures.

  13. I’m new to raising chickens. I’ve had two for about 4 months now. Last week, one became broody. She hasn’t laid eggs in those two weeks and is now sitting on the other hens egg. I scoot her gently off the nesting box every morning and scoot them to the outside pen and shut the door behind them. I put the food and water out there until early evening when I open the door to the inside nesting area. None of this seems to be helping as I find her the next morning in the nesting box again. :( This past week has been so busy and I haven’t been home much to keep on eye on her hourly. I do see her still eating and drinking, and she looks okay, but I’m worried that I’m just making mistakes. Any suggestions?

  14. Hi gardenerstouch2012, you’re doing all the right things to prevent her sitting tightly, it may take time but she should give up wanting to sit eventually. Check her crop by placing your hand over it to feel for the usual swelling, do this afternoon or evening if you can, to check she’s eating enough. I’m going through the same thing at the moment with one of my hens!

  15. I found this a very real and very moving read. I have a dream of acquiring a house with enough land to create a small holding at some point, and chickens would be my first priority. Your wholehearted care and thoughtfulness is inspiring. Blessings, Harula xxx

  16. Karen, you’ve got a heart of gold—and you’re also a wonderful writer. Thank you so much for sharing stories and photos of your garden and hens! They make the world feel like a safer and better place.

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