We've had three broody hens locked in a separate pen sitting on eggs. I honestly didn't expect much because "everyone" says: They have bred the broodiness right out of the hatchery hens. Well - it seems that is not the case. My son and I have been pecked and squawked at so much this spring that we decided to find the three worst offenders and see if they were serious about sitting. THEY WERE!
I don't know why this amazes me so much but I am. We've been checking every day and yesterday there they were. Two momma's and 5 chicks down on the floor and one more momma still sitting in the nesting box on top of at least 6 more chicks.
BIWAF - Before I Was A Farmer I had no idea about how this all worked so let me explain in Magic School Bus language. Chickens lay an egg an average of 5 or 6 times a week - basically once a day in the early spring/summer and a little less in the late fall/winter. It has nothing to do with it being cold and everything to do with the hours of daylight available to the hens. That's why traditionally there was a glut of eggs in the spring and summer and much less in the fall and winter. The number of eggs can be manipulated by adding lights to the coops to extend the "daylight" and confuse the hens. It's a long and troublesome conversation to have with chicken owners - some believe the hens should have a rest and therefore no additional lighting. Some seeing the financial/practical side and leave the lights on because consumers have lost touch with the cycles of life and don't really understand when suddenly there are no eggs to sell them in December.
Chickens may be tricked into laying eggs all winter but somehow they know when it's spring-for-real because they get broody. Broody - means a generally quiet and contented hen turns into the Terminator and will peck your hands to the point of drawing blood. They are really great little protectors! Those meanies are the ones who want to be momma's!
We have a coop of 60-70 chickens with several breeds represented. We have about 14 nesting boxes for them to share but sharing to chickens is all about seeing how many of them can cram into one 12x12 box at the same time and still be able to lay an egg. I've found as many as 4 in one box - with many empty boxes available. Of course there are always some hens that cross their legs and wait till you let them out and no-joke - they come tearing out the door to find their favourite hidey-hole no matter how long you keep them cooped up!
Our egg-layer pen is actually two pens with a little mini-door connecting them. Most of the year the mini-door is open so they can go back and forth between them but coming sittin' time we allow for one day of egg laying in the nests and then lock the broody hens in and everyone else out. That means that in our situation the hens are actually sitting on everyone else's eggs - thus the colourful offspring!
The really interesting part is when you have a hen that sits on her own eggs. She will faithfully lay an egg a day in a nest in some out of the way place in the barn (that usually ends in disaster when a raccoon finds the nest). Day one - one egg. Day two - one egg and so on until she has what she considers enough - usually 10-15 eggs. The day arrives and she decides - today I will sit. She will barely leave the nest to eat and drink and 21 days later the little cuties will be peeking out from under momma. Stop and think about that for a minute. They all hatch the same day. That means the egg she laid on day one has been sitting there for 2 weeks before she sat on it and then another 21 day afterwards. Isn't that something!!
Our 50 hatchery chicks who are now a week and a half old were out growing their brooder box so we decided to put them in the pen with the momma's and the babies and see what happened. We added just one at first to make sure the momma's wouldn't go psycho and kill it. She just sniffed it and under it's wings it went. I'm sure she must have thought - MY - WHAT A BIG CHICKIE YOU ARE!!! All went well but when we added the other 49 chicks the momma's weren't fooled so easily. They have become two camps in the same pen but seem to be co-existing quite well.
Chicks are so much fun...so let's do the math: 70 layers plus 50 meatie bird chicks plus at least