Three of my hens are broody – Blackie, Snowball and Marge. A broody hen sits in a nesting box, and if there are eggs there, she’ll roll them under her to keep them warm. I don’t know how Snowball stays balanced. At times she is perched on four large eggs that weigh almost as much as her.
A broody hen stops laying for weeks, and sometimes months, and so a backyard hen keeper has to decide if he or she wants to go to the bother of breaking the broody cycle. It is possible, but not easy.
Being broody is an innate, genetically driven response to a hen’s maturity, the time of year and the environment. A broody hen settles down, ruffles her feathers and elevates her body temperature. In some cases, if you can lower that temperature, she forgets about sitting. I’ve read about putting ice cubes under the hen — which seems rather messy and somehow like a sly practical joke. You can replace the bottom of the nesting box with a screen, so that the heat dissipates. You can lock the hen out of the hen house so that she has nowhere to be broody.
Or, you can leave the hen be and have fewer eggs. That’s been my choice because only two of my good layers are broody, so I still get seven eggs a day which is more than plenty. But if I had only three or four hens, I would try to break the broodiness.
If you’ve had any success getting your broody hens off of the nest and laying again, email me! Also, what’s the longest your hens have been broody? Tweedledum was broody for a month this spring, and now she has no interest in sitting. But I think that Snowball is going to stay put all summer.
Today will be another scorcher of a day: 90 degrees, humid and not a breeze for relief. The chickens will drink a lot of water and loll about in the shade. The broody hens will sit still in their nesting boxes where it will be hot, but not unbearable for them. My dog will wade in the pond with the koi and goldfish and tadpoles. It’s the rabbit I have to worry about.
Rabbits use their ears as natural air conditioners. Hot blood circulates through the ears near the skin and is cooled by the surrounding air. But Candy is a lop-eared rabbit, and so she can’t stand her ears up, away from the heat of her body to catch the breezes. One worries, because rabbits can die of heat stroke. Our bunny lives outdoors. In the summer Candy’s hutch is moved to the shady side of the henhouse. The big canvas umbrella that had been up by the garden bench is now over her house as well. If Candy were kept closed up in her hutch I would go to the added precaution of putting a bottle of frozen water in her bed. But Candy has access to the chicken yard during the day, where there is cool damp earth to stretch out in. Perhaps you saw her yesterday, splayed out in front of the hencam — a very comfortable and healthy rabbit.
It is raining again, which means that the hens are bored and a tad uncomfortable. Their feathers are bedraggled. Instead of lolling about in the warm dirt taking dust baths, they brave the rain for a few minutes, then crowd inside the henhouse. Instead of quickly laying their eggs and hurrying outside to find a curiosity or a tidbit, they want to hunker down in a nesting box.
We have three nesting boxes for eleven hens, which is usually plenty. But Snowball and Blackie are broody, so they have staked out two and are immovable. That leaves only one box. Marge claimed it this morning. Ginger glared impatiently at Marge, like a customer waiting in line at a restaurant who stares at the seated person who is finishing her dessert, preventing her from lingering over coffee. Marge stayed put.
Perrie didn’t bother to wait. She hopped in – right on top of Snowball, shoving the little white hen to the back of the box. Snowball stayed put.
It is time to order more nesting boxes.
My cousin Meredith, who moved to Australia twenty years ago, was here this week for a visit. She brought me the perfect house gift – a copy of the magazine “Australasian Poultry.” The cover photo is of a little girl holding a hen and the caption is, “Kids and Chooks.” “Chook” rhymes with “book” and it is my new favorite word. In Australia and New Zealand “chook” is slang for chicken. “Chook” sounds just like the clucks that my chickens say when they are pleased with something. I think that “chook” is an endearing and expressive term and I would like to start using it. What do you think? I hope you folks down under will be flattered. I promise not to say it with a fake accent.
A rabbit likes to keep herself amused. For Candy, that means hopping through peacefully eating chickens and watching them flap and squawk in surprise. A rabbit also likes to stay cool by stretching out in a patch of cool dirt in the shade. For Candy, that nice hollow of dirt is the same spot that the chickens want to scratch in for bugs.
As you might imagine, Candy’s needs clash with what the hens want. Snowball has had it. Yesterday I let the chickens into the garden and then unlatched the door to Candy’s hutch. I leaned the wooden ramp up to the opening so that she could hop on down. Snowball was waiting. Just as Candy reached the ground, Snowball dashed forward and pecked Candy right next to her fluffy rabbit tail pulling out two big clumps of fur! This time it was Candy’s turn to be surprised. She scooted away from Snowball – which was also away from that coveted patch of loose, cool dirt. Clever chicken.
After awhile Candy came back and claimed a shady spot by the asparagus, stretched out and relaxed. The girls took their dust baths. All seemed peaceful. But the other chickens have been emboldened by Snowball and if the rabbit gets too close, they’ll stretch out and peck at her. Candy dashes this way and that, avoiding the hens. But I can tell that she isn’t too worried. In fact, it seems as if Candy considers herself part of the flock. When I came out in the late afternoon to put some kitchen veg scraps into the yard for the chickens, Candy came hopping along after them. What’s yummy for the hens just might be interesting for a bunny, too.