Bad news: we found another dead hen yesterday night. Our second one. This one was still warm, had no injuries, and was fine just minutes beforehand (at least “fine” to us). The chickens all returned from ranging to roost in the hoop coop, and when Jason went out at night fall to lock the door, there was a dead chicken under the roost. We have no idea what caused it. The last chicken was cold and bloody in the morning, so we don’t know if they’re related incidents. Sad, and puzzling. Hoping it’s not an epidemic…
But now for the good news:
We have a broody hen!
“Broody” basically means she’ll sit on eggs and not get up (except for short trips to eat, drink, and potty) for 21 days until her chicks hatch. She will then rear them and take full responsibility of their care, gathering them under her body when they’re cold, showing them how to eat and drink, etc. In commercial breeds, broodiness is bred out, because it’s not financially viable for them to have chickens that stop laying for weeks at a time. But some heritage breeds still go broody, and we looked specifically for one that would.
We bought our chicks (Buff Orpingtons) from a large hatchery last year, and I’ve heard that the heritage breeds might not be as true to description as they would be if we had purchased them from a breeder. So I was worried that no one would go broody. But it looks like one has! The kids have been eagerly checking the chickens every day, looking to see if a hen was sitting in next box and not budging. Since we’ve been letting the chickens out to free range every afternoon/evening, and they really love it, we knew the best sign of a broody would be if she was still in the nest box when went to let them out. They are so eager to free range that they hop at the door if we don’t open it quick enough! Sure enough, yesterday evening, the kids noticed a hen in a nest box when the went to let them out. That happened once before, but she was just laying an egg, and she quickly joined the flock when she was done. This time, however, Maya commented that she had “fluffed her body out all big” and “wouldn’t leave, even when I tried to pet her.” Another good test of a broody is if she stays in the nest box at night, after all the others have gone to roost. She did! That’s a first for us. I went out this morning, and she was still there.
So, what now? Good question. We’re new at this. We don’t want to break her broodiness, but neither can we leave her there. That’s the hens favorite nesting box, and some won’t lay unless they can lay there. And then they’ll die from being eggbound. Also, if she gets up to eat/drink/poo, another hen might hop on and try to steal her eggs, and she knows it, so she might just not get up if she feels threatened. And she’ll die. (Good broody hens are often *so* broody that they die in the process! Talk about devotion.) So we’ve left her there long enough to see that she’s serious. Tonight, Jason and I will haul out the chickens’ first little tractor and place it next to the big one. It will be the perfect size for her to brood her chicks, and teach them how to eat grass and bugs. She’ll be protected from the other chickens, while still being able to see them. We’ll line the sleeping chamber with wood shavings, place a chick feeder and waterer out there for her to use, and move her there after nightfall.
That’s the tricky part: moving her. I’m going to google and read up on it again today, but basically, we have to move her and her eggs at night, and hope she doesn’t decide to abandon them after being moved. I’m thinking we’ll lock her into the little sheltered portion of the tractor for a day or so (with food and water, of course) to make sure she’s still sitting, then we’ll open up the door to the run portion of the tractor for her to take small breaks. Here’s hoping we have chicks in 21-ish days!
The countdown begins! Our babies are due around May 3, if all goes well. I’ll be thrilled if we get any babies, and the more, the merrier!