Broody hens are uncommon. At least that’s what the chicken books say. Today’s domestic chickens have had all the broodiness bred out of them. Their job is to lay eggs or become dinner. For the last two years I’ve had a silly number of broody hens. Broody hens are hens that have become overwhelmed with the desire to hatch eggs. They will park themselves on the eggs and refuse to move, foregoing food and water, and pecking anyone who tries to move them.
Last year I humored three of my hens and allowed them to hatch chicks. It was all fun and memory making and all that until the chicks grew up to be roosters (five of the seven) and we had to butcher them. Not fun. Not happy memories. So this year when three of my hens started in with the brooding, I cruelly (and carefully) removed them from their eggs each night and stuffed them in the hen house with the rest of the girls. I did this for nearly a month grumbling all the way. I confess that I was less than gentle with my words and actions many nights. It was a battle of wills.
Alas, the hens proved more stubborn than I, and I was forced to not only remove them from their nests, but also from the chicken yard. Having tried to convince them to give up their brooding dreams the nice way, it was time to stop asking. With the addition of 25 new almost grown up chicks to the chicken yard, there was no room to be spared in the laying boxes. We have three lovely laying boxes that our girls share happily. During the brooding fiasco, the broody hens allowed the other older hens to climb right in with them and add their eggs to the nest. Not so for these next upstarts. When the younger hens venture near the laying boxes the three old biddies start clucking and threatening and getting their feathers all ruffled up.
Nature is soon going to dictate that these young hens lay their first eggs. And in years past there have never been any issues with the younger hens copying the older hens and laying their eggs in the boxes too. But right now there are no available boxes. So, in a fit of frustration I threw all three hens out of the chicken yard. They have been frantically pacing the fence wanting back in. This is somewhat ironic to me since I have to clip all their wings each spring so they will not escape the yard.
Never mind that what these hens have been sitting on lately is the golf balls I left in place of the eggs I will not let them hatch. They are frantic to get back to their golf balls. One of the hens is so stressed out her feathers are falling out.
The young hens have been carefully exploring the boxes full of golf balls. It won’t be long before they lay their first tiny eggs. The first eggs a chicken lays is comically small, but they get successively bigger.
And what about the child thrown from the nest? Although she protested as we packed her up for camp (a camp she decided she wanted to attend four months ago), once she saw her tent and tent mates she couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. I suppose removing this one from the nest follows a natural path of separation. It is a trial run for when she separates herself from us for good in just a few years. If that event is anything like this one, I’ll have to be careful the door doesn’t smack me in the butt when she thanks me for the ride and shoos me away.
The hens are another story. It’s been five days and two of them repented of their broody ways and are back with the other girls. The third one still stalks the fence line by day and huddles in the rafters of the barn by night. At least half of her feathers are gone now and she is a sorry sight. She cannot seem to let go of her dreams of hatching a golf ball. I suppose I understand some of what she’s going through. Only it wasn’t so hard for me to leave my golf ball since she’s all grown up and in good hands.
Still all week I have missed her and wondered if she is enjoying camp. I wonder if she has de-toxed from the sudden break from her electronics. I wonder if she is learning to make a friendship bracelet and a dream catcher. I wonder if she is playing her guitar around a campfire and singing songs I learned when I was a kid. I worry that she isn’t brushing her teeth or using enough sunscreen.
Her leaving the nest for a while is good for her and for me. She’s remembering that she can take care of herself and that life can be rich without an internet connection. I’m realizing all the ways she adds sparkle and energy to this household. I’m also realizing that the quiet is only nice for the first few hours. After that I want my golf ball back.