What We Did With Our Broody Hen

No, we did not killer her.

After a month of removing her twice daily from the nest to eat, and sometimes taking her yards away into the orchard, my dear Maisie was still broody. I never did see her come out of the nest on her own. I decided to leave her in the nest and see if letting nature take it’s course would be the answer. After four days, I got pretty worried about her dying in there. I could just picture it, flies, stink, eww. Seasoned chicken raisers told me she would come out when she got hungry, but they were also the ones that said a hen gets over being broody in 19 – 21 days.

I did a lot of reading of people who said their hens stayed broody for 6 weeks, 2 months, and one person said her hen never came out of being broody. Boy, that thought put my hair on end. Another person said plainly that she planned to put her broody hen in the dog pen. Let me just say, I get it. (I do hope she planned to cook it.)

A broody hen has gone into the hormone mode for hatching eggs, never mind that she has no eggs to hatch. While in this ‘broody’ mode, she will not lay eggs. See the difference in Maisie’s comb and wattle. Her’s have shrunk and gone pale.

Maisie Broody

Contrast that to her sister, Goldie Girl, her comb and wattle bright red, the sure sign of the good laying hen that she is.

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Obviously, since my other 7 hens have not gone into this sitting behavior (thank goodness!), there was something within Maisie’s physical make-up that caused her to swing into the hatching egg mode. Only I do not have a rooster, and did not have eggs to hatch, nor did I want either.

In Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, author and chicken raising expert Gail Damerow mentions a number of times the need to cull the flock of those chickens that are sickly or not performing to their purpose, which for me is laying eggs. Thankfully I’ve not yet had to learn the skill of killing a chicken. I do have one girl who is lame, our dear Elvira, who walks around stiff-legged, but the dear girl is true to her purpose and lays an egg most every day.

A myriad of ‘cures’ are put forth to break a broody hen and get them back on track. You can read on this thread at Backyardchickens.com, or run a search. I think everyone and his cousin has what they put forth as a sure-fire method to break a broody hen.

In the end, I decided to get three fertile eggs from a friend who raises her own chicks and slip them under Maisie. So far she’s still broody, closing in on 5 weeks now, sitting on those eggs in a fit of hormone stupor. I have twice removed her from the nest to eat, which she does for about ten minutes, then makes her way back to the nesting box. Only, get this, she gets into a different nesting box, without the fertile eggs! Obviously the hormones only direct her to sit in the nest, not care about the eggs.

Oh, how purposeless hormones can make a being!

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Our First Broody Hen Experience

Our Buff Orpington, Maisie, was acting strangely Saturday evening, when we let the girls out for free-ranging. She puttered around a bit and then went back into the hen-house, and into a nest. Maisie

When I took a late breakfast to the girls on Sunday morning after church, she was in the nest and didn’t come out. Obviously something was going on, and I went to the internet for research. I came back out, took her out of the nest, and observed the symptoms: camping in the nest, even without an egg, puffed up like a blow fish, making a low, sort of guttural, “pluck, pluck, pluck.”

Poor darling. The old margarine commercial pops to mind: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” We do not have a rooster, do not want a rooster, do not want to raise our own little chicks. But with this choice, we are messing around with Mother Nature, who designed the hen to have eggs and sit on them and hatch chickens. Hmmm…I don’t suppose a wind up chick would do the trick.

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Taken out of the nest, she first sat on the grass. Then she began to ‘pluck’ around, and eat grass. She then went to this bag of sand and began to scratch and try to make a nest of it.

Advice ranges the gamut, and I’m attempting a middle of the road. I remove Maisie from the nest several times a day to give her a chance at food and water. She is sweet and gives no trouble. Even Sweetie-Pie, our 6 year-old-grandson, can easily put his hand underneath her. “She growls, but there’s no egg,” he says a bit mystified.

When presented with food, she will eat readily, do her bit of plucking and puffing up, and then make her way around to the hen-house door. She takes water on her way past the water bucket, and then back into the nest.

Supposedly this will go on for 19 to 21 days. In thinking back, we’re hopeful to already have 5 days down, maybe more. Oh, Dear Lord, do not let all the hens go ‘maternal’ at once!

Maisie

This look says it all: “Leave Me Alone!”

The Little Chicks are Thriving!

So excited to report that the little chicks, who were such a sad sight only 10 days ago are now vigorous and thriving!

The turning point seemed to be when they began to eat the chickweed. Now whenever I come to the brooder cage and speak to them, they run to the clothes pin, where I clip the weed. They pull and tug. Still scruffy looking but getting rounder every day.

