We’ve had several of our hens go broody lately. For you non-farmers, that means the hen has decided to hatch eggs. In country-speak we say she has decided to sit.
When a hen starts sitting, she stops laying eggs and refuses to get off the ones she’s sitting on. A hen isn’t particular about whose eggs are beneath her, and she’ll sit on anything. One of mine seems especially fond of sitting on the golf balls that we keep in the nest boxes to mess with black snakes.
Once a hen starts sitting, the usual practice is to put a bunch eggs under her. A hen that is going to sit will lose the feathers on her breast, and she hunkers down on the eggs using the warmth of her body to incubate them. The incubation period is 21 days, and during that time the hen will rarely leave the nest. She eats and drinks little, and wastes away during the process. When the sitting hen gets off the nest to get a bite, or answer nature’s call, it is common for the other hens to lay eggs in her nest. So once a hen starts sitting, we mark the eggs, enabling us to identify and take out any that aren’t part of the planned hatch. Once her chicks hatch, the hen will resume eating and, eventually, laying.
Of course this is not how commercial hatcheries do it. They use giant mechanical incubators, and the chicks brood without ever having been in the presence of a mother hen.
Luckily we don’t depend on my brooding skills. We’ve had several hens sitting over the past few months and have so far managed to hatch only one chick–an awkward looking thing whose feathered feet identify him or her (not sure yet) as the progeny of Tonto. Makes me wonder about Ranger’s virility.
We have far more eggs than we can eat, and still have plenty of chickens in the freezer, so I’m not too concerned about our failures in brooding. Still it’s frustrating to be seemingly doing everything right, yet have so little to show for it.
Meanwhile a friend of mine in Florida told me that one of her Aracuana hens disappeared recently. She assumed it had been taken by a hawk or some other predator. But a few weeks after she disappeared, the hen returned, with 13 chicks following her. Go figure.