Our chickens are a happy and healthy bunch. But recently a little problem has emerged among the hens: they are going broody.
Broodiness has nothing to do with channeling one's inner Heathcliff. Instead, it describes a hen (like Orange Left in the photo above - and yes, we really do need a better name for her) when she gets into her head that she should be sitting on eggs in order to hatch them. You know your hen is broody when she stops laying, won't leave the nest box, and makes a sound like a mad cat when you get near. A hen can go broody without actually having any eggs underneath her, and her broodiness can be so unshakable that she won't even leave the nest to eat or drink and ends up wearing herself down. If you want chicks, having a broody hen can be wonderful, but this is definitely not the time of year to give it a try. As a result we have been researching ways of politely convincing a hen that her broodiness is not such a good thing.
Step #1: Take the hen off the nest. For some hens all it takes is forcibly removing them from the nest box and plunking them outside. They will shake their heads, have a really big dump (excuse me for the graphic nature of this post) and then go on their merry hen way. Other hens will refuse to even stand up. I've seen Kim holding a hen in the chicken yard saying "Snap out of it!" while the hen tucks her feet up and refuses to touch the ground. If that happens, we move on to ...
Step #2: Isolation in a nest-free environment. At night time this might mean bunking in with Hector and the Hens (the Australorp bunch), or for really hard cases, going solo in the entryway of the coop that has a roost but no nest box and not even any soft litter on the floor. During the day this means solitary confinement in part of the chicken yard with no access to the coop and its lovely nest boxes.
So far these steps have been sufficient to convince our broody girls they would be better off if they just got back to the business of laying eggs. But just to help them retain their improved attitude, we hung a reminder in the coop.
Pay attention, Orange Left!
(And thank you, Mary Engelbreit.)