Broody bird

Last night I discovered one of our speckledy hens sitting tight in the nesting box. We often find one of the girls trying it on – a cosy bed of straw has considerably more appeal I imagine than a wooden perch – and we happily pick them up and pop them back in their rightful place – they don’t flap a wing in protest, resigned to the inevitable routine. When it comes to the speckledys, however, it’s a different story.

These hybrids don’t go without a fight. And the reason? Pure broodiness. They want to hatch out some chicks and nothing and nobody is going to get in their way. Far from exhibiting the kind, soft, nurturing maternal behaviour that you’d think would be natural in a mother-in-waiting, they puff themselves up and peck any hand coming their way. Being a bit of a coward, I’d happily leave them in their box, but they’re sitting on eggs which I need to collect and if they remain in the nest they’ll preventing our other birds from laying. Broodiness also means the speckledy isn’t producing any eggs – so letting her be really isn’t an option: we’ve got orders from family and my Country Living colleagues to fulfill. Isolation treatment is the only answer for these birds so, once I’d equipped myself with sturdy gloves to protect my skin from her beak, into the inner run she went to think it over.

But actually, the whole episode got me thinking: why do chickens lay eggs almost every day? Have we bred them to do this over the years? What possible reason can they have to produce what is getting on for 300-odd per year otherwise? Surely, they could never hope to raise hundreds of young? I’ll endeavour to find out, but if anyone out there has the faintest idea, I’d love to hear it. Answers on a postcard, please – or a blog comment preferably.

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