Just over three weeks ago, I reported to Sow and So that we had a broody hen sitting on a nest of seven eggs. Well, guess what… we now have five baby chicks at the Villas and two (I’ll explain later…) very proud mums!
It all began when one of our hens called Nougat started to display signs of broodiness. For a couple of weeks I did my utmost to persuade her to snap out of it (a broody hen means no eggs) but she was clearly determined. So, as we needed to increase the size of our flock, we submitted to nature and gave her a job to do.
For the twenty-one day incubation period, Nougat had to be lifted off the nest daily to eat, drink, stretch her legs and wings, dustbathe and defacate – all in under ten minutes. Goodness only knows how chickens used to manage in the wild… but then thinking about it, historically they are one of the oldest domesticated creatures on the planet so I guess the situation didn’t arise! Anyhow, our first time mum took the job in hand very seriously and happily her devotion to duty has now paid off.
The first three eggs hatched ten days ago, within 24 hours of eachother. Two black chicks and a silver-grey one, all adorable. Then two days passed without incident, leaving four unhatched and somewhat vulnerable eggs in the nest. Nougat lost interest in incubating them busy caring for her newbies, so we decided to remove them and put them under Old Black – another first-time-mum who’d decided she wanted a piece of the action and had gone broody a week or so earlier.
Spring’s in the air – at last – and lo and behold we have a broody hen! Normally this would cause irritation at the Villas because while a hen’s broody she’s not laying eggs. But this time we’ve decided that because we want to increase our flock we’d let nature take its course and give her seven eggs to incubate. Not necessarily her eggs mind you, a broody hen’s not fussy …and an odd number of eggs because an even number never fits under a hen so comfortably.
A broody hen behaves in a very specific way – quite unmistakable. She loses interest in everything around her and totally focuses on the job in hand. It’s a very powerful state of mind that takes over for exactly 21 days and the mother hen has to be lifted off the nest once a day to allow her to get food and water then gently placed back on the nest fairly swiftly so that the eggs don’t get cold. For the few moments that she is off the nest she clucks loudly and puffs out her feathers which for some reason, seems to annoy the other chickens something rotten. In fact it’s not unusual for one or two of them to have a go at her and sometimes a scuffle breaks out – could it be jealousy? Jealous that the broody has become the centre of attention? Maybe.
Anyway, our broody hen is called Nougat. She is a first-time-mum and is taking the job very seriously. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to post news updates and photos of our mum-to-be on Sow and So in order that you can enjoy this fascinating experience with us. It’s quite magical. Watch this space!
Our flock of chickens is down to seven – six hens plus a cockerel and I would like to increase it to ten. So the other day I went onto the Internet to find a local poultry supplier, of which there are several in Norfolk. The one that caught my eye was Picton Farm (Twitter: @PictonFarm_Jen), ideal because of its close proximity to the Villas.
So, on Sunday morning that’s where we went. Fortunately the rain held off for the duration of our visit, well almost – and the sun even came out at one point. We’d arranged to arrive at 10.30 but the journey took very slightly longer than we had expected (Picton Farm is in the middle of nowhere) and we didn’t roll up until about a quarter to eleven…
At first we couldn’t see anyone – lots and lots of chickens but no sign of any humans and when I tapped on the front door, there was no reply. Through one of the windows though we happened to catch sight of a stack of egg trays laden with eggs of all sorts of colours including dark brown, white and some very unusual shades of blue and green…
Michael climbed up on a bench and caught site of a lady in a bee suit about 50 metres away tending to some hives. We called out to her, giving her a cheery wave and luckily she saw us and headed in our direction.
All female chickens lay eggs with identical nutritional content, but some bird varieties have been bred especially for their egg-laying capabilities and are therefore superior laying chickens. For example, Rhode Island Red hens are excellent for consistent, nearly-daily laying and produce about 300 eggs per year. Not all breeds perform this well though…
At the Villas we have seven laying hens and a cockerel. Two of our hens (Pinky and The Brain – named after the TV cartoon characters) are Buff Orpingtons that we bought as week old chicks but the rest are home grown hybrids. Bee the cockerel keeps them all in check with aplomb and they clearly love having him around!
Something I never realised before we had chickens is that you don’t necessarily get eggs all year round – a bit like fruit and vegetables, they can be and in our case are a seasonal commodity! Our chickens stop laying in October or November and we have to manage without eggs (or admit defeat and buy from the supermarket) until late January when the nights start to draw out again. Apparently it’s all down to the number of daylight hours.
The age of the hen is also a factor as egg numbers decrease with time. At the moment ours still reward us with an egg a day when they are in egg laying mode but maybe next year one or two of the older ones might start producing an egg every other day… and so on and so forth.