Broody Jail

One morning Charlotte, one of the Golden Girls, went into the nest box.  When I checked that afternoon and found her still in there, I became worried.  I lifted her out of the box, told her it was time to eat and put her on the ground. 

 

She did not wander off in search of food as I’d hoped.  Instead -- as soon as her feet hit the ground -- she hunkered down, fluffed up and turned herself into an enormous chicken balloon.   It was a rather frightening metamorphosis, even more so when she began slowly bouncing up and down, chanting “pluck, pluck, pluck” with each bounce. 

I feared that she might be dying.  But how could that be?  She’d been perfectly normal up until now and, when I carefully checked her over, I found no signs of illness or injury.  She was the same fat, healthy hen she’d been yesterday.  

 

I concluded that her problem must be psychological; sweet Charlotte had gone bonkers.

While I was contemplating my over-inflated chicken, the situation suddenly took on a new dimension:  Charlotte’s bizarre weirdness attracted the attention of her sisters who came running to investigate.  Apparently chicken perceptions and opinions are based solely upon appearance and attitude for they did not recognize this enormous, fluffed-up, bouncing, ‘pluck, pluck, plucking’ apparition as one of their own and attacked her. 

I chased them away and told them they were very bad chickens. Then I put Charlotte back in the nest box and hoped that she would somehow morph back to normal.

With some sense of urgency, I rushed to my computer and googled “hen, sudden-onset psychosis” and, in no time at all, I’d learned that Charlotte’s odd behavior had a simple explanation.  She’d gone ‘broody;’ she wanted to be a mother and her obsession would last for twenty-one days which is the amount of time it takes to turn eggs into chicks.

Now, in the natural world, chickens (and all birds) are meant to lay eggs and then sit on them.  But motherhood has been bred out of chickens because it has a detrimental effect upon egg production –hens stop laying eggs for those twenty-one days.  But every now and then a hen will remember Mother Nature’s mandate and go ‘broody.’  Clearly, Charlotte intended to sit in that nest box until something of value came out from underneath her. 

What to do?  Cyberspace advised that I must “break the broody” by preventing her from sitting on eggs – or walnuts, golf balls, rocks, or any other objects she might find hatch-worthy.  To this end I should put Charlotte in a small wire cage hung from a tree until she gives up her maternal yearning.  

Well, I’m certainly not running the Inquisition in my backyard so I threw that idea right into the dumpster!  Instead, I came up with my own plan.  I’d simply eject her from the nest box every hour or so until she came to her senses.  

 

I thought it was a good plan.

 

It wasn’t.

For one thing, I’d forgotten to factor in the flock dynamic.  The sisters now considered Charlotte an Alien Invader who must be destroyed.  They chased her all over the yard – there were Golden Broody feathers everywhere.  Sharon, the Barred Rock Queen of the Flock, initially led the assault but by the third day she and her Barred Rock sisters had formed a united front and declared war on All of the Golden Girls.  My peaceful, harmonious, spiritually uplifting backyard farm had turned into a pecking, chasing, screeching war zone.  I’d lost control of my flock and nobody was putting out any eggs. 

And Charlotte was still puffed-up, bouncing and 'plucking.'

Chicken Inquisition

Clearly, I needed a new plan and fortunately one came to me.  Thus was born the concept of Broody Jail.  

 

I found a nice shady spot and constructed a three by three foot enclosure with plenty of food and fresh water, swept clean of any round object Charlotte might be inclined to sit on.  I had no idea if this would work but I certainly was not going to hang poor Charlotte in a tree.  And at least in jail, she would be out of harm’s way. 

Every morning for six days I collected Charlotte from the nest box and set her on the ground.  Every morning for six days she hunkered and fluffed and ‘pluck, pluck, plucked’ and I sent her back to jail.  Each evening, I returned her to the nest box before the other hens went in to roost.  There, she turned into an immobile, silent statue which did not alarm her sisters.

 

Absent Charlotte’s weirdness, her sisters forgot all about war and went back to egg production.  Certainly, Charlotte was not happy in jail but while in there she did no fluffing or hunkering or "plucking."   And on the seventh day, when I took her out of the nest box and put her on the ground, she was cured and wandered off to join her sisters. 

 

I waited with baited breath.  Would they hold grudges?  Would they attack her?

 

They did neither.  The other hens noted her arrival -- "Hey look!  Charlotte’s back!" -- and then returned to their pecking and scratching. 

 

Thus the war ended as abruptly as it had begun. 

Since that summer, I’ve had to send other broody hens to jail.  Last year, three of my girls did time but none were as committed to the role – or as weird – as sweet Charlotte.   

 

But, wouldn’t you know it, this year when I’m in desperate need of a broody to hatch Randy Rooster’s eggs, there’s none to be found. 

 

But that’s a whole other story….

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