Broody

At the moment, there is a broody hen in our chicken coop. She began sitting on her nest the week before we left for Maryland. It is terrific fun anticipating the tiny peep peep peeps of newly hatched chicks. But there is (not surprisingly) a wide gulf between a hens intentions to hatch a clutch and the manifestation of chicks. The saying goes like this: Dont count your chickens before they hatch.

Laying the diurnal egg is typical hen behaviour. Some hens are satisfied with the ready-made nest in the chicken coop; other hens find a secret spot somewhere else; but most youthful hens (dare I call them spring chickens?) make it their business to deposit an egg somewhere just about every day. And so our story begins: One day in the nesting box, our protagonist, (lets curtsy to cliche and call our everyhen Henrietta) gets an idea. Her idea becomes an indefatigable urge; for inexplicable reasons she has decided to hatch out some biddies. She keeps her idea a secret, but prepares for her adventure by continuing to lay an egg every day in the hopes of accumulating a nice little pile of eggs to hatch. Once she builds up a treasury, she will commence setting for approximately 21 days. This ought to be easy but she is already encountering a problem.

Her first problem is that some industrious robber (in this case human, but the robber is not always human) comes along behind her every day, stealing her egg. It isnt easy, in a chicken coop, to fill a nest with eggs to hatch even with all the other hens helping out. But robbers fail, especially two legged robbers, and one evening, or two evenings in a row, or perhaps even more evenings in a row than that (like when they are getting ready for some big human endeavor,) these two legged robbers may in fact forget to pick up the eggs. (Actually, they see the eggs and say, later, knowing full well that no egg pick up is in the works. From afar, I know that it looks just really really easy to pick up eggs once a day, but I tell you, sometimes it is not as easy as it looks.) So, finally, due to reasons beyond her capacity to contemplate, a little nest of eggs appears for Henrietta to sit on.

We can imagine her great sigh of relief when she sees this accumulated pile of eggs; her efforts have been rewarded. She proceeds to climb onto the nest, fans out all those lovely feathers, and sits. And Sits. And SITS. She is perfectly suited to keeping those eggs at 99 degrees for three weeks. She capably provides the appropriate humidity, around 55 percent. Without this relatively constant heat and humidity, the eggs wont make it. (She is even able to increase the humidity as the eggs get close to hatching; this makes the shells easier for the chicks to peck through.) The whole process is yet another small miracle of Nature. It is so magical it seems kind of foolproof; even accounting for the robber and the constant temperature requirement and the one or two dud eggs that might be in any nest.

By now, you probably have a question. With all that sitting, you want to know, how does Henrietta manage to eat and to drink and to take that nice little dust bath that keeps her free of parasites? This is indeed a problem, how not to die of hunger and thirst and parasites while sitting on this nest. Like all mothers, Henrietta denies herself all manner of comforts, but finally she just cant take it any more and she gets up from her precious nest to see to her own needs. There goes the constant temperature. Hopefully she wont take too long.

As Henrietta hops down from her warm nest, another hen appears, looking for a place in which to lay an egg. Hens are notorious for wanting to lay only in nests that already have eggs in them and Henrietta is leaving behind a lovely full nest of eggs that is perfectly warm. This really seems opportune; after all the eggs must remain at a constant temperature. The interloper hops onto Henriettas nest, and commences laying her egg. This can take a long time. Could this be a problem? But the eggs are staying warm without Henrietta! What great luck! Is it?

Meanwhile, Henrietta, now finished with her restorations, comes back. Her nest has been stolen! What a hen-ous crime! Oh my. What will Henrietta do? Will she get her nest back? Oh, what anguish for Henrietta!

But our Henrietta is determined; she is not going to be defeated. She WILL continue setting on a nest. Demonstrating great pluck, she finds another nest to sit on. (There are, after all, ten nests to choose from.) Henrietta makes herself comfortable. Meanwhile, the interloper who has tricked Henrietta into sitting on another nest is not in a maternal mood. She finishes laying her egg and hops off. Goodbye constant temperature. Goodbye appropriate humidity.

Henrietta seems oblivious to this fiasco. Her determination to set, no matter where, amounts to a failure of imagination. She is now brooding on another nest. There are fatal consequences.

Really it is not a nice story. YOU know what happens to Henriettas eggs; girls and boys, all Henriettas nice eggs die when they get cold. Poor Henrietta. Does SHE know? Who can tell?

I will tell you one more thing. When you look up broody you find that it comes from the Old English, bro (long e), to keep warm. Broody, however, doesnt just mean to sit on eggs, but also, persistent morbid meditation on a problem. (Wordwebonline.com)

What do you think?

Situated on a hill overlooking the Haw River, Three Waters Farm looks out over a mixed terrain of fields, woods, and water in the piedmont of North Carolina. We moved here in 1989 with the intent to raise our family on a working homestead. Initially we produced a mix of organic vegetables, cut flowers, goat cheese, and baked goods at the Carrboro Farmers' Market.
Since 1997, we have focused on making products from our sheep's wool and our goat's milk. We produce a variety of hand-painted yarns, and spinning fibers, and from our goat's milk, we make Goat's Milk True-soap, using our own special recipe.

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CONTACTS

Three Waters Farm
P.O. Box 100,
Saxapahaw, North Carolina 27340

Toll Free: 866-376-0378
International: 336-376-0378
Fax: 866-376-0378

Email: [email protected]

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