All was going well with the girls in the spring. Moulting season had ended so all were looking perky and tip top, their feathered flares, bustles and bootees appearing their very best. And didn’t they know it!
They were also putting 110 per cent into their work. For the first time, all three were laying and I was getting three eggs a day. (This coincided with a time of looking after my colleague’s hens at the allotment so I was actually getting 7 eggs a day altogether! I was having to give them away!) 🥚🥚🥚
And then one day, Jemima went on strike. Just like that. She wouldn’t leave the nesting area, not for food or water or grit. Or even to be sociable with the other ladies. And she wasn’t laying either. She wasn’t literally on a strike (they were getting the best conditions I could give them, what more did they want?!) And she wasn’t being deliberately awkward, awkward yes, but not on purpose.
She was being broody. Our fluffy white-feathered Jemima wanted to raise a family.
Earlier, I had been concerned Florence was going to go broody as there were a couple of times when she headed to her nest box and when I tried to take her out, she opened her beak and made a shrieking sound. Not like the nice Florence I used to know. But this only happened a couple of times.
But Jemima had it bad.
I had read that brooding hens can become aggressive if you try to move them (see Florence above). But Jemima was more docile as a broody than her normal self.
Every morning, I had to pick her up and put her outside where there was food and drink. I would close the pophole door so she wouldn’t head back.
One week later, Florence joined her. Unlike before, Florence was no longer trying to be aggressive (as much as it is possible for Florence to be aggressive!) Unfortunately, also unlike before, this was no brief foray into the world of brooding, but a fully concentrated effort. When they still laid eggs, they would sit on them, presumably waiting for them to hatch. I took the warm eggs away and they still insisted on sitting on… Nothing.
Now Dottie has also stopped laying, in solidarity with her sisters.
One month later, I am still having to take out Florence and Jemima, closing off the nesting area so they cannot return until later on. I have separated them for short periods of time which seems to work… For a short while until we are back to square one. I have taken all the straw out of the area too. But still they persist.
Even when outside, the broody buddies sit next to each other in protest at not being able to go into their nesting area. They cluck, cluck, cluck and sometimes stand up, fluffing their feathers. A constant concern is their invisible chicks,waiting to be hatched from an invisible egg.
Pekins, along with silkies, are breeds with a greater tendency to brooding. Great if you want to hatch chicks. Not so good for ordinary back garden hen keepers like myself.
So apart from taking them away from the nest box and closing access every day, what else can be done? One book suggests removing the broody hen and putting her in a temporary run (with shelter from the sun/rain but no house) where she can still be seen by the rest of the flock, apparently a day or two later and she ‘has usually forgotten about being broody’. Obviously food and water needs to be available. A mesh floor is also recommended so the hen doesn’t think of nesting. Wetting the hen’s chest with cool water is another suggestion.
I will keep on removing the girls from the location of temptation and try out the temporary run idea (the separation I have attempted has only been for a few hours at a time) if this doesn’t improve in a week. A shame as Florence and Jemima would make excellent mothers but what else can I do?