Monday, January 26, 2015

B is for Broody hens

Of our 5 chooks, we have two culprits that seem to recurrently go broody - Henny (Light Sussex) and Caramel (Wyandotte).  It's only those two usually, but when they hog the nesting boxes, no-one else seems to feel like laying either and egg production goes right down!  This may have something to do with the fact that Caramel in particular gets rather nasty and pecks and fluffs up her feathers when anyone comes near.  After all, she's just protecting her eggs, and she's not to know that they'll never hatch! Henny is much more complacent, but then the Light Sussexes seem calmer all round anyway.

Henny and Caramel share the chicken prison under the coop.
Jenny is in the main run area.
There's a plethora of advice and cures for broodiness out there, but the only one that works for me is to put them into "chicken prison".  The basic idea is that by getting them off the nest and putting somewhere they can (literally) cool down, they hormonal drive to nest eventually settles down. This takes anywhere from a few days (for Caramel) to up to a week (for Henny).  I've tried cooling them using the oft talked about cures like putting ice cubes in the nesting boxes, but all that seems to happen is that I get wet shredded paper in the boxes.  Similarly, returning them to the run just results in a temporary break (when they might have a bit of a forage for some food and a drink) and then a rapid return to the nesting boxes.

So I invested in the "chicken prison" which is just a dog crate (bought off ebay for $26) which conveniently sits underneath the coop in the run, and has two doors on the front and side for easy access.  Although the crate came with a solid, removable plastic tray for the bottom, I took it out and just put in some finer aviary wire for a base (the crate wires are too far apart for the chooks to stand comfortably), so the droppings go through into the run.  I prop it up on a few big blocks of wood to help with this, and also to aid the cooling effect.  I put water and a little feeder inside, plus 1-2 broody chickens and leave them to it.  They stay in there, day and night.  As the prison is undercover, being underneath our elevated coop, they're protected from the direct sun and rain.

After a few days, the chickens have usually been "punished" enough and I'll let them out.  Usually, they go straight back to the flock, relieved to not have to watch the others enjoy the kitchen scraps while they miss out.  Occasionally, Henny in particular will go back on the nest, in which case it's back in prison for another few days!  More often than not though, they seem to be "cured".  At least for a few weeks, when the cycle starts all over again.....

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