…We’ve got fun n’ games

Indeed we do – in the form of broody chickens that insist on sitting in their nestboxes all day waiting for imaginary babies to hatch!

We have a little flock of 5 chickens, consisting of two pekins (Rosie and Jessica Fletcher) and 3 silkies (Miss Fisher, Dot and Joyce). Both breeds are old Asian breeds and unlike commercial breeds such as ISA browns that have been bred for maximum egg production, pekins and silkies produce fewer eggs and well known for their broody tendencies and for being good mothers. We knew what we were in for when choosing those breeds, but decided we’d rather go for more traditional breeds than the commercial ‘egg-laying machines’ that often only have short lifespans of 2-3 years and have been designed to lay eggs every single day all year round, often at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. Sure our chickens lay fewer eggs, supposedly laying less than 100 per year each (although I’ve not counted), but when they aren’t broody we get 4-5 eggs per day over the spring and summer months – we often give them away at work as we can’t eat them all!

However after an uneventful winter whilst the girls took a break from laying, we’ve spent most of the summer with at least one of them broody, and only a few rare days when all 5 are happily out and about foraging in the bushes.

Well this week we hit a new record, 3 broodies at once – 60% of our flock! This became problematic as we only have 2 nestboxes, so Joyce and Dot have decided to cosy up and share. This is cute, but with temperatures this weekend over 36 degrees, cuddling up in a big fluffy pile is not great for keeping cool!

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Dot (left) and Joyce (right) cuddled up in the nestbox

The first signs that ours are about to go broody include making a deep ‘bok-bok’ noise that is consistent and different from their normal chatter, and hanging around by their house for a day or two instead of joining the others foraging. When our pekin Rosie went broody for the first time a few weeks ago, she plucked all the feathers from her chest and tummy so had a huge bald patch. This patch is called a ‘brood patch’ and serves to increase contact between the skin and the eggs during incubation to keep the eggs warm.

Their maternal instinct is admirably strong, whilst broody they sit all day and night, coming out only occasionally (and often under protest!) to eat, drink, poop and maybe have a quick dust bath, then it’s back on duty in the nextbox. They also become enraged when approached by other chickens or people – fluffing up their feathers, spreading their wings and screeching – which is pretty funny, Jessica Fletcher in particular is funny as she looks like a little angry puffball!

Unfortunately their dedication will go unrewarded, at least for now. We don’t have a rooster – we are technically allowed one according to our local council rules, but only if our neighbours agree, but we haven’t yet ventured along that path.

The funny thing is that they’re not even sitting on anything, just an empty nest. They will also sit on other chickens eggs, pebbles or even golf balls! The amount of time they will sit depends on their own individual characters, Miss Fisher is relatively easy to break out of the broody cycle and doesn’t tend to sit for too long, whereas Jessica Fletcher is very determined and committed, goes broody at the drop of a hat and is very hard to snap out of it. This worries me as she loses weight from not eating enough whilst she’s broody, so it’s important for us to not let her sit for too long.

There are various old wives tales and anecdotes about how to get a broody hen to snap out of it, some of which I wouldn’t want to try. Our preferred method is to put them in the ‘sin bin’, a large wire-framed dog cage containing just food and water, with a wire bottom (and no bedding) to prevent them from nesting. Propping it up on bricks allows air flow underneath, this apparently helps to cool their bellies, which helps to snap them out of their broodiness quicker.

We find that the key is to keep the broody hen in there for a few days, especially at night. We let her out for a few minutes once or twice a day to stretch their legs, but at the first sign they’re heading to the nestbox we pop them back in the sin bin. We make sure that the sin bin is located in the main run with the others so they’re not on their own (which stresses them), but they do have to sleep out there at night too to really make a difference we find – it’s important to make sure they’re nice and secure though, in case of foxes or other predators, we usually have the sin bin inside their main run which is locked.

Now this may sound cruel, and I did feel bad at first leaving them in there, but it really is for their own good in the long run as being broody for a long period depletes their natural reserves and puts their health at risk so if they’re not going to have an chicks then it’s much kinder to try to snap them out of it with as little fuss as possible rather then leave them to brood with no reward of cute cheepy chicks at the end. We make sure they have everything they need, including shelter from bad weather, shade from the hot sun and will move them into a cooler place on really hot days so they’re not in danger from the heat.

It normally takes anything from 2 days to a week or so for them to get back to normal, but I have heard of people who have had to keep their chooks in their for weeks! So the fun and games begin again – first cab off the rank will probably be Jessica Fletcher, as she goes broody most often and so is a bit light due to prolonged broody periods when she’s not eating properly. Every time she stops being broody I promise her that if she puts some weight on then next time she can have some fertile eggs to sit on, but then she goes broody again only a week later and she’s back in the sin bin again! We’ll get her some one day, she deserves it after demonstrating such commitment to her cause don’t you agree?

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