During the second week of December, we had our first chicken go broody. I think both Jason and I knew it was coming, given that we’d nicknamed our girl “Little Broody” for her long-time habit of hanging out in nesting boxes on other girls’ eggs and squawking like a pterodactyl at anyone who entered the coop (I’m not sure if this is related, but she was also our first hen to lay an egg, thus saving herself from Freezer Camp). But, until December, she would gladly hop down for regular feedings or socialization whenever I stayed longer than a moment or two.
However, in December we noticed a sharp change in her behavior. She was even more aggressive with the eggs and seemed to be eating less. At first, I was really worried that she had taken ill and was isolating herself, but after a few quick internet searches, I was able to figure out the problem: broodiness. Now, first and foremost, the biggest problem with Little Broody going broody was the month. We live in northern Maine and certainly aren’t going to hatch out clutches of chicks in December and January, when the nightly lows can hit -20 in a cold year. That said, I want our girls to go broody — only in the spring, when their young will thrive. I was also worried about Little Broody’s health given her smallest in the flock stature (even though she is, and has always been, our larger rooster’s clear favorite).
I read up on breaking chickens of their broods – from covering them in ice water to completely isolating them in wire cages, and I decided that those methods weren’t for us. It was only one chicken and, honestly, I didn’t want to create future non-brooding issues with her. She was also still laying an egg a day (for the first three weeks). That said, I wasn’t opposed to gently breaking her brood, and by combining my own ideas with those of Harvey Ussery in his phenomenal book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, I was able to ease Little Broody back into her flock and away from those nesting boxes.
So what did I do? Ussery suggests regular separation with a rooster to remind the hen, for lack of a better phrase, that being in the nesting box isn’t as much fun as being down with the flock. We tried this a few times with limited success, culminating in Little Broody flying up and landing on my head in an attempt to get back to her nest. I honestly think that this method would work better for us in the summer, when true separation from the nesting area can be accomplished (it was too cold out and we had limited indoor space to work with). However, Ussery’s suggestion to regularly separate the hen from her nest did work. I got in the habit of gently placing Little Broody next to the water or food every time I went into the coop (at first) and gradually started luring her out of the nest with the flock’s evening, cold-weather scratch.
Well, we went to see my parents for New Year’s and guess who was out of the nest the day we got back? For the past several days, she has been perching with her flock and has retaken her place as head-hen, best exemplified by our bigger rooster calling her over yesterday morning to eat something delicious over in the corner of the coop, while he kept the other ladies at bay.
Welcome back, Little Broody!