Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bring on the Broody Buster Box!

I haven't posted much about the girls lately because their life has been trucking on nicely with no hiccups. I enjoy normalcy when it comes to my chickens. I don't want to deal with any drama. I want them to be happy and healthy and provide me with eggs. The end.

But something has been different about Clementine lately. I don't think it would be noticeable to anyone else, but I can tell she's been a bit "off." Her cluck has changed a bit and she's not pushing Maggie and Sookie out of the way when I bring them treats. In fact, she's been hanging back and avoiding most of the treats I leave in the run.

I've also noticed that she's spending an inordinate amount of time in the nest box lately. We have two nest boxes, but apparently one isn't up to snuff because all three of the girls prefer the nest box on the right and won't even acknowledge the identical (evil) nest box on the left. I'll admit that when I first got chickens I was surprised to learn that hens usually share a nest box with other hens and that there is usually one or two coveted nest boxes in each coop.

Then yesterday I noticed that she was in the nest box in the morning. Then she was still in it in the afternoon. Then there she was at bedtime. That is not a good sign. She's always the first one up on the roost half-asleep and cooing when I lock them in their coop at night. I went out there this morning and there she is in the nest again and she's fluffy as all get out - almost twice her normal size when I got close. Like a marshmallow in the microwave, she expanded within seconds and even let out a low hissy-growl.

Then it hit me. Oh snap. She's gone broody.

You chicken people probably recognized this instantly. You non-chicken people probably don't know what broody means. When a chicken goes broody it means that she received notice from the mother ship that right now is the time to hatch some eggs. So she'll sit on the nest and she'll barely come off for food or water until whatever she's sitting on hatches. After 21 or so days, she'll have chicks and leave the nest to eat and drink and all is good in her world. This is fine if you've got fertile eggs in the nest.

But we are sans rooster and she's sitting on a Titleist and two infertile eggs. Sorry sista - but no matter how long you cook those, nothing is going to happen. And it's 90+ degrees here and if she keeps sitting there without eating and without drinking, she'll get weak and then she's vulnerable to a list of possible chicken diseases. Not good.

So I went to my #1 chicken source - the Backyard Chicken forum - and started reading up on how to "break a broody," meaning, how to get my chicken off that nest so she stops being broody and starts being chickeny again. The most common advice is to make a Broody Buster Box and shove the broody girl inside for a few days until she forgets about her golf ball and life returns to normal.

The idea is that you put the broody hen in a wire cage where air can get to her undercarriage and she doesn't feel the instinct to sit on a nest - she has access to food and water, but nothing else. It sounds mean, but the alternative is her getting weak and dehydrated and possibly dying on the nest. So I called Farmer B and started yammering on about how we have a chicken emergency and need a Brooder Buster Box NOW so he told me he'd ask around at work for a cage we can borrow for about 4 days.

So here we are hoping we can come up with a cage so that we can break this broody before I have to learn how to hook up an IV drip to a chicken. And I'm sure Sookie and Maggie would like me to get cracking on this box because they were standing there with their legs crossed looking anxious since their fat sister won't let them get in the coveted nest box so they can lay their daily eggs. They seriously look ready to bust.

I felt bad for them so pried Clementine off the nest, which was about as easy as ripping apart industrial-strength velcro while wearing mittens, and tossed her in the run for some fresh air. Saffie came up to the fence to inspect this bizarre creature and Clementine went all Tom Turkey on her, which was a behavior I've never seen in her before.

I yelled at Maggie and Sookie to go for the nest but they were too busy eyeballing their strange fluffy broody sister. As soon as Maggie snapped out of it and turned toward the coop, Clementine shot like a rocket back inside and I think we all know where she is right now.

If you're wondering how often a hen goes broody, there isn't a straight answer. It varies dramatically from hen to hen. Some will go broody every few weeks. Others a few times in their life and some think motherhood is for the birds (not chickens) and never go broody. If I manage to break Clementine it'll be interesting to see if she goes broody again or if this was a one-time deal.


Erin said...

OMG how would you like it if someone took away your precious baby and stuck a Titleist on your breast, LOL??!! Seriously Kate, I hope all goes well, I don't have chickens yet but have ready it 5000 times getting ready, yet personal experience is the big teacher, so I can't wait to see how it goes. And Clementine struts like a turkey in her run! good luck mama!

