Learning About Broody
You might ask – Hey, Lisa… isn’t that the same picture of Blanche from the other day? And I might answer you – why, yes it is! And why, Lisa, do you put this same picture up again? Well… because this is how she still looks. Exactly the same. And I tried to take a new pic today, but with the dark rainclouds, there wasn’t enough light in the coop to get a good one.
And here’s the thing… it’s getting old. The first time I booted her out of there, just over a week ago, she was sitting on her own egg. The next day she was on a blue egg. Two days later she was on another blue egg. And since then? Nothing. It’s like she’s laughing at me. “Take THAT away, Lisa!” “Can’t take NOTHING away from me, can you? MUAHAHAHAHA!!!” For several days now, every time I check the coop, there she is – glaring at me, puffed up, and hunkered down in her perfectly-arranged nest; every piece of straw has been thoughtfully placed just-so in a neat circle. She begins her rhythmic clucking as soon as I look her way – “buck. buck. buck. buck.” And she puffs up even more. But, she’s given up the raptor screeching and hand-pecking. And so I reach under her fluff to feel for the eggs that are not there. And then I grab her and pull her out. She tries her damndest to stop me… fluffed as big as she can go, she tries to spread her wings and grab at things with her feet so that she’s wedged in there. But in the end, I always win.
Once out, I put her down on the floor, where for a minute, she continues as if she were still in the nest… puffed, glaring, and sitting, not moving. “buck. buck. buck. buck. buck.” It’s like she’s in a trance.
Sorry for the crap picture… the light was really low… but you get the point. Anyway, eventually, she snaps out of it. She stands up, shakes herself off, and goes for a drink, poops a large poop, and starts scratching for food. But, left to her own devices, within a minute or two, she puffs herself back up, starts her clucking, hops up on a ramp, glares and clucks at me, then makes her puffy way directly back to her chosen nest and settles back in. ARRRRGH. Two minutes of food and water is NOT enough to keep her alive. So, I have taken to carrying her outside into the grass when I let the others out to free-range. This gives me hope every time. She acts completely normally; she scratches, grazes, dust-bathes, and runs around. She does not head immediately back into the coop. But, alas, I hope in vain. When everyone is done and heads back to the coop, she simply hops up on the ramp and goes right back to her nest. She has not forgotten. Score: Blanche – 982, Lisa- 0.
I read about this. I read about broodiness for YEARS before I got chickens. Because I’m a nerd. Because I wanted to be prepared. Because, at the time, any chicken info was good info. And because of all that, I thought it would be no big deal. I was wrong. WHAT AM I GOING TO DO??? I know for a fact that she’s not eating and drinking enough. I know that hens really do go into something like a trance while broody. They get up, on their own, about once per day to eat, drink, and poop. And then it’s back to sitting. And they only do that much if the food and water is convenient. Otherwise, they might forego even that for the “sake” of their eggs. Instinct is an incredible thing. I once read about a hen that was so determined to hatch some eggs, that when her owners kept taking them away from her, she disappeared. They found her a week later under a tree, sitting on a pile of walnuts. Take THAT, humans! Blanche would happily hatch some walnuts.
Anyway, I just don’t want her to starve herself. And at this point, I figure I have exactly three options:
One – I let her sit on some eggs and hatch some babies.
Two – I try to “break her up.” (more on this in a sec)
Three – I try to wait it out and hope that nature does the right thing and stops the broodiness before she starves.
To be honest, if I were on my own, I would probably do #1. I can’t help myself. To me, it actually seems like the easy way out – Blanche gets what she wants, and we get babies! Voila! However, Brian heartily disagrees with this sentiment and believes we have too much going on to worry about new babies. I personally think that it wouldn’t be a big deal… mama would take care of them and we would hardly have to do a thing. Anyway… so this is not the likely outcome at this point.
Option number two is very unappealing to me. This one seems like the most work and the most heartache all around. When you try to get a hen out of broodiness without letting her hatch chicks, it’s called “breaking up broody.” The way you do this is to put her in a physical situation in which she cannot comfortably settle down to sit… for a few DAYS. Generally, you build a small cage out of wire mesh and then put it up on cinder blocks to keep it off the ground. You place food and water and the chicken in there and she stands there, uncomfortable, unable to sit, perch, or walk around for several days. Apparently this sucks the broodiness (and happiness, if you ask me) right out of her. I really, REALLY don’t want to do this.
Option number three is a game of chicken, pun intended. I go out there everyday and boot her out of the nest a couple of times and hope that she gets enough food an water to survive until she gets over the broodiness on her own. I believe this could take weeks, at worst. And what if she wastes away to nothing during this time? What if I go out and find her dead on the nest one day? How could I live with myself? These are not easy questions.
So, in conclusion – I don’t know what to do. Any thoughts?
What I’ve Learned About Hawks
Ok, that’s officially the worst picture of me of all time… but it’s the only one I’ve got that can illustrate this point – back in June, I fraternized with the enemy. That’s right, I’m guilty as charged. In the most amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, my mother-in-law-to-be (now just mother-in-law) took me and my sisters-in-law-to-be to The Homestead in Virginia where we got to take an introductory falconry class! It’s one of a tiny handful of places in the world where such a thing is possible… and it was totally unforgettable, magical, amazing, incredible… there are no words. Anyway, we got to meet and learn about several different birds of prey that are used in falconry, and we even got to fly a Harris hawk into a tree and back ourselves.
