3.3.2013 Trouble under the Broody Hen

How do you know when a hen is broody.  Well, aside from the fact that she rarely ever leaves the nest, she blows herself up like a puffer fish and curses like a sailor when you come near.  If you are foolish enough to stick your hand under her to collect eggs, she's going to give you a firm peck and scold you for your lack of manners.  If you are still not sure if your girl is really broody, look around for the Turd of Motherly Distinction.  It's bigger than any chicken turd you've ever seen and it smells pretty darn awful.

Yesterday afternoon, I coaxed Widgeon off her nest for a few moments so I could check for eggs that weren’t supposed to be there.  I found an extra, unmarked Dorking egg amongst the six marked Dorking eggs and the six, no wait, five marked Sussex eggs.  One of the Sussex eggs was missing!  I checked all around the nest to see if it had gotten pushed out and hidden in the hay.  Nope.

In a panic, I came up to the house and candled every egg that I’d collected this week, in the unlikely event I’d picked up the marked Sussex egg by mistake.  That could happen.  Lighting inside the coop isn’t great and in dim light, neither is my eye sight.   It was even more unlikely that I wouldn’t notice the markings when I washed, weighed and sorted the eggs for sale.  But I would be mortified if a customer cracked open a “brooded for a week” egg.  No.  That would be bad.  Really bad.  So I candled.  My son helped me.  We went through all the eggs 4 times and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

At that point I’m scratching my head.  We’ve been leaving the little chicken doors open at night.  These go out into the fenced run, which is locked up at night.  Theoretically, a predator would have to go through the fenced run to get into the coop.  Possible, but not likely.

It’s too cold for snakes to be out and about.  Most other things that might have been able to get into the coop would eat chickens before they would eat eggs, wouldn’t they?  Coons, possums, weasels, foxes.  But other than a few feathers under the roost the past two mornings, all chickens are accounted for.

We discussed it and as a family decided it must have been a rat.  So we closed the chicken doors last night and that should have excluded any rats.  Mice can get in, but rats, not so much.

This morning, when I first went down to the coop there were still 11 eggs under Widgeon.  I went about my business of feeding, watering, mucking and putting down fresh bedding.  Widgeon was off her nest earlier than usual.  Other hens were poking around the eggs.  I shooed one Dorking away that seemed to be getting overly “peckish” with them.  I set out the fresh water and went to get some fresh hay.  By the time I had laid the hay in the Sussex side and returned to the Dorking side, there were 10 eggs in the unattended nest.  One of the Easter Eggers was standing over the nest pecking through the hay.

There, in the hay under the remaining eggs, was the tell tale sign of slime.  The missing egg had been broken open.  The shell was gone.  Completely.  No sign of yolk.  Just the white seeping through the bedding.  Did a rat come in during the short interval that I was gone, or did one of the hens take a sudden liking to raw eggs?  I still don’t know.

I replaced the bedding and set the remaining 10 eggs back in place.  Widgeon came back and settled over her clutch.  I finished the rest of my morning rounds and went back to the house for breakfast.  About an hour later, I went back to the coop to spray and oil and water mix on the roost bars (mite suppressant).  Widgeon was up off the nest again!  The eggs were a little scattered and cold.  So I gathered up the eggs and brought them in the house.  My husband brooded them for an hour or so while we waited for the incubator to come up to temperature.

Did I catch the eggs in time?  Did we keep them warm enough while we were waiting on the incubator?  Are the eggs even viable?  Are they dead and is that why Widgeon was off the nest today?  Is there a rat menacing my hens?

Monday update:  I candled the eggs the today.  Only one of the 10 remaining showed any sign of development.  It was a Dorking egg.  The rest of the Dorking eggs weren’t fertile.  I’m going to have to have a talk with Thundermuffin.  The Sussex eggs showed “something” but not anything good.  A few more days in the incubator and I suspect they’ll explode.  How sad.

Widgeon, now eggless, moped in a nest box today.   She is unwilling to admit failure and insists on being in a family way.  I have a plan though.  As soon as the Big Cold & Wet blows through here, I will set her up with some new eggs that I’ve started in the incubator.  I can check them before I put them under her and make sure they are fertile.  My current plan is to set her up in the horse trailer.   I figure in there, she’ll be reasonably safe from predators, advice from the other biddies and cannibals and with no distractions, she ought to stay put.  Well, I can dream, can’t I?

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