Since I first got chickens, sometime around 2009/10 I have had a lot of hens go broody.
A broody hen, is a hen that wanders away from the normal place the other hens lay eggs, to lay eggs on her own, in hopes of hatching them.
One thing has been consistent with all of them. They always vanish off the face of the Earth for about a week or so, and then show up in panic mode from time to time to eat.
This season, all four of my hens went broody. Three of them managed to keep a chick or two alive. Heavy rains, and possibly predators took a heavy toll…But as of yesterday, I had four chicks that managed to survive to the point that they have lost their down, and have their first set of chicken feathers.
Through it all, the mother hens did their best to keep their peeplings fed, and protected from the rooster, who REALLY wants some attention, and from the other mother hens who simply want to keep their peeps fed.
Abby, the hen I have had the longest, hatched out 7 little peepers earlier in the season, and I caught her and put her in a pen with her brood to give them the best chance at survival.
In early August, another hen hatched out a couple of peeps, so I booted Abby and her brood out of the pen. Her chicks had feathers and could fly.
The problem was, Abby wanted to roost at night, and not all the chicks could get up to where she was. SadlyI lost all but one of her chicks on a night with heavy downpours.
This afternoon, while I was out feeding our rabbits and chickens I was surprised to see Abby at my feet with a whole batch of little peepers! They looked to be just a few days old.
I was surprised because I have seen Abby pretty much every day when I am out in the yard doing one thing or another. And not once did she act like she was broody! She even called her daughter in to eat when she found something tasty she wanted to share.
When I spread some chicken feed on the ground she called her little brood in.
This late in the season, a free range hen would be hard pressed to keep chicks warm as they grew, and nights get colder. I had to catch them if I intended to have them around come spring time!
My plan was to grab as many of the little peeps as I could, before Abby either pecked my eyes out, or skedaddled, along with her brood, deep into the burdocks and jewel weed just a foot or so away. T
I reached down into the pecking pile of fuzzy chicks, and came up with three little chicks, and stuffed them into the hem of my T-shirt, and folded them up into a little pocket.
That was when I got a second surprise!
As I expected, the remaining chicks ran for cover, but within seconds Abby called them right back to me! And it wasn’t because I was where the food was, as there was plenty of food scattered around because I wanted to make sure the other chickens stayed out of my way.
One by one I caught the little chicks. Seven in all and Abby made sure it happened…
And then? Well, then she simply let me scoop her up too! No panicked flapping and squawking, or anything! She sat right in the crook of my left arm, while I held the little pouch of chicks with my right hand.
She clucked softly to her chicks as I carried them down to the little pen out back. I was dumbfounded!
I headed back up to the front yard to grab a bag of shavings to put in the pen when I saw something that made my heart sink. I had apparently missed one of the little chicks!
It saw me, and ran for cover in the weeds. I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. I would never catch this little chick on my own, and it would never survive on its own when the rains came.
The only chance I had, was to go back and get Abby, take her back up front where the food was, and hope that she would call the lost chick in to her, allowing me catch it.
With seven chicks already in the pen, I knew that would be tough because another thing I knew about chickens is that the mother hen will always let the weakest chick fall behind to ensure the safety of the others.
I opened the pen and grabbed Abby. Her brood had been tucked under her and to get nice and warm. They were not happy to have their mother taken from them, and she was not happy to be leaving.
The further I got her away from the chicks, the louder the chicks peeped, and the louder the chicks peeped, the harder Abby fought to get away.
When I got up to the pile of food, I hoped her instinct to provide food would override her need to get back to the brood, and I put her down in the biggest pile.
Hopefully, she would sound her feed chuckle, and the lost chick, along with any others I may have missed would come into the open, and I could catch them.
No such luck. Abby ran as fast as she could from the pile, all along calling to her penned chicks as loud as she could.
She got half way back to the pen and stopped. I looked down, and there was the lost chick!
Abby stuck around long enough for me to catch the little chick, and made a bee line for the pen.
I opened the door to the pen and put the little chick in, and Abby hopped in behind him.
I decided to take her up one more time to the feed pile to make sure there were no other stragglers.
I set her down as before, and she ran-flapped-flew straight to the pen. No lost chick call or anything.
I confirmed with my wife that she hadn’t heard any other terrified chicks peeping for their mother, and went back down to put Abby in with her chicks.
This time she was back to her old self. If I tried to reach down to pick her up, she pecked at me and ran off. She scratched around looking for tasty critters to eat and made no attempt to get back in with her chicks.
They peeped and peeped their little heads off…But it seemed she knew they were safe, and she enjoyed a little alone time.
Finally, about ten minutes later and a snack of a few slugs she hopped up onto the roof of the pen and tried to find a way in. I opened the door, and she hopped on in, and settled down into the clean dry shavings and raised her wings.
The tiny little peeps snuggled down under her, and she made content little clucks as she settled down, and puffed up her feathers to keep her brood warm.