Martin Gurdon’s broodies
With Dot, Dash and Priscilla incubating bedding and the occasional egg, it is only a matter of time before Commer succumbs
There is a sense of frustration in the garden, which has been growing and getting worse as the weeks have gone by. The end products have been fewer eggs and more irritability. This is because some of our seven hens have gone broody.
Dot the bantam started the trend about two months ago. She had missed a couple of meals and I found her in the nest box, hunkered down, bum in the air and clamped to a clutch of eggs.
Removing this bundle of fury and planting her near the drinker and food bowl didn’t go down well. Dot stuck out her neck feathers, screamed and attacked my hand, only to eat and drink with enthusiasm once I’d let go of her.
When the bird returned to her gloomy nest box vigil she was undeterred by the fact that I had removed the eggs she had been heating up, presumably confident that Dot and Dash would soon lay some replacements.
So it proved, which has meant a war of attrition at mealtimes involving twice daily chicken and egg removal. After about four weeks, during which Dot showed no signs of waning enthusiasm for parenthood, I opened the henhouse trap door to find that only Wonky the cockerel and Commer the bantam could be bothered to emerge.
I opened a nest box to find Dot puffed up and spread out like a psychotic, feathered granary loaf. Squeezed in next to her, and equally broody, was Dash.
This resulted in double the mealtime angst as two birds had to be yanked from their nests (Dash soon having commandeered the other nest box).
At the moment we don’t want the hassle and potential heartbreak of chicks (think avian child mortality and unwanted cockerels), but my attempts at discouraging Dot and Dash from brooding have proved entirely fruitless and with only Commer in lay, most of the time they have nothing to sit on egg-wise.
Their absence has not improved Wonky the cockerel’s temper. When they are in his orbit both are more resistant than usual to his advances and when removed from their nests and plonked on the grass they scream when he goes anywhere near them. Wonky hasn’t taken rejection well, and he has started pecking them in a peevish way. When he isn’t doing that, Dot has a habit of savaging Dash and both will take a pop at Commer if the mood takes them. So the atmosphere in the henhouse is tense to say the least.
Eight weeks into this nonsense and neither bird shows any sign of losing interest in brooding, enjoying the summer and quitting their nests, and perhaps our other birds have noticed and been inspired by their behavior, because in the last few days Priscilla, our ageing, stately Brahma hen, has gone down the same hormonal route and has withdrawn into the corner of her henhouse to cook her bedding and the very occasional egg.
As of this morning, Commer was exhibiting similar inclinations. Oh dear. To win a copy of Martin’s book, Hen & The Art of Chicken Maintenance, turn to page 13.
Dash (on the left)
Dash is broody
Dot is broody
Priscilla is broody