It’s spring and I want baby chicks!
Given that we are rooster-less, we could mail-order some chicks or pick some up at the feed store. But we aren’t going to be here for the requisite eight to ten weeks required to hand-raise baby chicks and introduce them to my little flock of two, so all my hopes are pinned on Pippa or Luna going broody.
So I started researching the subject, wondering if it might be possible to convince them to work with my calendar.
Can you make a hen go broody?
The answers I found were
c) You can’t make a hen do anything
“Broody”, for the uninitiated, is state of extreme “baby fever”. In humans this manifests in women when they start keeping lists of “future baby names” and adopt a piercingly high-pitched voice when they encounter a child or small animal. (I terrified a few of our cats with this behavior back in the day…)
A broody hen becomes absolutely convinced that she is hatching a clutch of eggs. Never mind that she may be sitting on unfertilized eggs, or golf balls, or on absolutely nothing but pine shavings – she cannot be dissuaded from her certainty that she must sit on her nest for the twenty-one days it takes to hatch chicks. “Broodiness” has been bred out of many poultry breeds because it interferes mightily with egg production, but there are still breeds that can be reliably counted on to go broody, notably, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins and Silkies.
The broody will refuse to leave her nest and will decline to eat. Her body temperature will rise. She will puff up her feathers and adopt a threatening low-pitched “Back off!” vocalization so bizarre that it calls to mind an imminent zombie apocalypse. When our dear Hope went broody, she instinctively tore the feathers from her breast to allow for closer body contact with the eggs she thought she was hatching.
In Hope’s case, magical thinking ruled the day, as we obediently delivered some baby chicks to her one night in the wee hours, and by the time the sun rose, she was certain she had hatched them. And it was absolutely the easiest way to add to the flock, because Hope did every bit of the work and did it much better than we could have.
If you hand-raise chicks, you must feed them, clean up after them (not an inconsiderable task!), continually monitor their heat source, manage them as they grow for several weeks and then delicately introduce them to your existing flock who, by the way, may be more likely inclined to kill them than welcome them.
So a broody hen is the ticket for increasing a flock, and with just two hens, we are most definitely in need of an increase!
Even though our Luna is a Silkie and supposedly given to broodiness, she has never laid an egg and I believe she may be immune from thoughts of motherhood.
Which brings us to Pippa. Pippa went broody big-time last May. She is a Belgian Mille Fleur D’Uccle, a breed known for “occasionally” going broody. I am hoping that in her case, it is more than an occasional thing.
As a bantam, Pippa could only raise a maximum of three standard-size chicks, according to my research. At least that’s a start, right?
So could I make Pippa go broody? Some say yes. They claim that if you confine a hen in a small, darkened space for several days – a cat carrier or rabbit hutch covered with tar paper – she may go broody. Some people swear by it; I think of it as a bit of a Gitmo approach and, of course, with only two hens, isolating Pippa would leave little Luna all alone for the duration.
Others – and I believe most veteran flock keepers are in this camp – say you cannot force a hen to go broody – or to do anything else. I am inclined to agree. On any given day, I am late for appointments because I can’t convince the hens to come out of the coop or go into the coop or get out of my kitchen (!) or come out of the bushes. One of their favorite acts of civil disobedience is to stand placidly in front of my car, preening, while I honk the horn, trying – and failing – to get them to move out of the way.
And then there are the days when they docilely follow me around, cooing softly and begging to be picked up. That’s when I get baby fever. And I’m hoping that, come May, Pippa will, too!