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.
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.