Old mother hen

Speckledy’s been at it again. Every spring, this five-year-old hybrid hen sits tight in the warm, straw-lined nesting box on a clutch of eggs in the vain hope that she might hatch out some young. She’s a classic broody – all her feathers puffed up (presumably to trap warm air for better insulation), she goes off lay and is uncharacteristically agressive towards anyone who attempts to thwart her maternal plans. 

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Her devotion is such that she doesn’t leave her station to eat or drink. I feel guilty that I’m not indulging her – she’d probably make a great mother – but the control freak inside me doesn’t like the idea of leaving it all to chance, just popping a few fertile eggs underneath her and seeing what happens (of course, that’s what a proper smallholder would do). I prefer using the incubator on the kitchen worksurface and setting the temperature and humidity. Then when the chicks hatch, I’m able to ensure they’ve a good chance of survival in a brooder. We’ve learned that the trick with broody birds is to separate them from the rest of the flock – this also frees up laying space for the other productive hens – so each morning when we discover Speckledy in the nesting box, we scoop her up, despite her pecks on our hands and arms, and place her outside the run and coop with her own supply of layers’ pellets and water. Here she won’t nest and make herself too comfortable – she does a lot of pacing around. After only a short period of this treatment, she’d broken the pattern and was eating and drinking. James let her back into the main run and coop where our Heritage Skyline – who we reckon is right at the bottom of the pecking order – immediately challenged her as if Speckledy was a brand/new hen – Heritage was obviously interested in a promotion but her old colleague wasn’t having any of it and the poultry equivalent of a punch up ensued. Good to see I haven’t broken Speckledy’s spirit.

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