Our three hens are three years old. They are also our first pet flock. My husband has a lot of experience with these birds, me — I’m learning a long the way. When we made the decision to raise our own birds we wanted dual purpose birds and chose Plymouth Barred Rocks. Everything I’ve read about the birds hasn’t proven true in our experience.
Hardy? In the sense that they have survived for three years, yes. But we’ve had upper respiratory infections, a spate of parasites–internal and external–difficult summers and hard winters (they do great in the cold weather), and bumble foot pops up in one bird in particular every year. And finally, broodiness. Despite everything we researched before settling on this breed, every single one of these hens inevitable succumbs to broodiness this time every year.
Now, if we were in the business of raising babies, sure this would be a blessing. But we’re not, so it becomes a battle of who is more stubborn. Usually, I win. However, Pearl–our smallest and lowest in the pecking order hen–is persistent.
My husband says she’s the most persistent because she is the lowest in the pecking order. Busy Body Pearl, the only chicken I’ve ever seen with green eyes, is so tiny because she literally runs everywhere. The girls have about 1/3 of an acre just to themselves that is fenced in and secured and there’s lots of exciting places to explore. She fights for a place in the dust baths, she’s persistent about getting a place at the trough to eat, and she’s stubborn about her nesting box. She refuses to be chased from the perch even if her poor little comb gets nibbled at by the mean old bigger girls.
And she refuses to break her broodiness.
Pearl will steal the other girls’ eggs–and the oak balls that fall from the tree–and sit on them for her own. She will huff, puff, and shriek at anyone who comes her or her pseudobabies. She would make a fantastic mother–so much so we’ve contemplated letting her raise chicks. Only, we worry about how the bigger, meaner girls would be about that whole situation. Introducing and integrating new birds (even with these three who needed to be reintegrated after an illness) doesn’t go well with these three.
Every one of the girls have had their ride on the broody train this year. First it was Helga, who is very bonded to me because of our nursing her back to health by hand after a fledgling bout of upper respiratory infection, tried it first but was easily coerced to focus on hunting for grasshoppers in the lawn. She never looked back.
Then there was Mildred–the queen of the trio. She is the biggest (seriously, she is twice the size of the others) and it was her first time. I was most worried about her because she is big and heavy and really mean. She tries to bully me in the yard and put me in place on her pecking order. But, strangely, she was really docile and sweet while broody and let me handle her in ways she never let me before. After a week, she finally gave up by me blocking off the nesting boxes (what I’ve done every year to discourage broodiness).
But Pearl? She has broken skin by snapping at my gloved hands to get away from her in the nesting box. Usually my blocking off the nesting boxes works. However, this year she has decided she will just camp out next to or on top of the blocked off box she thinks contains her eggs. It doesn’t help that we work full time and are unable to further discourage her sitting on the eggs by collecting them as soon as the other girls lay them. Even if we did, she just may find something else and designate it as an egg and sit on that (twigs, rocks, oakballs, a piece of grass–weirdo).
So, nature is just going to have to take its course for Pearl. I refuse to resort to drastic measures such as broody breaking boxes and other separation methods. We’ve read so many articles and posts waxing apocalyptic about the perils of allowing hens to be broody, but we’re also the frame of mind that we can’t make an animal do something it doesn’t want to do. When we come home late afternoon, we now close the coop entirely (the others have finished their laying and the coop is only for nesting and roosting) so that it forces Pearl so socialize, exercise, scratch, hunt, eat and drink, bathe, and all the other fun chicken things she needs to do (which is for about four or five hours before bedtime).
What are your broody stories? Any words of advice out there? Is it really a bad thing to let her just go through this?