13 October 2012

Still Broody

At the start of September I wrote about our chicken Mavis who had just started to go broody.  At that stage it seemed that it was nothing to worry about, just a strong natural instinct in a breed known for their good mothering skills.  So we basically let her be, making sure that we took away the eggs from the other two so she didn't get a chance to bond with them, and kicking her off the nest a couple of times a day to make sure that she ate and drank.  But little did I realise her commitment to having babies.  It's been about 6 weeks now, and she's still at it.  The extent of that determination is amazing.

Beyond just being determined to sit on a nest to "hatch" eggs (even if in this case there are not even any eggs) there are many strange symptoms.  She sits on the nest in a trance, with her body and feathers pushed down into the nest as far as possible.  If we pick her up she remains in the trance, keeping that same shape, and cannot walk for quite a few minutes.  She's barely eating so has lost quite a bit of weight, and her beautiful bright red comb has reduced down in size to her pre-egg laying days.  Of course there is no egg laying happening either.  Once forced out of the nest to eat, she becomes really aggressive to the other two chickens and will sharpen her beak on the ground then chase the other two around the yard.  But the strangest and most worrying behaviour we only discovered a few days ago: she has plucked out all her breast feathers.  Apparently this is a trait of broody hens.  Their feathers act as insulation for their bodies, so by removing them all, they are able to give more warmth to the eggs.  Poor dear little thing, she just wants to be a mum!!

So after we realised that underneath she looks just like a chicken when you buy it from the butchers (!) we decided we really needed to address the issue.  We've now resorted to what seems to be the main suggestion for breaking the habit, which is to put her in a cage without any nesting material.  Understandably, she's miserable and confused but hopefully it will be successful and only needed for a couple of days.  The better solution would be to give her some fertilised eggs to sit on, but we really don't have enough space for more chickens... although...

6 comments:

  1. wow that is commitment! Separating the hen usually works, hope she improves soon! I just separated a broody hen today, after 2 days on the nest. She was not impressed with me...

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  2. Its kind of sad isn't it? I hope she recovers soon.

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  3. Awwww poor Mavis, it’s probably just as distressing for you. None of mine have gone to that length yet, though they appear to be rotating who is being broody for a week then another hen takes over. So far though taking the eggs away and moving them off the nest has been enough, or just tempting them with food. Good luck, look forward to hearing how to isolation cage works.

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  4. Poor Mavis and Poor you!!! Hope it is resolved quickly.

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  5. I've had one broody hen that's been broody since April! It's now October! It is amazing how thoroughly committed these hens can be. Thankfully though, now the day length is decreasing here, she's finally showing signs of snapping out of it. I'll be curious to see if she's as bad next year. I hope Mavis is back to her old self soon.

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  6. Thanks everyone for your kind thoughts on Mavis' "predicament"! We kept her in the cage for a couple of days, then shut her (and the other two) out of their house during the day for another couple of days. She does seem to be slowly improving. The trances don't seem as deep, and she hops out for short periods of time of her own accord. So here's hoping! (Although I felt more hopeful before reading CVF's comment about the hen who's been broody since April...!!)

    If she doesn't snap out of it soon my next step is to try to get some fertile eggs. If anyone knows of anyone in Melbourne who has some eggs that they need hatching, please let me know.

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