A Broody Hen Defeats Me in an Entirely New Way. Or Darwin’s View: Never a Dull Moment Land

Susie B went broody a couple of weeks ago. She’s the beautiful, fluffy, slightly-irritable Golden-laced Cochin that we adopted two years ago, along with her sister Cady, who was killed by a weasel last year. We initially dubbed them The Suffragettes because of their culotte-feathered legs.

Arguably, Susie B the Suffragette is living up to her name by going broody. For two plus weeks, she has been hunkered down in everyone’s favorite nesting box—I’ve had a near strike situation on my hands from the other girls over this; we were in arbitration until last night. The agreement we came to is below— and refused to budge, protesting by going limp when I tried to move her.

I was being strong, moving her off the nest two or three times a day. Until I didn’t. I’d get distracted in the course of the day and live my own life, not the hens’, and at day’s end, would realize she had been in her nest all day. And then the crowning blow: Carl commented that our current flock of 12 hens is aging. Some day, we’ll have less eggs. And given the current population of humans in the house, the hens can hardly keep up. 

Barring the fact that the girls are working hard and producing anywhere from 4-8 eggs a day. And barring the fact that they will continue to do so for the distantly foreseeable future, if we live so long given the state of the world. And barring the fact that any chick we adopt now will not have an egg for 4-6 months. Yet I immediately agreed with Carl, and happily bowed to the broody hen’s whims. Yesterday, Carl and I headed to Tractor Supply where it was rumored that there were chicks. 

Yes, I started the rumor. I had called around to Agway in Peterborough—no chicks for another few days but a number of four-week old chicks that I would love to adopt but that’s for another day. Broody hens want newly hatched chicks, not teens. Agway in Keene has plenty of bantams! But the wee chickens would be brutalized by the pecking order. And finally Tractor Supply. They had plenty of chicks. Not day-old chicks but three-day old chicks. I figured I would know when I saw the lucky-four-chicks-that-I-intended-to-adopt if the chicks were too old. 

In a parallel world, introducing a three-day old chick to a broody hen would be like handing a human mother a nine-month old baby and calling it a newborn. Cute but not fresh as a daisy.

The chicks are really cute. Five of them. Because there were two Isa Browns and two French Wheaten Marans in the box, ready to go when a very alarmed peeppeeppeeppeeping from the French Wheaten Maran area caught my attention. I went back over to look. There she was, all alone, crying for her buddies. Carl pointed out that she would get new buddies. I pointed to the box full of chicks in my hands and asked Chelsea, who was helping us, to please put the lonely chick in with her siblings. 

Crazy? No. One more hen in the long run won’t make much difference to us. 12. 18. There’s always room for just one more and there’s too much heartbreak in the world. If a wee chick’s cries can be calmed, I will calm them. 

Please don’t do it. Don’t get me started on the debate I have had with myself for the past two weeks about the factory farming of chicks. And how I would be buying into that system again. Why not take on the rejected 4-week old chicks? That would be saving the soon-to-be-disposed-of. But the only reason we were getting more chicks was to calm the broody hen. Why not just cool her off? What’s the moral decision? What of all the boy chicks. . ..? Agway? Really? Tractor Supply? 

We brought home five adorable, friendly chicks for whom I had neglected to prepare a temporary home but that was easy enough to fix. We had an extra kitty litter box. And plenty of pine shavings. And had bought chick grit and feed. A pan of water with stones in it so that the chicks wouldn’t drown their silly selves and a heat lamp. Badabing

The chicks were settled. I moved Susie B into the nursery coop along with the four wooden eggs that I had shoved under her the day before that she had been contentedly sitting on. I added another egg in case she can count. The other hens went from cackling about how they didn’t have anywhere to lay the egg—other than the nesting boxes in the run and those in the quonset hut but who’s counting? Not the hens—to asking me where had I put Susie B? Did I take her to the same place as the three boys? Had a bobcat revisited? A weasel? What had I done with her?

I couldn’t explain. Instead, I gave them mealy worms and everyone hit the pause button. Off they went to bed, hopping up onto the cozy new roosts that Carl had made the day before because I had pointed out that the fabulous branches we had in the coop for the roosts weren’t so fabulous anymore because, over the months since the last coop renovation, the branches had been worn to a shiny and very slippery state. Squeaky, Susie and Apricot were having trouble keep their balance. And though I explained to them that it was good core work, they harrumphed, explained that they were of an age that they didn’t care about washboard abs, and settled in disgruntled fashion onto the lower roosts. But I digress.

Carl and I re-placed the chicks into their travel box just after the sun set. I’d already checked to see if Susie B were asleep. She wasn’t. She had the blank stare of a broody hen. I, however, was ready for bed and so determined that the introduction would proceed. Carl and I opened the hatch of the nursery coop. Carl removed the wooden eggs while I replaced them with chirruping chicks. Susie B wasn’t helpful. We had to lift her up to get the chicks under her.

And so today. The chicks are as adorable and sweet as they were yesterday but Susie B is unmoved. I felt about under her. We’d missed one of the eggs. I am hoping that she was only being dedicated, staying on the nest to be sure all her eggs had a chance to hatch. That’s what hens do. The eggs aren’t necessarily laid at the same time and so they sit to give them all a fair chance to hatch. Chicks can live three days after hatching without food and water—thus millions of them are shipped around the country, thereby enabling thee and me to receive them via the United States Postal Service alive and welcome to their backyard coops. Our chicks are okay for now. Lounging about exchanging tales of their hourly delight. Running and scratching. But it is looking like that bad-tempered hen is not taking to them. She’s getting huffy at them and so they huddle near but not too near to what should have been a warm, feathery bed providing guidance and care. 

What happens if this current state continues? Guess who gets to be the Mother Hen for the next three months and beyond?

At this rate, I could just go to Agway and adopt those Black Austrolorps and Black sex-linked four week olds. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?