We have had chicken ever since we moved to the South of France, mostly for the eggs. I do always like a handsome rooster in the coop too, just for the pretty sight of it. Our Orpington rooster alas, we found one afternoon dead in the coop, so all we had left was our flock of pretty Orpington chicken. Although we read that this breed has good mothering instincts and certain breeds (Orpington!) are more likely to turn broody in the summer months (although it can happen at any time of the year), we were in for the eggs….
So imagine our surprise, never having had broody hens, to find three of our chicken sitting very flattened out on their empty nest (no eggs) all week and no egg laying… Worse, one of them hardly had any feathers left on her belly. Trying to approach them (to pick up a possible egg) resulted in a very territorial chicken, pecking at me and trying to bite me when I tried to move her, puffing her feathers out and squawking so loud that even the neighbours further up the road heard the commotion! Our friendly Orpingtons now hissed, growled, shrieked…
We suspected ill chicken and feared the worst! Till our French friends told us, no way, they are broody, they want to hatch eggs and raise chicks. The French solution, we were told, was to put their underside into cold water to get them out of their brooding mood, but I didn’t like that option. Apparently when a chicken is broody her temperature increases, that method should cool her down in order to break the broodiness. Laying eggs is an energy intense activity and a broody hen’s energy will be focused on raising her body temperature in order to keep existing eggs warm.
Not only did our first broody hen stop laying, but worst of all she caused two other hens to also turn broody, hence goodbye to their egg production. It is a contagious activity it seems.
We contacted the breeder that sold us our Orpingtons and got the same answer. A chicken will go broody whether or not you have a rooster, especially in the early spring and summer months.
Luckily our breeder had other solutions: she told us to put a fertilized egg under each broody mum (sadly enough we have no rooster and she had no fertilized eggs). Or to put a newborn chick (one or two days old from the incubator) under the broody hen, as being broody for too long is not the best for a hen’s physical health. And some hens will go broody frequently, even weeks after leaving their last batch of chicks…
So with a lot of questions and a cardboard box full of hay we went in the afternoon, to collect little chicks (not knowing their gender!) for our mothers at home.
And we learned a lot! Genetics, hormones, instinct, maturity and lighting conditions can all be factors to drive broodiness. Orpingtons are more prone to going broody than other breeds. The chicken will pluck their breast feathers so that their moist warm skin will keep the eggs warm, less danger from drying out because of the transfer of moisture between hen and egg and the feathers will insulate the nest.
The broody hen then will sit on top of the eggs on the nest (or on top of one without eggs as in our case) day and night (once daily she’ll go out to eat, drink or poop) in attempt to hatch them. It takes 21 days for fertilised eggs to develop into a new baby chick and hatch.
We were told to lift up the broody chicken, put the chick under it, close the coop for at least 24 hours, so that the rest of the flock couldn’t be aggressive towards them. The next day we could let the coop open but had to guard over the mums and chicks in order to prevent the other chicken to be nasty. Luckily Orpingtons are a gentle breed with a sweet personality so that didn’t happen.
I was a bit worried, as I didn’t see the chicks at all, they stayed all the way under their new mums’ wings for about 2 days. We added fresh water and chick food to each box daily (making sure they couldn’t spill it as left over food, spilt water or faeces are bound to attract germs), to make sure we could verify that mum and her chick in each box did eat and drink well, the mums teach their chicks how to do it all.
We didn’t set up a broody box as suggested by loads of online blogs, they stayed in their normal nest boxes and that turned out all right, but maybe with a more aggressive breed you’re forced to do that. Nor did we use anti mite powder or Diatomaceous Earth to prevent them from mites (as they’re more vulnerable it seems when broody), ours seemed to do just fine, maybe we were just lucky.
Of course we had to fortify our chicken coop fence with a much finer wire so the chicks in a few weeks wouldn’t walk out of the coop meeting our eager dogs. So the next couple of days we spend a lot of time in the coop doing that, whilst in the end seeing the mums and their healthy, adorable, fluffy baby chicks going out for a walk.
Now they’ve become ugly, a little bit bigger and skinny, but ever so fast growing chicks, very curious and running at full speed, following their mums.
So indeed Buff Orpingtons are very broody hens and we now know what broody hen season involves!
But hey, seeing the mother hens with the chicks, is pretty much one of the cutest things on earth (and the most natural).
PS: If you missed my first blogpost about our chicken:
Fallen in love with Orpington chicken