Tuesday, January 17, 2012

chicken tv (with thanks to toni)

I didn't coin the phrase, but 'chicken TV' is rather an apt description of the joys of owning chooks. I can idle away considerable amounts of time just following the chicken's antics around the back yard. They are very entertaining - never more so than the last few days.

Two of our three chooks have been broody since before Christmas. This initially caused me quite some consternation, because I was of the belief our chickens had had their cluckiness bred out of them. How could this be? Broody hens? Then there's the lack of a rooster (RIP Hector the Protector) and no fertile eggs, making it entirely pointless for two chickens to sit and sit and sit on empty nests or a clutch of dead eggs. Add to that the drop in egg production - once a chicken goes broody there are no eggs for weeks - and to top it all off, we were about to go on holidays and could not keep a watchful eye on proceedings.

I really don't like it when things don't go according to plan, so I set about disrupting the mothering instincts of the chickens. I (gently of course) poked sticks at their legs to make them stand up, all the while dodging their protective pecks. When that failed to achieve anything, I opened the coup door on one to deprive her of her sanctuary. Not a zot of difference. The other chicken, hiding behind the train carriages in the neighbour's yard (long story), I lifted off her nest and carried back to our yard. Another dismal failure - she clucked around for a few minutes and moseyed on back. Perhaps I should have read the chicken message boards more carefully.

Off we went on our holiday and Frank returned two weeks later to find both chickens still broody. Only now, the neighbour's who had watered our garden offered some of their fertile eggs to our ladies. Frank carefully placed 7 eggs under the chickens, two under one, five under the other.

And still they sit. They've been sitting for around four weeks now and, by our calculation, have another 9 days 'til the eggs should hatch if they are going to. Each day we take feed and water to them, and they cluck softly as they look up wearily. (There is a reason why we say people are 'clucky' when they want babies after all. Broody chickens make a particular cluck quite different from all their other communication!)

Yesterday we decided it was time for the girls to have a stretch as well as food and water. Once again I poked gently with a stick and again this had no effect. I came back into our yard, when all of a sudden there was quite a chicken commotion. Penelope had given up her nest and come (almost) flying into our backyard, wildly begurking and carrying on before frenetically dust bathing in a way I have never seen before. She did this for nearly 10 minutes before pecking the ground, preening herself, a bit more dust bathing, more preening, a drink and... I gave up on waiting for her to go back to her nest. 'Those eggs need to be warm,' I thought to myself, 'and she may well have given up on them.' I have read chickens do this eventually, give up on breeding and return to normal life. Which would be nice... eggs please! We have none at the moment because the remaining normal chicken (Roxanne, who seems rather perplexed by the whole thing) appears to have been pushing Penelope off her nest, laying an egg then leaving it to be sat upon. Semi-cooked eggs aren't on my menu.

So I gave up on Penelope and went and collected four dated eggs from her nest and placed them beside Gwendolene. She looked at me dolefully before gently pushing them underneath her feathers to warm them. Problem solved. But then, all of a sudden Penelope went back to her (much depleted) stash of eggs, broody as ever.

Today both broody chickens had a moment of clucking madness, frantic dust bathing and wild grass consumption before heading back to their nests. They are a wonder! I just hope I didn't shake the eggs around too much as I transferred them, and that healthy little chicks hatch out in a few days, otherwise those girls could be sitting on their nests... forever! (And maybe tomorrow, when Gwendolene is running around like crazy I'll pinch a couple of her eggs and give them back to Penelope. Or not. I don't know! The dilemmas of chicken husbandry)

And just when I thought I would need to buy eggs... buy eggs when I have three chickens?!... there was an egg under the deck. No idea how Roxanne got herself out and back to lay it (maybe snuck through an open gate while we were away), but when I tested it it was still good. Hmmm, poached egg for breakfast anyone?