Posts tagged broody hen

Polar Opposites

Meet Maddie, our nasty hen. You haven’t heard about her or even seen her since she is not personable at all and has never been featured in my stories. She rarely leaves the coop, choosing instead to stay indoors and rule fiercely over the two old coop-bound Tweedles during the day. She endlessly forces those old girls off the roosts, prevents them from accessing food and water and scares away any other hens who come in to lay.


Maddie, short for Madras Curry, has the distinctive Chantecler cushion comb but the dark plumage of her Pa, Skana. But beware – she is the ultimate Mean Girl.

On those rare occasions when she does venture outdoors, other hens attack her or chase her away. She has a mean streak and is the lowest in the pecking order of our adult birds, besides the Tweedles. No one will roost anywhere near her at night as she will use the cover of darkness to lash out with a surprise peck to the comb. She has no allies and seems to begrudge her keepers for all her woes.

On the up-side, Maddie loves to sunbathe, spreading herself out on the porch in a warming beam or luxuriating in a sun-drenched dust bath. Her pleasure in these moments is so obvious. Another positive is that she is easy to scoop and will usually sit calmly on my lap for long periods, perhaps realising that she is safe from pestering while up in my arms. But she has turned on me, once pecking me right on the white of my eye, causing it to bleed which required weeks of antibiotic drops. She has gone broody only a couple of times and successfully hatched two chicks, Thompson and Thompson whom we couldn’t tell apart for months.


Maddie with her only two chicks, Thompson and Thompson.

We kept one of the Thompsons – renamed Olive – but Maddie and Olive seem to have both blocked their previous relationship out of their little bird brains and have no memory of or connection to each other at all.

Meet Zorro, a hen so filled with character that she is impossible to ignore. If you have ever visited the Queendom, Zorro would have been right there to greet you and perhaps let you hold her.

Zorro is highly aware of everything going on in her Queendom. With her sleek, little black body and her crumpled Z comb, she is a beauty. She is posing for the camera in this one.

By far, she is FM’s favourite and Zorro turns up the charm whenever FM takes five on the porch. She has Stryper, our rooster, wrapped around her little toe, so much so that he will crow endlessly if she is not in sight and will go to great lengths to ensure she gets the finest grubs around. Zorro goes broody every six weeks, no matter what the season, and she is a regular customer prisoner in the dreaded ‘broody breaker’ but forgives us once released and shows us both love and affection all the same.


Zorro imprisoned, once again, in the Broody Breaker. This dog crate is outfitted with a wire mesh floor and, within 2 or 3 days inside, hens shake off their ‘baby fever’ since this is no safe place to raise chicks.

In June, we usually let her sit on eggs and she has hatched out three broods so far. She is a committed and patient mama and has lasting, although domineering, relationships with all her grown girls.


Zorro with mostly full-grown Monkey, enjoying a little porch-love together.

What strikes me today is that these two hens hatched out four and a half years ago on the exact same day by two different mums. Zorro and Zelda came from Sprout while Maddie and Vindaloo came from Tweedle Dum. Looking at the polar opposite ways that these two hens handle life on the Queendom, it is surprising to think that they share so much in common, including the same paternal genes.

But perhaps the difference in chickenality lies in the sort of Mum they each had. Sprout gave Zorro and all her young chicks far more freedom to roam and learn on their own when they were very small. Eventually, Sprout did kick them out of the nest but she continued to be nearby and aware of their needs, even being close to them in later years. Meanwhile Tweedle Dum kept her chicks very close, not even allowing us to get near enough for a photo, and, when she kicked them out from under her wing, she had nothing at all to do with them. They were essentially dead to her.


Vindaloo (L) and Madras (R) under Tweedle Dum on top of the nest boxes. This is the only photo I managed to get of them as chicks since TD was so overly-protective.

Another factor contributing to Maddie’s meanness could be that we removed Maddie’s brother, Vindaloo, a few months later, leaving Maddie completely alone to navigate the world. Zorro, on the other hand, always had her sister Zelda with her and the two of them gained confidence just by having each other around.


Young Zorro and Zelda kept each other company and safe from danger even after Sprout had kicked them out. Maddie, on the other hand, had no one after Vindaloo was removed.

You never know what kind of mama a hen is going to be and that demeanor may even vary from brood to brood. But with hindsight, I think it is wise to put more eggs under a hen (like 5 or 6) so that the young chicks will always have a sibling to rely on through those difficult teenage years. Maddie may have been a team player in our flock if we had given her a few team members from the get-go. But since we didn’t, we can only give her a sunbeam and some space on the porch to enjoy her one pleasure.


A dust bath can last as long as an hour if Maddie is left alone. It is a delight to watch her indulge.

Comments off

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em….

As reported in The Torture Chamber post, putting Tweedle Dum in isolation for a few days succeeded in getting her back into the routine of laying eggs and flocking with the others. But, one month later, she has become broody again. This hen is made to mother.

With our flock dropping down to an all-time low of 4 hens, it is as if she knows that we need a few more chickens running around.

