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“Spring of the Broken Broodies”

Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed dubbing the seasons with the names of events that were memorable.  This spring definitely merits the title “Spring of the Broken Broodies”.  

I’ve hatched and raised thousands of chickens now, and even this year I’m seeing firsts.  The first spring broody of this year did something quite strange.  I kept her on golf balls for a few weeks, until a batch of chicks was hatched out in an incubator, then introduced 10 1-day-old chicks to her.  She accepted the chicks readily and cared for them in a small broody pen for the first week.  Then I let her out with the strong-and-spunky peeps.  She killed all but 1 chick within 2 days because she reverted back to wanting to sit eggs, in a nest box 4 feet off the ground, no less.  1 lone chick managed to learn to follow her up into the empty nest box.  It had to fend for itself snd return to it’s absurd sitting mother when it needed warmth.  After a week or so of this, she began dual-parenting; making an effort to raise this lone chick but not abandon her non-existant-eggs to chilling.  So she went from accepting and raising chicks, to sitting an empty nest, to trying to do both at once.   That’s a first for me!  

Now I have a new conundrum.  The second broodie(s) of the year, a pair of hens who sat and hatches together, hatched out 12 peeps about a week ago.  They’re confined to a 4×6 broody pen with solid walls and unlimited feed and water.  After week the chicks are beginning to die on me.  This pair of broodies is a new kind of bird-brained. They act as though they are still sitting eggs and won’t get up to care for the chicks they hatched.  They won’t teach them what to eat or walk around with them.  For the first few days this is okay- it’s a sign of a good, patient broody, as opposed to one that hops off the nest within a few hours of the first chick hatching.  They need a few days to figure their bodies out and work up an appetite!  But it’s now been too long and they still won’t get up with the chicks.  A good broody walks her chicks around, exercises them, gets their blood flowing and body temps raised as such, and shows them where all the good food is at, ensuring that they have full crops and happy gizzards all day long.  These chicks are distressed, no food in their crops, and even when I put the best chicken treats in front of the broodies (like chopped up greens and dead bugs!), they ignore the food and continue to sit absent-mindedly, not alerting their peeps to the delicious feast before them.  The chicks rely on a combination of a broodie’s warmth and physical movement to keep themselves warm.  Without the latter, they remain tethered to the broody, which means they’re not out eating.  At this rate it will be left up to the smartest of the chicks to understand what the best foods are and to find it themselves in the small pen.  It’s highly disappointing, to say the least!  3 broodies, between the first 2 hatches of the year, and both sets are doing the same thing; pretending to sit eggs and failing to care for their chicks properly.

Aside from those 3, I’ve had several broody clutches fail because I have 2 broodies that won’t stop pooping on their nest.  They just hold it for 3 days straight then let the giant poop loose on the whole nest of eggs without getting up.  This usually  kills all the eggs due to bacterial contamination.  When I discover this and the subsequent failed eggs, I have to remove them and try setting yet another batch of eggs under them- or I can keep them broody and get them to adopt chicks the next time I’m in need of a surrogate hen (which I’m strongly debating today with these 2 dual broodies who won’t care properly for their peeps!

It can be challenging without electricity for incubation and brooding setups.  You’re left to rely on the instincts of the hens.  This is where good flock management becomes useful; mark or cull the terrible broodies and make a note of which are the best broodies for less heartache in the future.  Leg bands are a good way to do this;  One can establish a “3-strikes-you’re-out” rule with bad broodies, or at the very least have an easy visual reminder discouraging One from trusting her yet again.

So far the first 2 hatches of 2021 have lost 16 out of 22 chicks…  What a terrible start to the hatching year! Thankfully I have nearly a dozen broodies on eggs, so despite the nonsense happening with a few of them, the promise of plenty of spring chicks is still on the horizon!  I’m so rich in hens at the moment that I might just start putting the worst broodies on the cull list for summer and fall downsizing.

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