First off, one can’t make a chicken do anything, really. One can encourage; one can cajole; one can bribe. But chickens don’t really learn, or they’re so damned smart, they’re playing dumb brilliantly, the end result being that they can do whatever the hell they want with impunity.
Crazy like a chicken…
So, my attempt to steer Buffy to foster mother the six chicks I have coming April 20 may be utterly fruitless. As I frequently attempt the fruitless, this does not, in any way, deter me from trying.
Why a broody instead of a brooder? Brooding chicks is a lot of work, gentle reader. Babies need a lot of attention. Having been slave to my first twelve last spring, I’d rather avoid that role again, if at all possible.
And what could be better for baby chicks than a mama hen, even a foster? If she’s a good broody, she’ll keep them warm, guide them toward food and water, referee their squabbles, teach them the ways of the world, and, most importantly, protect them from harm.
Harm comes in many forms for a chick. There are all the dangers that face an adult chicken on a daily basis, plus a score more. Crows, for example, are a chicken’s best friends. Crow compete with hawks for territory, and form large groups to harass them. Many a chicken farmer courts crows, leaving out eggs for them to “steal”.
But a crow will take a chick. So will other animals harmless to grown chickens. But that’s not even the greatest danger from which a mama must protect her babies.
The greatest danger to chicks in a flock is the other hens.
Integrating new babies into an existing flock can be so hazardous to the babies’ health that many chicken experts recommend starting a new, separate flock, or, at a minimum, waiting until the chicks have grown close enough to adult size (12 weeks) that they can defend themselves. New members to a flock disrupt the pecking order, and a new pecking order must be established. No one wants to lose status. The math does itself, doesn’t it?
But a good broody mama will fend for her babies right from day one, fiercely defending them until the flock accepts them. Or, at least, that’s the theory, and this is all theory and second-hand experience for me, at this point.
So, sometimes you want a broody. But a broody doesn’t lay and is one mean beyotch when you come for the eggs she’s sitting on, so sometimes you really don’t want a broody. How does one turn the broody on and off?
One doesn’t. See first paragraph.
But Buffy has always been The Most Likely to Brood in my little flock, and she showed signs of broodiness when she knocked on the screen door to get back to her clutch. So…maybe I could keep that inclination on simmer, until it’s time for the chicks? Chicken Debbie thinks it just might work.
I will be emptying out the coop’s sand litter, giving the coop a good yearly scrubbing, then adding fresh sand at the end of March. At that time, I’ll be setting up two medium-sized dog crates in the coop (bearing in mind what “medium” means to a Great Dane owner), one for the poults, coming April 6, and one for the chicks, coming April 20.
When the poults arrive, they will be introduced to their crate, and Buffy will be placed into the chick crate (she’s used to that now), with food and water, and a nest containing the six eggs she laid while recuperating, now chilling in the fridge. I can’t put her on them now, or I might bogart the broody. It takes 21 days for a fertile egg to hatch, and, while chickens can’t tell time, I would run the risk of her losing interest and bailing.
So, I want her to rejoin her flock, but still think about brooding. With this goal in mind, I’ve been bringing her into the lodge every morning for a few hours, to warm up, take a nap, load up on high-protein mealworms, and allow me to tend to what remains of her wound. The crate has been dismantled and the lodge returned to Man Cave splendour, but I have set up what will be her broody nest, so she can get used to it.
I told you she was dirty.
If you’re curious to know how she’s healing, here is a close up of her wound today:
As you can see, the wound is much, much smaller, about 2.5-3 inches long, and the newly-formed skin is pink and healthy. She has many, many new feathers coming in, and she’s not nearly so bald. Chicken Debbie inspected her on Sunday and was delighted with her progress. I’se a good chicken mama!
So, The Plan (hahahahahahaha!!!!) is that I’ll keep up this routine until the coop is cleaned out and the poults arrive. Buffy will sit her eggs (ohpleaseohplease…) in the crate next to the poults, the cheeping of whom will ignite her broody heart. IF she sits the eggs for two weeks, I will gently slip the six day-old chicks under her on April 20, possibly while it’s dark, and hope she adopts them, thinking she has just hatched her eggs.
Anyone want to take bets?