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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Double Edged Sword

As I firmly believe in sharing our successes and failures...here's a problem we're dealing with right now:  
Egg Eating Hens and Broody Hens

First, the egg eaters.  Every once in a while we have a hen that will accidently break an egg and they will eat egg and shell.  This lets them discover what we already know...their eggs are delicious!  And that can lead to habitual egg eating.  We don't often have this problem and the remedy is quick.
It starts with a single peck!

We put two golf balls in each nest box and collect the eggs three times a day, rather than just two.  The golf balls are the same weight as eggs and are hard.  So if a hen is looking for an egg snack, they are foiled.  And this works wonders!  We had an egg eater or two causing trouble, added the golf balls and it stopped the next day.

Second, broody hens.  We raise heritage breed hens for a variety of reasons:
1.  They are larger bodied and that allows them to keep warmer in the winter and the decrease in body weight each time they lay an egg.  This is more natural and is not as hard on the hen as one that would be a smaller body type.

2.  They are much more aggressive foragers and we need chickens who will utilize our grass.

3.  Heritage breeds are much more calm than the hyped-up "race car" hybrid chickens.  

But when we use heritage breeds, they come with a downside.  And that downside is broodiness.  Broodiness is the desire of a chicken to sit on a nest for the purpose of incubating eggs.  And since we don't need our hens to hatch eggs, this has been a bit of a problem with 5 of our hens.  This trait of broodiness is not expressed equally in all hens.  Some are much more broody than others.

So what do these broody hens do?

They sit in the nest boxes all day and night.  They don't lay eggs.  They just sit there.  And take up the space that the hens who would like to lay eggs want to use.

Normally, the cure for broody hens is to remove the eggs often.  But we have the golf balls in the nests...

Do you see the problem??

We have 5 hens who sit in nest boxes all day, every day and they're trying to hatch golf balls!!

It would be frustrating, but when you're dealing with an animal that has a brain smaller than a pea, you have to cut them some slack.  They are operating by instinct.  Now we learn how to best use that instinct.

These 5 hens are getting picked on by the hens who want to lay their eggs in the nest boxes.  To get them to vacate the nest box, the non-broody hens will peck at the head feathers of the broody hens.

(Don't worry, those feathers will grow back quickly and she'll be back to looking like a non-broody hen.)

We've spent a great deal of time reading about broodiness.  Hens are the most broody before the summer solstice and since that happened last week, we're hoping to see some reduction in the broodiness of these 5 hens.

As always, we are reading and learning and refining our management of these marvelous birds.  One of the selection criteria for future laying hens is their degree of broodiness.

1 comment:

  1. I have two broodies right now, one friendly, one not. Actually the "friendly" is probably just zoned out...the unfriendly one is downright mean - took a good chunk of me the other day, and got taken off the nest in response. I've never tried the golf balls for egg eating - I have heard of using them to teach pullets where to lay though. I do get egg eating occasionally so I'll give it a try.


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