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Lesson from the chickens: brooding is a useless activity

June 5, 2007
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I suppose that since Sen. Clinton is grandstanding about the strong faith that enabled her to save her marriage, I may as well disclose some delicate circumstances with which my own household is contending right now. It’s hard to confront the truth, but it’s become plain: our chickens are sub-average.

We have a flock of five buff Plymouth Rock duds. An average chicken lays an egg about every 30 hours. Ours have forgotten how to do this. They have ovulatory amnesia. They are on a brooding tangent. One has been brooding for nearly a month;  another joined her in this absurdity two weeks ago.

When chickens brood, they think, in the way chickens process things, that they are sitting on eggs. But there are no eggs because they don’t lay eggs while they are brooding. They are in a state of hormonal delusion. If another hen lays an egg, the brooding hen will immediately “set” on it. Then, you pick her up while she spreads her wings like an eagle and squawks and pecks you fiercely; snatch the egg, and contemplate wringing her mean little neck. She immediately returns to her task of brooding as though the indignity never happened.

Initially the first hen to brood brooded in the nesting box 24/7. My husband closed off the nests to break the brooding cycle. Undeterred, she brooded and continues brooding on the wire shelf. For the first two days, she sat on the perch and stared and stared at the blank cardboard covering the nesting boxes. It was too inane to be pathetic.  Finally, she settled into her task on the shelf. Then her companion brooder joined her. The original brooder now sits on her companion, who is accustomed to being at the bottom of the pecking order. The underhen also happens to be the former layer-in-chief. Now she is a layer-pretender like the chieftainess.

A third hen has been laying an egg every two or three days. The brooders diligently sit on it, double-decker style, and attack me when I retrieve it.

The other two are neither brooding nor laying, but they do continue eating, and seem in general to be having a wonderful time freeloading.

Brooding behavior is supposed to run its course in about a month. If it does not, the brooders will likely be converted from egg hens to meat hens. Or we will give in and consider them cute appurtenances to the property and continue feeding them despite their disutility. But we hope they will return to being egg hens. I don’t think I could weather the scandal of having useless, sub-average chickens.

  1. June 5, 2007 10:38 am

    Oh the shame of it all! Subaverage chickens in our own backyard. We had such high aspirations for them early on: they were precocious fliers and seemed to be ready to defend their liberty from the NAIS enforcers.

    As we have heard before, some things cannot be fixed. God is sovereign.

  2. June 5, 2007 10:49 am

    Well, in his own way, the Cat broods too. But he looks remarkably pensive and worthy when he broods.

  3. Paula permalink
    June 28, 2007 6:11 am

    I had three hens out of six that became broody. They were setting on empty nests. The only way I have been able to get them off the nest, is to give one hen at the time a clutch of fertile eggs to hatch. When the chicks hatch, they will, of course be taking care of the chicks. The first clutch I put under Mabel only one out of five actually hatched (I think I mishandled the eggs, as I am new to this) and that one drowned in less than two days. She went right back to brooding, so I gave her seven more, and just Tuesday hatched five out of seven and is caring for the chicks. It has really been a lot of fun and very entertaining. I take it you don’t have a rooster, so maybe you could get fertile eggs from your original source of the chickens you have. I am now collecting eggs for the next hen in line who has now been setting on an empty nest for (no lie) two months! I will only give her six or seven eggs because I don’t want so many chicks. Also, if you decide to choose this path, don’t have them hatching out at the same time unless you can give them separate nesting and brooding areas because I understand that the hens may attack the other chicks that are not hers. And, actually your hens are not subaverage, they are more “natural”, as I understand some modern breeds of chickens have had the “broodiness” bred out of them.
    Good luck.

  4. June 28, 2007 7:04 am

    Thanks, Paula. That would be more entertainment than we have room for. We’re in the city and they’ve outlawed roosters. But we broke the brooding cycle! My husband put up a temporary fence and doubled their “pasture.” They loved it and wanted to be outside all the time. But the numbers are still the same: exactly one in five is laying, and she lays every other day. They’re pretty expensive entertainment!

  5. Wendy permalink
    October 20, 2008 7:44 pm

    can anyone tell me…I have a broody hen, I got fertile eggs but left them in a container for about 4 hours (uncovered)..are these fertile eggs still viable???

    Wendy, it depends at least in part on the temperature–they should be viable up to two weeks between 45-65 deg. F, according to the info at this site.–Lauren

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