The turning point seemed to be when they began to eat the chickweed. Now whenever I come to the brooder cage and speak to them, they run to the clothes pin, where I clip the weed. They pull and tug. Still scruffy looking but getting rounder every day.

I have learned to pay close attention to their behavior when I bring them home, and to make certain they are drinking first before introducing food. I also plan to purchase my chicks a month later, if possible, and not to get any until I have room to take on 4 or more. Chicks seems to do better in higher numbers. They are flock creatures, after all. I will do as one woman said: “Always watch to choose the most active chicks.”

And once again I have learned that it is good not to give up, and that we can start over any time.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” ~Anonymous

The Medicinal Effects of Chickweed

The little chicks are going to be all right. Yesterday they were eagerly eating chickweed that I tossed into them. They even began to fight over it. Next my husband dropped them a tiny worm he had found when planting a fruit tree. The chick’s reaction turned quickly from curiosity to something of a frenzy, and at one point they each had hold of the worm.

Chickweed Flower

Chickweed Flower (Photo credit: The Equinest)

Chickweed is so named because chickens and birds love it. It is a low-growing, ground-cover type plant found all over the world in the spring; it is flourishing now in south Alabama. Chickweed (Latin name Stellaria media) is a highly nutritional plant, used as a medicinal herb by many. I pull it by great handfuls and toss to the big girls, too. No doubt they find it when they are allowed to free range in the pecan orchard and along the fence rows, however, where I find the most chickweed is growing in the gardens surrounding the house, which is off limits for the girls for obvious reasons.

You can find out more about the benefits of chickweed here and here.

Run a search on Google for images of chickweed. Once you know what it looks like, you’ll have a ready and nutritional treat for your chicks. But it only lasts through the cooler temps of the spring!

 

Oyster Shell and Grit for Baby Chicks

Princess Puny

Our Princess Puny last year, 2012, at about this same time. She, too, was small, but she had Attitude.

There’s a great article on providing oyster shell and grit to chickens in this month’s Backyard Poultry Magazine.

I have read and been given differing advice about using oyster shell and grit with my baby chicks. Many old hands at raising chickens said I did not need grit until I gave them larger grain and seeds. I did give small amounts of both oyster shell and grit to my first flock of biddies, but I did not begin with either with these new little chicks. The difference in the health of these two batches of chicks convince me that even with thoroughly ground grains and seeds, even some processed, baby chicks fed on a homemade mix need grit and oyster shell, too. Actually, after reading on this topic, I’ve come to believe that baby chicks fed commercial starter should be offered grit and oyster shell. There is some confusion that one serves as the other, but this is not so. Grit aids in digestion; oyster shell gives calcium.

You know, the bottom line is a bit of grit and oyster shell will not hurt a chicken, but lack of either could.

Sick Chicks

chicks Our two little sickly Barred Rocks are 41 days old today. They look about three weeks old, spend a great deal of time with their two little beaks burrowed into the corner of the brooder cage in the sunny and warm garden room. They still do not get on a perch, nor show any interest in mealy worm treats or fresh picked chickweed. They do peep around in the mornings, are eating their starter feed again, and no longer have diarrhea. They look like they went through a agitator washer and were blow dried on high. Poor little things.

These chicks did not eat well from the time I brought them home. My mistake was to not pay close enough attention to the signs and make adjustments from that first moment. I’ve learned a number of things I could have done then, but that time is past. I deal with where we are now in this adventure. Here are adjustments I’ve made:

    • I’ve gotten vigilant with my gluten-free starter recipe, following as closely as possible the recipe given in Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow. That recipe gives options from feedstuffs one might have readily available and wheat is easily avoided. 
    • I was thrilled to discover a nutrition booster product that doesn’t contain wheat or soy–Farmers’ Helper Ultra Kibble for Chicks. I think this is evidence that the producer knows people are trending away from these overly used feeds. The Ultra Kibble is mixed in with your basic feed at varying ratios. I increased the ratio, using it partially as the fish meal recommended in the Storey’s Guide recipe.
    • I became vigilant about using baby grit. I had not bothered with it in the first weeks, as I had listened to advice that it was not needed in the first weeks when the chicks did not consume whole grains. But I used it with the first flock I raised and didn’t have any trouble with those chicks, so I’m using it now.
    • I am also again putting tiny bits of fresh chopped garlic in the water each day. That was something else I did with my first little flock. Garlic is a natural antibiotic. I had put this in the chicks water the first days when I brought them home, but as the chicks seemed to not eat or drink well, I had stopped, thinking they did not like the taste. I watched them this morning, and they are drinking the water just fine.

chick at 39 daysA quote reported from the Talmud: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'” I have done that with newly planted rose bushes, and so I do now with these little chicks, then leave it in God’s hands.