Another Day in the Country
Hens on maternity leave
© Another Day in the Country
Right in the middle of a heat wave, three of my hens have requested maternity leave. No, they don’t have chicks yet, but they want a family. In chicken parlance, they want to “set,” requesting time off from the time-honored tradition of laying eggs.
To use the word “request” really is a misnomer because they didn’t ask! They just announced, one at a time. It was like a measles outbreak. First one, then another, and now three! It’s an inconvenience. It cuts production by one-quarter of the usual daily tally of eggs. And it’s my fault.
I knew when I ordered Black Star chicks that they had a likelihood of wanting to set when they grew up. I’d had them before. Betty insisted on setting periodically and raised a brood of babies.
And, I half-hoped, without admitting it to anyone, maybe one of these hens would decide one day to set and we’d have another batch of baby chicks to watch. Well, my secret wish has been granted, and it’s causing problems in the hen house.
I nicknamed the first hen to set Henny Penny, although off the nest she’s difficult to distinguish between 12 other black hens — half of them Australorp and half of them Black Stars. Only a discerning eye and a lover of chickens could tell the difference in all that black. The Australorps have slightly bigger combs, maybe somewhat more iridescent black feathers, and more generous faces.
It’s the Stars, however, and not the Austras that aspire to motherhood. It’s genetic! They can’t help it! I’m patient with them — well I was more patient in the beginning with only one hen until a week or so ago.
In the evening, when I came to let the chickens run out on the lawn for a while, I found three Star hens in the nest boxes, like a sit-in, refusing to leave the eggs.
When the first Henny Penny decided to set I humored her even though I knew that I needed to move her to a more secluded spot, but where?
It was way too hot to trap her in a little old 2-by-3-foot house for setting hens. She’d roast in there in this heat. I tried moving her to a far corner of the chicken house and made it secluded. She flat out refused and would have nothing to do with the new location or the eggs.
I searched online videos for advice about moving a setting hen, and they suggested I put a cardboard box under her current nest and in the dead of night come and move her to a new location while she was sleeping.
But where to? The $64 question remained.
Eggs: another problem. There’s no rooster in this hen house — all girls. These were unfertilized eggs she was attempting to commandeer, so I promised her some fertile ones from the royal family at my house, none of which had ever showed any interest in procreating, except for the Duke, of course.
Jessica asked, “Just how wedded are you to this idea of having a batch of baby chicks and a cranky hen to deal with?”
I didn’t really answer, and just that wee bit of procrastination has left HP No. 1 ensconced in the original nest box (out of five available) in a shallow cardboard box (just in case) for two weeks.
It takes only three weeks to hatch chicks, you probably already know, so we are in the last stages of procreation, although I seriously wonder whether these eggs really will hatch. Out of the six I gave her, fertilized and pristine, she’s already lost three! What are the chances?
Then her sit-in gained traction, with now three serious hens setting while the other girls struggle to find places to lay eggs. When I come to gather the eggs, of course, I find them toasty warm from having been guarded closely and snuggled by hens on maternity leave.
Henny Penny No. 1 has fertile eggs, clearly marked with an X, plus an assortment of fresh eggs laid by one of her persevering sisters, under duress to get her egg-laying job done — which leads me to go over and gather eggs more than once a day because I really don’t like the idea of fresh eggs in this heat being coddled by hot-bellied hens on strike!
Today I went over after lunch to gather the eggs. The hens were startled to see me so early and quickly informed me it was too early to make an appearance.
“Did you bring treats?” they wanted to know.
I hadn’t, but I gave them fresh water and a couple of hands full of oatmeal. It’s like handing out candy bars! They love it.
Today, I actually got pecked by one of the broodies when I removed eggs from under her. Then, I sorted through Henny Penny No. 1’s stash. She had three new eggs under her, freshly minted.
It’s no wonder she keeps losing eggs. Can you imagine the hubbub when a hen climbs in on top of her to leave another egg? She protests! The egg layer is desperate! There’s a scuffle!
HP No. 1 is the winner, requests to be left in peace, and then here I come.
“You again,” HP No. 1 says as she gives me a baleful eye and pecks me!
The nerve! It reminds me of when I was a kid, following Gramm into the hen house, gathering eggs from cranky hens on another day in the country.