For the second time in her short life, Tweedle Dum has gone broody on us.
Within a month of laying her first egg, she got a wild case of Baby Fever and went on to hatch two chicks – Benedict and Florentine. After a certain amount of time, she became aggressive towards her babies and got back into the business of being a regular chicken and laying eggs. And now, only a few months later, she won’t get out of the nesting box again. This time, she has no fertilized eggs beneath her. In fact, she sits on no eggs at all and doesn’t seem to be bothered by that.
Her mood has changed. She sits in a trance-like state all day. She growls and barks instead of clucking and chirping. She gets up once every 4 or 5 days to drink, eat, poop and cause havoc in the hen-house and then she returns to her non-existent clutch of eggs for another long stint. She is losing weight. And, most importantly, she has stopped laying eggs.
After about 18 days of this behaviour, I discussed it with a chicken-farming friend. She reminded me that heritage breeds tend to be more broody than other chicken varieties. It is probably caused by long-term in-breeding. Not only does her broodiness stop her from laying eggs, but it also causes her to stop preening, dust-bathing and caring for herself which can lead to mites, infection, malnutrition and other nastiness. Tweedle Dum needs to either successfully hatch a brood or she needs an intervention to break her.
With a foot of snow on the ground and temperatures still dropping, we decided that it is not the right time of year to bring chicks into the Queendom. We could easily acquire fertilized eggs from a number of friends and colleagues, but we don’t have the facilities to keep Tweedle Dum and potential chicks both separate from the flock and warm in these late-winter nights. So an intervention it is.
I pulled the old brooding box out of storage and lined the bottom with thick cardboard. On top of that, I placed a wire mesh false floor which sits about 2 cm above the cardboard. I filled up the old waterer, the chick feeder, a small dish of scratch and a lid of oyster shells, small gravel and egg shells. The point of a broody pen is to make the hen realize that this is not a good place to raise young. We left the light on 24 hours a day to prevent her from getting cozy. The mesh floor and the lack of bedding cause her to change her mind. She cannot get into a comfortable nesting position. The wire mesh is uncomfortable to stand on but it is more uncomfortable to lie down on. She is away from the other hens so that she cannot hear them and become defensive about her young. Although there is no water-boarding, it is truly a torture chamber. On the upside, she is tempted to eat and drink. She has room to stretch and preen.
This Betty Ford Clinic is housed in our computer room. It was easy to grab Tweedle Dum out of her nesting box and place her in her temporary housing. I was told that a hen can be ‘broken’ in a day or two if you separate her as soon as she shows signs of broodiness. But Tweedle Dum had been broody for almost three weeks – so we were anticipating having her cooped up for about a week.
For the first day, there was no change at all. She continued to growl at us and tried to assume her nesting stance in the darkest corner of the box. But the next day, she was standing more, eating more and occasionally chatted with us as we used the computer. By day 3, she had come completely out of her broody trance and was far more alert. She would watch us and chat away in an accusing tone, letting us know how displeased she was with us.
In the afternoon of the third day, with guilt weighing heavily on me, I decided to try re-integrating her with the other hens. There was enough daylight left for her to re-acquaint herself with the girls outdoors and, if she went directly back to the nesting box, I could separate her again. With no issue at all, she joined the flock, began re-establishing the pecking order and chattering away in her typical bossy way.
Welcome back, Tweedle Dum. You owe us about a dozen eggs, so get busy! Hopefully you’ll be broody again in April because I think a flock of 8 or 9 would be ideal!