February 9, 2010

Desperation, hers not mine

sitting bantam hen, La Ceiba, HondurasSitting bantam hen

This hen is feeling the nesting instinct. The evil giant featherless monster (me) has been daily removing her eggs and the eggs that her friends kindly lay for her, much to her frustration.

only rocks in the nestTo show how strong that instinct is, the poor desperate girl is now sitting on a couple of rocks hoping for the best! I know those rocks were not there the day before this photo was taken. After removing the hen and eggs, I was admiring the little nest of leaves and it definitely was empty. Today − wallah! − the hen has laid two rocks and is keeping them warm and cozy.

One of the reasons that we all have eggs year around and they don't cost $1 per egg is that over the years, breeders have bred the nesting instinct out of most chickens. Hens naturally lay less when they are molting, in very cold or very hot weather, or when daylight hours decrease, and not all when they become broody or for several weeks afterward. Unnatural conditions of egg factories and breeding out certain characteristics solve most of those problems.

sitting bantam hen, La Ceiba, HondurasMy hens, being more closely related to the original red jungle fowl, have other ideas, though. Bantam hens are the absolute worst at going broody − always wanting to sit on eggs (for three weeks) to hatch them rather than laying eggs. So my hens, rather than becoming egg making machines, have taken it upon themselves to try to increase the chicken population of the world....or at least of La Ceiba.

When we first got chickens, I had visions of magnanimously giving out farm-fresh organic eggs to friends and family. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite feeding 18 chickens, we are still buying eggs!

To be fair, right now most of the chickens haven't reached the egg laying stage so we should see some improvement. But invariably, we have had one, two, or three hens (of four or five) in the broody stage and the others laying their eggs in precarious spots where the dogs can find them.

bantam hen, La Ceiba, HondurasThis hen has decided that it's time to increase the species again and I've been trying to disabuse her of that desire by removing her from the nest. I make half-hearted attempts to try to break their broodiness − like by dunking her in a bowl of cool water − but I don't like to upset them too much, so I usually give up and let them have their way.

Update: a week after I first wrote this, the hen is still sitting on the rocks.
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