We have ten hens, and no rooster. The one roo we got by mistake was given to a neighbour, and has since died while protecting his hens from a fox. Jack left us at about 15 weeks, so my girls have never known what life is like with a proper rooster. You can read more about that on the Alexia page.
As far as my hens are concerned, I am the rooster. Koo koo ka choo. (Coincidentally, I am also the Eggman.) I protect them, call them together, get them into the run at the end of their free ranging day, bring them treats, and…
It became clear at about week 20 that I was going to need to simulate the most, ermmm…primal of a rooster’s functions. This is not for my own amusement (although, truth be told, it IS kind of amusing). The hens, well…SOME of the hens really seem to need it.
Now, before your imagination carries you of somewhere unsavoury and possibly illegal, here’s what happens: When I approach the chickens, some of them will squat for me, pressing their chests to the ground, lifting up their tails, and spreading their wings. I grab either side of the base of a hen’s tail, and give it three or four quick squeezes, thusly:
And, so, the chicken butt handshake was born.
It’s been interesting to see how the need for and application of the chicken butt handshake has evolved as the hens have matured. It’s been even more interesting to see how, yet again, the chickens are individuals, each very much her own hen.
Each of the girls asked for the chicken butt handshake 1-2 weeks before she started laying. Now that they have all been laying a while, though, I’ve been seeing differences.
Some girls (not mentioning any names, Pip and Tallulah), avoid the handshake now, skittering away from me if I reach over their backs. I leave them alone, of course. No means no.
Some girls need it once a day, usually in the morning, or soon before or after they’ve laid. The Barred Rocks fall into this category, also Alexia, and the Production Reds.
The Buff Orpingtons are another story. Trixie and Buffy will tear across the yard to be with me, each and every time they see me. They are looking for treats, to be sure, but even once they’ve seen I don’t have any, they’ll both sidle up to me and ask for my very special attention. Many, many times a day.
And they want more than the handshake. Buffy, in particular, want to be scrubbed all over, up and down her neck, and across her tummy. This from the girl who avoided me at all cost just a month ago.
So, it’s all led me to wonder…is all this a possible indicator of who might turn out to be broody in future? Does a hen who squats for mounting multiple times a day really, really want babies? Or just the love of a good rooster?
It’s going to be important, at some point, to identify who the broodies are. I will need replacement girls some day, and I have decided I will do either an old-fashioned broody hatch (slipping fertilised eggs under a broody girl and letting her incubate the 21 days), or a foster mama situation, where a broody hen sits on fake eggs for a while, then has day-old chicks slipped under her while she’s a sleep, and…voila! Instant family!
My money is on the Orps. Both Buffy and Trixie like to hang out on their laid eggs for a good, long while, where as the Productions Reds, specifically bred to be high-volume layers, hop off before the bloom is even dry.
I doubt we’ll find out before spring. In the meantime, I’ll keep giving the handshake to whomever requests it…