With no rooster on the scene at the Queendom, FM called in on a work colleague and came home with six freshly laid, probably fertile eggs in a wide variety of colours.

These six eggs came from a farm with many breeds of chicken, resulting in the full rainbow of egg colours.

These six eggs came from a farm with many breeds of chicken, resulting in the full rainbow of egg colours. We may be so lucky.

The weather has warmed up significantly and it only drops slightly below freezing on some nights, so we are able to house Tweedle Mum and the eggs away from the other hens in the coop. To hatch a successful clutch, Tweedle Mum needs to feel safe and secure from predators and other chickens while she sits for the requisite 21 days.

Here she is immediately after we placed her in her new digs. She seems to approve of the dog crate housing.

Here she is immediately after we placed her in her new digs. She seems to approve of the dog crate housing.

The garden shed has once again become her broody pen but this time she is sitting in the lap of luxury inside a large dog crate, rather than under an upturned Costco vegetable box. Although we provide her with both food and water close at hand, she gets up only once each week to eat, drink, poop and preen. I check on her a few times a day and sometimes bring her a fresh garden salad of clover which she eats hungrily. The rest of the time she sits, flattening herself as much as possible to cover all of the eggs.

Tweedle Mum is our smallest bird and it is quite a stretch for her to cover all six eggs. Her wings need to be partly opened and her chest flattened below her.

This photo was taken on day 8.  Tweedle Mum is our smallest bird and it is quite a stretch for her to cover all six eggs. Her wings need to be partly opened and her chest flattened below her.

We couldn’t break this girl so now she gets her way. Go for it, Mum! Our hopes are high and we are trying to come up with 6 more egg-dish names!

Leave a comment »

The Torture Chamber

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.

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

Broody Tweedle Dum is not earning her keep

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.

What more could a girl need?

What more could a girl need?

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.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol' one eye stare.

She is showing her displeasure and giving me the ol’ one eye stare.

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!

Comments (2) »

Tweedle Dum is a Mum!!

After only a month of laying eggs, Tweedle Dum got the worst case of Baby Fever ever recorded!

It started with her taking her sweet time in the nesting box. She would loll around while laying her daily egg, spending an hour or two hiding away. Then her nesting box stints moved into the four-hour range. Soon, she seemed to be in a panic whenever she came outside, racing around to find food, have a dust bath, do a quick preen before heading back to the nesting box. Finally, she sat. And nothing we did could get her up.

A Broody Hen is what they call it and it caused a complete change in her. She went to being the most vocal and happiest of our hens to being a growly grouch. She stopped enjoying a scritch under her chin and began pecking your hand if you came close. She would sit all day long and only get up once a day to briefly poop, eat and drink before getting back on the nest.

From what we read, our hens are a bit too young to hatch chicks. Supposedly, young hens (under a year old) lose interest in sitting after a week, so we continued collecting her eggs each day. But after we saw her determination, we thought “Why not? Why not let her try??” From then on, we let her sit undisturbed on three eggs. We simply chose that day’s eggs laid by three different hens, so they were not necessarily her eggs. We marked the shells with happy faces so we could keep track of them.

This is how Tweedle Dum sat for almost six weeks.

This is how Tweedle Dum sat for almost six weeks.

But, we started noticing a problem. When she would get up for her daily chores, she had a 50/50 chance of hopping back into the wrong nest box. Some mornings, we would come in the coop to find that she had switched boxes in the night and now her week-old clutch would be stone cold.

At this point, she had been broody for about three weeks. She was barely eating and drinking, but she still had another 21 days of sitting to do if she was going to hatch some babies. So we reorganized our garden shed to accommodate her, with a temporary fence around it and a dark, private nest box with access to her own food and water. One night, we moved her out into the garden shed with three newly-laid eggs.

And there she sat. It was amazing to see that she would only get off her eggs once every five days! She barely ate that whole time. There was one evening where she flew out of the enclosure and didn’t show any intention of going back, but we were quick to place a hot water bottle and blanket on the nest. That night, we carried her from the regular coop back to the nest. Another day, she seemed confused by her surroundings and began flying all around the garden shed, but we managed that catastrophe as well.

Then, exactly 21 days after moving to the garden shed, two of the three eggs hatched! Tweedle Dum has beaten the odds, shown steadfast determination and brought some new life into our flock. It is amazing to see her teach the new ones where to find food. The best part is when they peek out at us through her wing feathers!

With Chantecler Roo as the father and Welsummer Peeps and Chip as the mothers, it is a bit of surprise to see that both chicks are white, black and grey. It seems that the milkman may have fathered these two! We named them both after our favourite egg dishes.

Two day old Florentine!

Week old Florentine! She wears a black mask and a yellow hairband.

Two day old Benedict!

Week old Benedict! She has a yellow cap and tail

First family photo

First family photo (two days old)

A quick snooze under her wings!

A quick snooze under her wings!

The aunties come for a visit (little does Chip know that she is actually the mother of one of them!)

The aunties come for a visit
(little does Chip know that she is actually the mother of one of them!)

Comments (3) »

%d bloggers like this: