Ron doesn’t know this, but I slipped two eggs under Juliet today. I know he will say we have too many chickens coming this year, but what’s one more? I am sure she will be lucky to get one baby out of those three eggs. Our rooster (named Rooster) is getting pretty old. In fact, now that I think about it, I should probably slip one more egg under her tomorrow morning.
Here’s the interesting thing: Juliet is our girl who has a special dog crate in the garage for laying her eggs. She won’t lay in the nest box like everyone else. Yesterday was business as usual. She laid her egg in the late morning. Then, in the afternoon, I saw her back in her crate on her egg–only she was flat, like the pancake I was writing about previously. I’ve never seen a hen go broody on her own egg, but that’s what Juliet did. She does everything exactly how she wants to do it, I suppose.
Kate is still on her eggs, though I am hoping one will be a miracle egg. It’s a long story that I will only tell if it’s a good story. I should know by Tuesday or Wednesday, but it will take a miracle for it to work out. Thankfully, she has back up eggs. She rarely gets off her nest now, and after all of that drama with the babies, she’s very worried I am going to take her eggs. So I was only able to candle one egg that I added on her nest last week, and it was viable. My fingers are crossed for her.
Kate and Juliet were raised together. They are both named after characters in Shakespeare’s play. There was one other girl in that group–Bianca. She has never gone broody, Thank goodness for that.
Ruby is doing very well with her crew. They are getting so big that they can’t all fit underneath mama very well anymore, so when they are tucked in, you see little yellow heads and tails and beaks sticking out various places. I will try to get a picture tomorrow.
For now, I will wrap up tonight. I am working on the Summer Solstice issue of the journal. It’s going to be beautiful!
Every summer, at least a third of our flock goes broody. I’ve mentioned that we have to “break” most of them, as we can only let a couple raise babies. This week has been a really tough week in the broody hen department.
Some of our broody hens, even though they are normally not ones to fly, were able to fly out of broody-hen jail thanks to some strong will and determination. And since Ruby and her babies were running around the main area outside our home (separate from the chicken area), this was a problem. You definitely do not want a grumpy broody hen running up on Ruby and her babies. Ruby is fierce, but she is tiny.
And broody hens love to fight. We have had more arguments in the flock in the last week than in the whole last year put together—times 10. My goodness, I am worn from breaking up chicken fights. Normally, our flock is so peaceful.
After the issue with the fly-overs, I had what I thought was a great plan to keep Ruby and her babies away from the broody hens. During the day, I move Ruby and her babies to the area we call broody-hen jail, and I just let the broody hens run around the area around our house and the garage. This plan has worked fairly well—except for the first day.
I could see that Jane was trying so, so hard to get into the coop for much of the day. I kept trying to distract her with treats, but she was in the worst shape. She was with three other broody hens and would alternate between threatening and fighting with the others and trying desperately to get into the coop.
On the evening of the first day of this plan, when I was closing up the coop, my heart broke when I saw there was blood droplets all around the door and steps of the coop. At first, I panicked but then realized what must have happened. I went to check on poor Jane’s head, and sure enough, she had injured her little comb quite a bit.
I picked up that grumpy hen and just snuggled her. As I did, my hand was touching her belly, and it triggered her purring. Their instincts are fascinating. “Poor Jane,” I said to her. “I am so sorry you don’t get to be a mama, but you fight too much.” Of course, she just purred, and my heart broke for her again.
I am happy to report that, yesterday, after five days of banishment from the nest, that determined girl finally let go of being broody. Tonight, when I was fetching garden goodies for dinner, she was able to join the rest of the hens and eat some spinach and lettuce like everyone else. Her comb is injured but will heal, and, if I can, I’m going to try to let her have a clutch of eggs all by herself next year. Maybe, if she just raises a brood alone, she will do okay and not fight with people.
In the meantime, I started this process with four broody hens, plus Kate and Ruby, who are either on eggs or with babies. While I was working on that batch, two more hens went broody.
Oh, the chaos!
I think, as of last night, I might be down to just three broody hens. For real, just as I was feeling grateful for a little success, another hen went broody!!!! I went to the nest to see who it was, and it was Pumpkin, who also cannot be allowed to raise babies again because she had a very hard time mentally the last time she raised babies. She ended up disappearing for some weeks and coming home in the middle of the night with a scream. That’s another story.
For now, I’ll keep working on these broody hens, dealing with the chaos that broody hens bring, and feeling said that, yesterday, though we have 28 hens, we got 9 eggs–right before Solstice too when the days are so long that eggs should be a plenty. Sigh.
I have to write quickly tonight, as I have more chicken work to do thanks to Kate. I love that chicken to the moon and back, but I should have known she was going to be difficult with all of this chicken mama business. She was the most difficult, sassy baby chick I have ever seen. Of course, this made me fall madly in love with her.
I want terribly for her to get to be a mama. Unfortunately, when I went to check on her this morning, she acted like she wanted out of the crate. I am not one to force anyone into motherhood, as it’s the toughest job in the world, so I opened the crate and let her go first thing this morning. She went back with the flock and was scratching around in the grass this morning.
She has been broody for nearly two weeks, so I thought surely the move would work. But when I saw her with the flock, I thought maybe she had decided against broodiness and that the move to the crate had broken her broodiness.
However, about 15 minutes later, I saw her back in the nest box acting all broody–screaming at people in the coop. (I feel like it is important to know that I call animals people. There are chicken people, duck people. It’s not that I do not understand that they are a different species. It is just that we don’t have a word in our language to convey the fact that I see them as different but not lesser. When I read in Braiding Sweetgrass that Native American languages have words for “bear people” and “chicken people,” I was moved to tears.)
Anyway, Kate was back in the nesting box, doing her dinosaur scream at anyone who wanted to lay an egg today. I just shook my head and realized I needed a special plan for such a special chicken.
So, this is my plan, I let her keep the eggs under her this evening instead of collecting them. Then, at night tonight, I’m going to pull her out of the nesting box, keep the eggs right with her, and put her in the crate with the warm eggs. My hope is that keeping her belly warm with the warm eggs will help keep her focused on being broody. I’m trying to not “break the spell” if that makes sense.
I am about to head out there right now and try this. Wish me luck. I am supposed to pick up baby chicks from the breeder next week. If Kate won’t agree to this new arrangement tonight, I’m going to have to enlist Jane. She has done this before and knows the drill. She made the move just fine last year. But, goodness, she was a bossy mama and didn’t co-parent very well at all.
So, please cross your fingers for Kate. She is generally a very sweet hen. She’s just–particular about things.
Ruby is off her nest of eggs right now, and she has just 12 minutes before it makes an hour. I’ve read broody hens can be off their eggs for longer, but an hour is a safe window of time for a break. So, in the middle of writing this, I will have to go check on Ruby. She didn’t take a break at all yesterday, so I know she needs one. Still, I’m hoping she will get back to work soon.
It’s been really hot this week, very hot for May in Maine. Ron has been planting everything early but has been most worried about getting the broccoli and cauliflower going because it will bake in the heat and not produce. It needs our usual cooler temperatures. He did well, he got the plants into the ground, but getting hot this early is a concern. Hopefully, the plants will survive this heat wave.
The heat is hard on our animals too. We have several very old chickens. One is a meat bird, Mary Jane. If she makes it to the first of June, she will be five years old! This is something of a miracle, but she’s very large and very old, and I worry very much about losing her to the heat. Thankfully, our birds have a lot of shade from the many trees on our property, and I take great pains to make sure everyone has access to fresh water and cool treats throughout the summer. Still, a couple of years ago, we lost an older hen to the heat. I try to keep a watchful eye.
Yesterday, my son and I went for a walk on our road, and when we got home, I noticed the chickens looked so hot and dry. Earlier than usual, I went to the shed and got their extra waterer. I gave it a good scrub and put it out for everyone near the dust bath hang out. It was a hit. As soon as I sat it down, several chickens circled the waterer. They still had access to their main waterer, of course, but new is better. They always think this. When I am feeding scraps, I have some hens who will constantly move on to what I am dropping last, even if they are giving up a very good position with very good scraps I dropped earlier. Apparently, these hens do not understand the old saying, “a bird in the hand.” In so many ways, humans are the same.
While I was scrubbing the waterer, I noticed the ducks, who have their own area separate from our chickens. That’s another story in and of itself. We tried to keep our chickens and ducks together, as some farmers do, but it was a hard “no” for us. This meant Ron had to build an entirely new duck area complete with duck house and 1/2 acre fenced area. He’s kind of a miracle, though he doesn’t think so. Anyway, the ducks were watching me closely with the water hose, and one duck in particular, a duck we rehabilitated after she was over-mated at another farm, was making eye contact. Her name is Anna Maria.
I looked at her. She looked at the kiddie pool. I didn’t feel like scrubbing and cleaning their pool, as I needed to go make dinner, and we try to just do the pool clean just once per week to be frugal with water. They have access to large bowls with fresh water every morning, but the pool is pretty big. It hadn’t been a week yet since it’s last clean and fill, but when I looked at her again, she looked at the pool. I got the message.
“Alright, Anna Maria, hang on.”
I scrubbed and filled the pool with the sparkling water made extra beautiful by the fact that the kiddie pool is light blue. The ducks gathered and watched in anticipation. When the pool was filled Antonio, our only male duck, was the first one in. “Come on in, girls, the water’s fine,” he said with the bob of his head. The ladies seemed skeptical.
But after a few minutes, they couldn’t resist, and the girls piled in as well. But not Anna Maria. She waited. I went about my other work, as I knew she would get her turn. Indeed, she did. I came back by a few minutes later, and Anna Maria was in the pool with one other female. They were both ducking down and raising up, letting the cool water run over their heads, and my heart was so happy for Anna Maria. I will have to write more about her soon, but she has been though a lot in her life. Every single time I see her being joyful, I feel like I have done some good in the world.
I feel like I flail around the world most of the time–wanting to do some good, usually feeling helpless. I cannot affect much change in the world. I cannot convince world governments that we need to take action now on climate change, that Maine is too hot in May. I cannot even figure out how to help my children prepare for an ever-changing, more difficult world than I grew up in. I try but feel like a failure at every turn.
But I made Anna Maria’s life better.
And, yesterday, in the sparking water, as the sun shone on her between the trees, I saw a joyful duck, and there, before my eyes, was some good I have done in my life.
While writing this, I had to take a break and check on Ruby. Her hour was up, but she was still off her nest. Much to her dismay, I had to capture her, which is no easy task. Chickens are fast! But when I took her back to her eggs, she went to them immediately. She sat her little self down, adjusted her body to spread over the 8 eggs in her nest, and looked content. I guess she just needed to be reminded. She’s on day 2 of 21. On day 7, I’ll candle the eggs!