What to do about a broody hen? We have hatched a cunning plan….
It took a while for me to notice that Priscilla, our youngest and biggest chicken, hadn’t appeared for breakfast.
Currently Svenson the cockerel’s favourite girlfriend, Priscilla, a stately looking, but slightly skittish Brahma, is normally first out of the blocks at mealtimes, so my initial reaction was to be mildly worried.
Yanking open the henhouse door and peering into the gloom, I saw the familiar, caramel-coloured shape of Priscilla hunkered down in the nest box, backside up in the air, wings spread out, so that she resembled a feather clad tea pot cover. We eyed each other, then I unlatched the hen house’s inner, wire mesh-fronted door and went in to investigate. As I approached, her neck feathers puffed out and she screeched then made a series of deep ‘go away’ clucks.
‘Broody,’ I thought, and lifted the grumbling bird from the nest, carried her outdoors and plonked her in front of a food bowl. As she ripped into its contents with her usual gusto, I went back in to the hen house and removed the trio of eggs she’d been sitting on.
My wife agreed that we had enough on our plates without the added complication of trying to find homes for any offspring Priscilla might produce, particularly if they were cockerels. Our last hatching foray involving a Brinsea incubator and six Polish crested bantam eggs, had resulted in six hatchlings with a 50/50 male/female split. We’d ended up keeping two pairs of birds, which meant we now had a trio of cockerels and I was spending a lot more time looking after them. We decided that Priscilla should be discouraged.
I spent a week regularly yanking the bird from her nest and removing any eggs, but given that her nesting spot of choice was where all our big girls laid their eggs, shutting her, and them, out all day really wasn’t an option. So I’d lock everyone out for several hours, but as soon as Priscilla could return to the chicken house to hunker down again, that’s what she did.
After a week, my wife started saying ‘You know what, having some chicks would be fun.’ Hmmmm.
In the end we compromised. Our Indian Runner ducks are all laying eggs with enthusiasm, and Bombay the drake has been busy squiring them, so we put aside six duck eggs on the basis that anything hatching from them could be sold, which would be a first for us.
Priscilla, by now very broody indeed, was given some china eggs to cook. I repatriated our incubator from some chicken and duck keeping friends who’d borrowed it last year, and for the next week it began the duck eggs incubation process.
Ducks take a week longer than chickens to hatch, so hen surrogate mothers sometimes peck open duck eggs at the end of 21 days, with gruesome, cannibalistic results. This was an attempt to subvert the process, although to be honest, as I put the duck eggs under Priscilla in place of the china ones, I had no idea if she would notice that they were a fresh batch, and start her biological clock from that moment. We’re now a week away from finding out, and hopefully should be able to intervene in the process if something does go wrong. The incubator is now on standby.
If the eggs last their full term, will anything emerge? I’m not sure. Although Priscilla has been one of the most determined broody hens I’ve encountered, and is now doing a good job of keeping all the eggs warm, during the first couple of days I’d find one or two a few inches from her, stony cold.
Watch this space…