In the most incredible and eye-opening lesson, the trainer had two of us stand face-to-face about six inches apart. Then she got behind us so that it was a straight line from the hawk in the tree to the trainer, with the two of us in the way. Then she got out food (which happened to be bits of leftover male chicks from hatcheries… I always wondered what they did with those!). The hawk took off from the tree, soared directly toward us, then tucked her wings into her body for a split second and slipped through the six-inch space between our bodies, shot them out again, and glided to the trainer’s arm to receive her reward. I will say at this point that a Harris hawk is not small like Lexi n that picture… the typical wingspan of a Harris Hawk is 3.6 feet!
The point of this breathtaking demonstration was that food matters first and foremost to a bird of prey, and once it locks on and decides to go for it… just about nothing will stop it. The trainer said that had we closed the gap between our bodies after the bird had taken off, she would not go over or around us. Instead, she would try to beat her way through the closed space in order to continue in the most direct line to the food. (Jinks, Elizabeth, Meredith – if any of you are reading this and have pics of the flying demonstration, I would love a couple of them to post here to make this entry more exciting. I have no pics myself. I stole borrowed these from Mere’s Facebook.)
I took that opportunity to ask the trainer if she had any thoughts about how to better protect my chickens from hawks. I told her for now, I just babysit them when they are out of their secure run. That’s when she told me that even that might not be good enough, in Fall. Come Autumn, and the babies born that Spring will be gearing up for their first Winter and only a very small percentage of them actually make it that full first year… so as food becomes scarcer as the weather cools, the raptors become more desperate. That’s when they may lock onto a chicken and dive for it, whether or not I’m standing right there with my peacemaker.
Anyway, somehow this post has gotten away from me and become a lots-of-writing-not-enough-pictures-post… forgive me if I’m too long-winded. Sometimes it just comes pouring out of me. Sometimes I have just a little too much useless information lodged up in my brain. Nevertheless,that whole thing was my long way of telling you that I have decided that it was a valuable lesson I learned there on the falconry field that day. It is most certainly Fall here now. And that frost made for some hard-up critters all around. Recently, I have found the protective burlap wraps on four of my baby fruit trees gnawed away and bunny teeth-marks in the trunks. With no more plant to chew, I found three caterpillars (read: embodiments of evil) attempting to eat my green pumpkins, along with some bunny teeth-scrapings on them.
And Oh, the hawks! Day before yesterday, a small kestrel swooped straight toward my office window at a billion miles per hours, pulled up short, disappeared in the grass for a split second and then came away with what appeared to be a frog in its talons. Then yesterday I was out with the chickens when a kestrel came like lightning out of a tree and headed, like a bullet, for it seemed my head, or maybe my chickens at my feet. In the second it took my brain to register what was happening, I stupidly watched it bob and weave its way toward me as it had closed most of the distance between us. I realized at the same instant both that it was headed right for us and that it was way too small to try for a chicken (I think). Reacting in the only way I knew how, I lifted my plywood board in the air and waived and yelled at the small hawk. At the last instant, it swerved right and grabbed an unsuspecting mouse from the blackberry brambles and was gone in the blink of an eye.
Then there was today. Today I was out with the chickpeas, and as they were helping clean out my emptied garden boxes, planes sometimes flew overhead. On some days around here, there are no planes. Other days there is one every few minutes… from large jets to small, old-fashioned, private aircraft… some days they are all routed over my house. In general, when the chickens see a plane, the boys look up at the sky, yell, “hawk!!” and everyone freezes and looks up. Sometimes a few or all head toward the coop before forgetting about it. Sometimes they look only for a moment and then relax. All in all, it’s not the same panic that ensues when there is a real hawk. So, today it was strange to me when a plane flew overhead and the “hawk!!!” calls kept coming. After a moment, everyone started running at top speed for the coop. Then the whole flock paused at the door to the run. I thought they realized it was just a plane. Idiot me was standing there, looking up at it, saying, “it’s just a plane! what’s the big deal?” Then they started up again, “hawk!! hawk!!! haaaaaaawwwkk!!” When the whole group finally ducked completely inside the coop, I closed the door behind the last rooster, shaking my head. Silly chickens. WHOOOOOOOSHHHH!!! “HAAAAAWWWWWKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!” said JB and Soup from the safety of the run.
It flew right over my head. Like three feet over my head. I could practically reach up and touch it. And that, folks, is the lesson for today. That hawk was coming whether I was standing there or not. And my chickens had enough brains between them to get themselves to safety, no thanks to me. I stood there, leaning on the door, stunned. “You guys saw it and I didn’t. You’re good roosters. I can’t believe I didn’t see it! Holy crap.” It was a big hawk. This was no kestrel. It could have killed a chicken, I’m sure. I looked it up and I believe it was either a Cooper’s Hawk or a Northern Goshawk (pronounced goss-hawk).
This afternoon, as I was back working on the computer, I saw movement out the window again. It was my friend the low-flying hawk, and this time it was flying right past my window with a big rat in its talons. The birdies are hungry, my friends. It’s that time of year. And I am going to have to keep a particularly close eye on my own feathered friends if I want them to be safe while playing in the grass. With freedom comes risk, I suppose.