It seems that more and more people these days have backyard chickens and if they are heritage hens they can go broody. It you, like me, have the space and are prepared to do a little work then you can have the joy of eating fresh eggs daily! However, when you only have two chickens and one goes broody the egg production quickly declines. A broody hen stops laying! I have become a better judge at picking up all the signs of a broody chicken or hen if you prefer! Princess Carmella went broody for the third time several weeks ago.
Chickens that are pure breeds have a greater tendency to go broody, that is, they want to sit on their eggs and produce chicks. Chickens that are bred solely for egg production, such as Isa Browns, rarely go broody. That is great, however they generally only produce eggs for 2.5 years. Whereas the pure breed chickens I have will lay eggs for 5-7 years. Over that time they become a big part of the family!
Breaking the habit of a determined broody hen like Carmella takes time and effort. Here are some tips if you have a pure breed hen and she goes broody.
Signs of a broody hen
1) the hen continually sit in the nesting box (rarely coming out to eat or drink)
2) she will pluck feathers out of her breast to make a cosy place for her chicks
3) she can get aggressive if you try to move her. Fortunately Carmella did not take on this characteristic.
4) she will make a clucking sound which is chicken-talk, practicing for when she has to gather up her chicks.
Breaking broody behaviour
1) collect the eggs every day as early as possible
2) hang curtains in front of the nesting box so that the hen can’t see the eggs that others have laid
3 the boomerang method – the hen goes into the nesting box, you take her out. Repeat as necessary! This method has not worked with Princess Carmella.
4) the cage method – I call it the “No Star Hotel” accommodation. It sounds harsh but it must be done for the sake and health of the hen. Initially, I left Carmella in the cage for two days and nights. The accommodation is uncomfortable. No friends to talk to, no space to wander around, no treats and no cosy nesting box. Food and water however is included. I let her out for a day but then at night she was back in the nesting box. I took her out of the nesting box and placed her on the roosting bar. The next morning she was back in the nesting box and later back at the “no star hotel”. She has tons of personality and one of her characteristics is determination. After another couple of nights she went back to her old self, no longer broody, and went back to her “five-star” accommodation.
Once the broody behaviour is broken it can take days or weeks before the hen begins laying eggs again. It takes a little effort to break a broody hen but this one is worth it. She is a lovely girl, she has a good attitude and a great personality. As they say “she’s a keeper”. Once the broody behaviour ceased it was still important for me to check on her each night. Where did I find her? Yes, back in the nesting box. Given that one of my characteristics is also determination I kept checking each night after sunset. The same routine went on for about 6 nights. After a few nights of this routine, I would push her out of the nesting box, provide a little light from my torch and say “off you go onto the roosting bar” and surprisingly she would do a slow wander and settle on the roosting bar. As I said she is a determined princess! I kept checking on her and for the last 4 nights she has been on the roosting bar at bedtime! It is far better that way as too much warmth sitting in the nesting box all night would likely would cause a hormonal change and the broodiness would start all over again. It was worth the effort!
We have had two eggs most days for a week now which meant we did not have to buy another dozen from the supermarket. There is more demand for free range eggs as consumer interest in cage eggs slumps. I saw an interesting story on Landline about Sunny Queen Eggs and how they are adapting their operations to meet market demand. Their new farm is in Pittsworth, not far from where I live. I am pleased to hear that while the industry standard is 10,000 chickens per hectare, Sunny Queen Eggs have 1,500 chickens per hectare at Pittsworth.
Meanwhile at our place we have two happy hens. Here there are having a “kale” of a time. Their favourite green is kale. This, plus their pellets and other treats keeps them healthy.
The antics of backyard chickens! Entertaining and productive!