Today was not I had in mind. I went outside at dawn with my morning constitutional and though it was cold, the wind wasn’t blowing. For the first time in a week, the air was still. Very promising. I could revamp my improvised greenhouse (With 40 mph winds howling around the farm, trying to affix large plastic sheeting to anything inevitably results in inferior craftsmanship.) and I could make some serious progress on double digging the peas and carrot row in the garden. (No rocks allowed. We want nice, long, straight carrots, right?) and I could plant the two replacement pear trees I got yesterday. (While Milorganite may deter deer, it attracts poop eating dogs, like mine. Moose ate, and I do mean ate, the two pear trees we planted in the front yard.) Modest ambitions, really. Except for this niggling worry in the back of my mind.
Yesterday afternoon, one of my Buff Orpington hens sat her butt in an empty nest box and refused to budge. She slept there all night and cussed at anyone or any other hen who tried to dislodge her. Class, it’s time for another lesson.
An egg bound hen has a too large to pass egg stuck just inside her vent. The early signs of this serious condition are the hen lingers for longer than usual in the nest as she strains to pass her egg. She is understandably cranky. She will growl and cuss at you and she may peck you if you try to move her.
A broody hen is a hen who is ready to set on a clutch of eggs and hatch them out. The early signs of this condition are the hen lingers for longer than usual in the nest whether there are eggs there or not. She is hormonally cranky. She will growl and cuss at you and she may peck you if you try to move her.
As I said a niggling worry. If she was egg bound, and I couldn’t fix it, she’d die pretty quickly. I don’t exactly have a lot of surplus chickens at the moment. If she’d gone broody . . . did I even want her to hatch out a clutch of mongrels? Well, I couldn’t even think about the latter possibility until I was sure she’s wasn’t going to die. So early this morning, I put Karina to work giving the hen warm compresses to relax those bum muscles while I ran into town for emergency egg removal tools – sterile gloves, KY Jelly and a large hypodermic needle. And so the day progressed. Periodic soaks in warm water, for which the hen seemed most grateful, and a pretty rude exam from me to determine where the egg might be stuck and if I could get at it with the syringe.
The exam revealed no stuck egg and immediately afterward, the hen left the nest and spent about five minutes outside making one huge poop and scratching with the rest of the flock. Then she went back inside the coop, got a quick bite and a drink and hopped back on the nest. I gave her a break and brought the eggs laid by the other hens into the house. That’s when my worries began to shift.
According to the egg log, she laid an egg yesterday. (I wasn’t here. I didn’t know.) It began to look more and more like I had a broody hen. And that creates its own problems. First, according to what I’ve read, broodiness can spread rapidly through a flock and suddenly a chicken keeper will find herself with no eggs while her hens are raising the next generation. Second, all my eggs are collected and refrigerated. I don’t have any eggs set aside at room temperature to stick under a broody hen. Third, aside from the separate housing issue raised by problem one, doing the math means if I give her the next two days worth of eggs, she’ll hatch them out about two weeks before my 100+ mail order chicks start arriving to fill the brood house. Fourth, any offspring will be strictly a barnyard mix, not good for breeding stock but ought to be fair eating and decent egg layers.
By five o’clock today, my problem hen had passed an egg and now I have a decision to make. I can take the egg, and tomorrow’s, etc, and otherwise disrupt her until she gives up her broody ways. Or I can segregate her from the flock and give her some eggs to raise, keeping her occupied with golf balls until I have enough to make the clutch worthwhile. Considering the dead loss I had with hand raised chicks, perhaps I should give natural mothering a chance. But that poor hen is going to have to sit that nest through some pretty chilly nights. I wonder if she knows more about weather than Punxsutawney Phil.
The family is of the opinion we should let her do what she wants to do and not to worry about mongrel chickens. It’ll be a nest full of surprises, to paraphrase my daughter. I’ve got a box ready to go for her in the unoccupied part of the coop. I guess I’ll be moving her later tonight. I’ll figure out the long term housing needs later. I’ve got three weeks. . .
In which to restart the artichokes and the asparagus. Mine did not survive the beating the wind gave them yesterday as I foolishly moved them out into an unstable greenhouse. And this, ladies and gents, is why I’m not offering shares in the garden this year. I know the theory, but in practice and equipment and experience, well . . . nothing in my background gives me confidence that I can raise anything other than peanuts and sweet potatoes.
Not the best of days.