Yellow Chicken House

Chicken Keeping – The good, the bad and the egg-ly!

Broody and Moody

on July 25, 2013

The last few weeks in the yellow chicken house have been eventful as always. I have had my first experience of a broody hen. It all began about 4 weeks ago (has it really been that long since my last blog post?!) when I returned home from work and headed down to the bottom of the garden to collect the eggs. It was a warm day and upon approaching the yellow chicken house, I was surprised to see Buffy sitting on the nesting box, peeking out to look at me. I opened the rear door of the house and noticed immediately that Buffy was about twice her usual size with fluffed up feathers and a fanned-out tail. She was making a high-pitched, soft clucking noise which became a shrill whinge of annoyance when I reached out to pick her up. She allowed me to lift her off the nest and appeared to have lost the use of her legs, becoming limp and appearing bewildered. There were 6 eggs in the nest, all warm and nestled together on a bed of sawdust, woodchips and Buffy’s speckled feathers. Having checked the nest the same morning, I knew that each hen must have laid two eggs each in the space of the evening before and the following day whilst I was at work. I gathered up the eggs, making a mental note to ask Martin to make me an omelette for breakfast the following morning.

Buffy’s out of character behaviour continued to surprise (and worry) me over the next few days. I had obviously read about broodiness in hens so I wasn’t overly concerned initially but there were a couple of incidents that worried me. After a few days of sitting on the nest in an apparent trance, I approached Buffy to do a little inspection. I picked her up, with no resistance, and checked her over. I then discovered a bald patch on her chest. How unladylike! I had never realised that hens pluck out their own feathers! I suddenly understood the meaning of the phrase ‘feathering the nest’ and sighed at my own naivety. After a bit of google-ing, I stumbled across an article about broodiness and decided to have a read up on what I was letting myself in for. I can only liken google-ing chicken-keeping issues with google-ing health symptoms. We’ve all done it; experienced a twinge, searched for a self-diagnosis and read that our symptoms point to almost certain death. The article I found on broodiness warned me of starvation, bullying from other hens in the flock, death from dehydration and a decline in condition. Naturally, I feared the worst and began reading up on ways to break the broodiness. But first I needed to assess the severity of the situation. If only there were a way for me to find out how often Buffy was leaving the nest during the day while I’m not there to watch…….

After several drinks in the Black Lion with our neighbour Andrew, we had a solution: Chicken Pi.

Living with a geek has it’s advantages and it would appear that most problems in life can be solved with the right piece of software. A Raspberry Pi is a little computer that can be programmed to do useful and/or geeky things. Martin has used this oddly-named piece of equipment to create a chicken surveillance system that overlooks our garden, allowing us to view the chickens in real-time with a frequently updated image that refreshes itself once a minute. After a few days on ‘chicken-watch,’ we realised that Buffy was spending all day every day on the nest.

Several scare-mongering articles and forums later and we attempted the following methods:

Solitary confinement in an elevated cage – I had read that putting the broody hen in a raised wire bottomed cage or hutch with a perch (in full sight of the rest of the flock) would prevent her from sitting comfortably and allow air to circulate underneath her, lowering her body temperature. To me, this felt like the equivalent of the naughty step for hens and Buffy stropped and whinged, throwing her weight around. The other chickens watched with a mixture of curiosity and excitement, running around the cage, clucking and squealing. However, after 3 hours in the cage my conscience got the better of me and I let Buffy out. She looked elated as she came out of the cage, and broke into a run back to the nest. Verdict: Fail

Cold water – this method required Martin’s assistance. I armed myself with a spray bottle of water and misted it onto Buffy’s chest and underside while Martin held her up. As it was a warm day, I didn’t feel overly guilty about doing this. Buffy gave me a look that could kill and stropped her way back to the nest. Verdict: fail.

I resorted to repeatedly lifting her off the nest twice a day to ensure she was eating and drinking. She became increasingly erratic over the following weeks, flapping her wings and screeching. Other noticeably odd behaviour I have noticed includes a strange tendency to randomly take flight and clear the fence. Once over, she hops up onto the picnic bench and sits down to watch the per chickens, who at this point will be jealously staring back and repeatedly head butting the fence to find a way through.

After 6 weeks of crazy behaviour, Buffy got up off the nest and went back to normal. Her soft clucking disappeared and she appeared to have integrated herself back into the flock. She has also gone back to laying her gorgeous dark brown eggs. All it took was a little patience. Verdict: Success

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