Melissa said...

I knew what was going on in your chicken world as soon as I started reading this post. We had the greatest fun about 3 months ago when one of our Australorps went broody. She was such a sweetheart to us - ruffled her feathers and made momma noises when we came near, but let us look under her a billion times and even move her and her one babe when the blessed hatching happened. I got such a kick out of watching Momma teach her Peeper about chicken life.

I hope all goes well with the breaking of the broody. We no longer have a rooster, so may have to do the same if we get any more broodies.

Dani said...

Peanut, Silky, and Laverne went broody about two weeks ago. *sigh*

Kate and Crew said...

Dani - how did you break them? I know Clem hasn't been eating or drinking and her comb and wattle are a much lighter pink than her sisters'. I have read about chickens in hot weather getting sick and dying after getting so dehydrated so I do worry...

Dani said...

I've just been locking them out of the coop for the last few days. They're not happy with me AT ALL!!

Stefaneener said...

Good luck. They can sure be persistent little boogers.

Jamie said...

Oh crap! I am SO not ready for this drama in my coop. Please oh please oh please don't let the broody bug hit my girls!!
Last week one of mine did seem to stay on the nest longer and gave me a hiss when I peeked in on her, but it didn't last longer than one afternoon. I think our girls are close to the same age (a year old in April?) Eek!!!
(And my girls also favor only the box on the right... too funny.)

Melissa said...

Hi Kate - saw this post on a Yahoo group I'm on and thought of you.

Breaking broodiness
Posted by: "redontug" redontug
Wed Jun 2, 2010 7:17 pm (PDT)

Last week one of my standard breeds, a Golden Comet named Priscilla, went broody. She sat on eggs last year, and is a very persistent broody, and nearly starved herself to death. I didn't feel that I could accommodate her sitting on or hatching eggs this year, so I wanted to break her of her broodiness.

I remembered reading a message that Diane from Australia had posted a month or so ago, so I searched back through the messages and found her description of her "Australian" method of breaking a broody. This simply involves putting the hen in a little pen or area of her own, a boring spot that is protected from sun and rain, and has food and water.

So I tried this - just fenced a very little space off in the middle of the chicken yard, put a tarp over top for shade, put in water and grain and Priscilla. I would take her out at night and put her up on the roost in the coop with the others, but made sure to block off the nest boxes so she wouldn't get in them first thing in the morning.

She clucked in her little prison from Tuesday until Friday, and woke up Saturday morning completely back to normal!!

She seemed to suffer no stress or distress at being in the prison, as the other chickens all hung around and visited her. It was also completely stressless for me, and so easy!

Highly recommended!

Kathleen in Upstate NY

Kate and Crew said...

Melissa - thanks for the info! My problem right now is coming up with a cage - we haven't been able to come up with anything :(

she's just sitting on the nest getting dehydrated :(

I keep throwing her off, but she's back on in minutes...

Unknown said...

I do not have chickens but I will eventually when we move to our North Florida home near Live Oak.
I have been reading all about chickens.... Pocketful of Poultry which shows me the kinds of chicken and Backyard Chickens for learning about having chickens BUT most of all your blog. It is totally awesome. I did not know what BROODY was but now I do. I had no idea WOW how sad. I just thought that if there was no male about to make babies that the hens would just not get all MOTHERy if you know what I mean.

How about showing us a picture of the Broody Buster Box.

Is there a link I can put on my blog to follow you?

Kate and Crew said...

Tricia - sure! Just use the main link to my blog on your blog - and you'll see my little blog!

I just posted today - June 9th - with details on the broody buster box if you're interested!

Anonymous said...

Help our Orpington beauty has gone broody.My husband has built a broody buster but do we put in a roosting bar. If she goes in the Eglu at night she 'roosts'in the nest box

Anonymous said...

I have silkie hens which are about as broody as they come and with my girls all I have to do is take them off the nest acouple times a day and they will stop or during the day I'll take the food and water outside and shut the coop. This works for me because my girls lay overnight and all tend to go broody at the same time.

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