Nineteen evenings ago, or thereabouts, I went to close up the chicken coop like I have every evening for the past year and half. Just outside the coop, I startled a raccoon, who ran off around the garage. I peaked inside the little shed to count the tails crowded together on the roost, as I always do. Dusk was past and dark was looming so it was a little hard to tell where one hen stopped and the next started on the crowded roost, but I was pretty sure I was one hen short.
Finally I spied, down in the farthest nest box, next to the small chicken door, the protruding tail of one white hen. None of my hens have ever slept in a nest box, so this concerned me. It was Whitney (as in the mountain, not the singer). She was far enough into the shed that I couldn't reach her without crawling over the sleepers on the roost, so I poked at her a bit with a long stick. Nothing. I thought either she'd already descended into her nighttime coma, or she was dead, our first raccoon victim. I decided to hope for coma and come back in the morning. So, I was surprised to find this the next morning. Not so much a coma as a stupor. A broody stupor.
Whitney is some sort of Leghorn cross, bred for production. I was led to believe that this breed rarely goes broody. Nonetheless there she sat, fluffed up, glassy-eyed, and clucking softly to a large clutch of eggs. And so she's remained for nearly three weeks now. As incubation goes it seems a long comedy of errors to me, unlikely to produce any chicks. The number of eggs under her seemed to vary at first, sometimes more, sometimes less. I couldn't figure it out until a more experienced friend told me to mark the existing eggs. Theoretically, this would help me know when to call time on the whole process and avoid letting Whitney spend the whole summer waiting for eggs to hatch. I did catch Diablo and Shasta (more mountains) adding new eggs to the nest a couple of times when Whitney took her midday breaks. But more strangely, once the original eggs were marked so that I could recognize them, I started finding them in neighboring boxes. I never have seen the deeds that led to this arrangement. Maybe Whitney rejected them and another hen claimed them. Maybe some hens flat out stole them for themselves. No idea. I've tried to remove any new eggs laid since the marking, but I haven't taken the rejected eggs. I'm not sure what to do with them. I don't know how long they were incubated or how developed they were before they were cast out.
I also am not sure how many eggs remain under Whitney.
What I do know is that day 21 is coming up and I will be on the look out for chicks.