Sunday, June 16, 2013

Evolution 101

I'm pretty sure the number one rule of motherhood is don't eat the baby. Whitney, hen of broodiness, didn't get the memo. Sigh. Her parenting strategy so far? Sit lightly on eggs, keep eggs warm, turn eggs regularly, cluck softly to eggs, and finally, if hungry, eat eggs.

Yesterday was day 24 of Whitney's incubation stint. On day 21, the hypothetical hatch day for the original eggs, I checked the clutch up close. There were 15 eggs in the nest. Only seven had the markings I had made two weeks ago (out of about 12 originally marked). Nine of the 15 eggs were blue or green. Whitney lays brown eggs. On day 21 I also threw out all the unclaimed eggs in neighboring boxes, including several that had my original marking, but that had then been moved and abandoned on subsequent days. The day came and went with no chicks. Yesterday, day 24, Whitney had 16 eggs in her nest, only three of which had the markings I made on day eight and 11 of which were blue or green. The Ameraucanas continue to push Whitney off the nest when they want to use it.

The continued shuffling of eggs was making me nervous. Each day I am a little less confident that the eggs I bring inside are freshly laid and chickless. I decided to intervene.

I made a new nest for Whitney in a cat litter box inside a dog crate. I filled it with clean shavings, some fresh water and food, then carefully pulled the eggs out from under her and placed them in the box. I threw in two new eggs from another nest for good measure and finally lifted Whitney out of her nest, into the box and carried the whole thing into the barn. Holding my breath.

No go. The move woke her from her trance and she became visibly agitated, the way they do when they get separated from their flock. Fine. I moved the whole crate back out to the pen and placed it so she could see her friends. They crowded around and agitated some more. She still failed to settle. Instead she perched on the edge of the litter box and looked anxious.

I left her like that and went to clean out the coop. I hoped she'd resume her duties. A few minutes into cleaning I heard a loud pop. I thought Whitney must have sat down hard on the eggs and broken one. Um, no. She cracked it with her beak. On purpose. Yeah. And then ate it. It was not one of the fresh eggs. It was slightly rotten. Yuck. Pretty sure it had a bit of chickstuff in it too.

My first instinct was to throw the guilty party back in the pen with the rest of the hens and dump the whole lot of eggs. Curiosity got the better of me. I decided to wait and see what she did next. She had plenty of eggs. She could eat some and hatch some and probably still have a couple left over. She finished the first egg, but still wouldn't settle down.

After an hour or so of watching her pace around in the crate with no trace of broodiness left, I  gave up and decided to let her out to rejoin her friends. I opened her door expecting her to head out into the pen. Instead, she hightailed it straight to the coop and the now empty nest. In she crawled. Ugh. Apparently evolution told her to stick with the nest, not the eggs.

Maybe that strategy works in the wild, but in the barnyard, it's a bit of a problem.

In the end, I nailed an old screen across the front of her nest inside the small coop. At least it will keep the other hens and the rooster from harassing her, pushing her off the nest, or stealing the eggs.

I put food and water in with her. Maybe she'll be content to eat the food and not the eggs. Maybe not. I'll give her a couple of days. If she stays broody and eats and drinks what I provide, I'll let her sit it out another three weeks.

I had no idea having a broody hen was so tricky.



  1. Sounds like exactly the kind of problems I was experiencing here. You are a lot nicer though, I finally started collecting all eggs twice a day and sending the girls all back out into the yard. I hope you end up with some chicks! :)

    1. Yeah, now I get why people aren't crazy about having a hen go broody. I won't let it play out like this next time.

  2. It is never easy. It makes you wonder how chickens survived as a breed before incubators. I am trying to figure out how marked eggs get from one nest box to another - when they are three feet in the air! I hope she settles down and finishes the job. There is nothing better than home-hatched chicks. They are so fun to watch.