Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Lay broody Lay

We have brown eggs to sell.  My wife says I spend too much time writing and not enough time selling, that I should write about our products and how good they are and what we have to sell.  So because she is my wife and intelligent and I love her and our anniversary is coming up I've decided to take her advice and sell.  So we have certified organic free range brown eggs to sell.

The chickens on the other hand don't see it that way, at least one of them doesn't we're now calling her "Broody".  When a chicken goes "broody" it means that the chicken thinks it is time to start hatching eggs.  It doesn't matter that we don't have a rooster and her eggs are not fertilized, she is still sitting on eggs in the nest (which makes it hard for us to sell them).  This happened to us last year and as with every other aspect of farm life we researched what was going on and how to deal with it and we called more experienced people to discuss our options.  There are allot of reasons that a chicken can go broody, I've read one is hormonal another is temperament and yet another is age.  Given what I've learned on the job I'd have to say hormonal is the more likely cause.  Now, I know what some of you are thinking, he's male of course he'd blame the problem on hormones, but it is not like that.

When we first noticed broody in the nest we left her for a day or two.  We did have experience from last year so we were hoping that she might just break it herself.  Last year we ended up taking the broody one out of the box and placing her in the barn, it was the only way to keep her out of the nesting box.  Our main concern was that she wasn't eating and drinking enough.  We'd get her out of the nest and leave her outside with the others and before we finished the next chore she was back in the nest. 

So this year we let the new broody sit in the nest, the weather has been cool and breezy with lots of rain but we kept an eye on her.  Every so often we'd notice that she would be outside but not long.  Then she started to go into a prolonged sitting stage and she wasn't budging from the nest and she was pecking people when they tried to harvest eggs.  I stuck my hand in underneath her to try and get her to get up and out of the box and she felt hot to me.  I went to see how hot the others felt and they all seemed relatively cool.  The heat leads me to think hormones might play a role.  Although we suspected broodiness we had to make sure there wasn't some other problem that we just weren't seeing.  This meant we had to give her a physical, check her eyes, nostrils and beak for discharges, her wings, feathers and legs for signs of mites or liaisons, the comb and waddle and the crown jewel was checking to see if she had an egg stuck.  A chicken has what is called a vent; the vent is the only outlet that a chicken has, so with out getting too graphic everything that a chicken expels goes through the vent including the egg. 

Checking for a stuck egg has to be done very carefully and with the utmost tenderness.  At best if a stuck egg breaks inside it can severely injure the chicken and at worst the chicken can die.  We prepared and drew straws; my wife got the task of holding the bird (I got to figure out how to cheat in that game next time).  At first broody was all squawk but we shushed her and she calmed down.  That’s another thing we do from day one is to pick them up and shush them to calm them down. 

This serves two purposes, one is to get them use to human contact the other is their just so cute you want to pet them.  It works on into adulthood; some will run from us, most will just squat down and let us pick them up.  All of them though will calm down and relax when we shush them, you can hear it and feel it in their bodies.  Their muscles go limp, the body slumps and they go along for the ride. 

My wife is holding Broody, we got her calmed down and I start the exam.  I did everything first, saving the vent for last.  She has no outward signs of problems, pests or injuries, I check the skin, feathers everything, her belly and between her legs to see if I feel a lump, nothing jumps out.  Last up is to feel inside the vent to see if there is a blockage.  I expose the vent, it looks pink and healthy, and I take my surgical gloved hand that is now covered with lubricant and gently insert my finger to feel around, Broody moved a little but didn't squawk.  She did squeeze her vent closed which scared the hell out of me; in an instant I 'm pulling my finger out and seeing a newspaper headline, "Local Farmer Loses Finger in Chicken Vent".  Now I'm the one squawking.  To their credit both my wife and broody are perfectly calm, I know it doesn't seem like much but it scared me, so now I got to calm down and go in for a second look.  I got collected and went in once again to gently probe for an obstruction and to our relief find nothing. 

We left her in the barn in the stall with a roost, nest, plenty of water and food.  She was there three days and on the fourth day we opened the barn door and left it open.  She didn't come out.  Day five we open the barn door again and left it open.  This time she came out found her flock and jumped into the pen with her group.  She is no longer brooding but her name will forever be "broody".  Broody started laying about a week later which was a great sign because did I mention, we have eggs to sell.



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