Monday, November 28, 2011

Broody Chicks Lay No Eggs

I came home one day to find my Welsummer hen, Petunia, behaving strangely.  She would not leave the nest and upon my approach, she puffed herself up and growled at me like some sort of possessed gremlin.  At first I thought she was sick, but after some research I came to the conclusion that she was most likely broody. 

When a hen becomes broody, her hormones take over and she feels a need to hatch some chicks.  She plucks out her breast feathers to provide more warmth to the clutch of eggs that she will sit on for 28 days.  She will only leave the eggs for brief periods to eat and drink.

So, here’s the problem.  I don’t have a rooster, and Petunia doesn’t understand that the eggs she is sitting on have not been fertilized.  She will continue to sit on the eggs indefinitely, and the eggs will never hatch.  Continuing to sit on eggs in vain is not good for Petunia, since she will weaken without enough food.  Petunia will not lay eggs while she is broody and general egg production in the coop may diminish as well.  This is not good for me, because I've grown to enjoy eggs for breakfast.   

I decided to try some of the suggestions I found on the web.  The first suggestion was to remove the eggs and replace them with a Ziploc baggie full of ice cubes.  Though Petunia was extremely outraged by this incursion, the idea seemed to work at first and she left the nest.  Eventually hormones won out and, despite the ice, she decided to return to her egg sitting.

The second suggestion was to isolate her in a special cage without nesting material.  The recommendation was for a wire cage designed to promote good air flow under her.  We re-purposed an old dog crate and retrofitted the bottom with hardware cloth to create a more solid floor.  We propped the cage up on cinder blocks and placed it back in the coop for security against marauding raccoons. 

Petunia lived in the broody coop, as we came to call it, for 5 days.  I checked on her often and brought fresh food and water daily.  Eventually she stopped growling and I knew she was coming out of her hormone induced broody state.  The idea worked and Petunia was able to rejoin the rest of her sisters.  Life was back to normal and eggs were back on the menu.

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