Updated: Jul 12, 2021
We don’t usually name our hens.
We did at first: Henny and Penny (Buff Orpingtons), Beatrice, Bernadette, and Brigitta (Light Brahmas), and Bertram, the regal rooster. Naming was a very natural thing to do when new animals joined our fold. We soon learned, however, that naming a chicken can make saying farewell—for whatever reason—more difficult.
That policy changed last year when one of our hens went broody. She was fiercely determined to raise a clutch; we decided to let her give it a try.
We transferred her during the dark of night (when she would be sleepy and compliant) to a small coop that we reserve for brooding and other poultry needs. We placed her on thirteen eggs and waited with great anticipation the twenty-one days it takes a chick to develop and hatch.
There is just no way that you can support and encourage a brooding hen without calling her by name, so our broody became “Broody.” The name stuck.
Eleven of the thirteen eggs hatched, and Broody was a wonderful mother hen. We marveled at the miracle of it all—from day one of the devoted setting hen to the eventual hatchlings who obediently followed her around the gardens and willingly returned to the safety of her wings every night. We became convinced that she could count; she knew when her chicks were all present and correct. If one was missing, she'd cluck her mommy cluck until the little one came running.
On June 22 of this year, Broody spent the day in a secluded spot on a nest of her own making behind a feed can. We recognized the resolute attitude and made the after-dark journey to the brooder with an earnest mama and another baker’s dozen.
The weather forecast for the following two weeks called for record setting highs—many days well over 100 degrees. To shade the brooder, we used an odd assortment of materials, including a shade cloth (originally used on our Growing Spaces greenhouse, but not needed there now because the persimmon tree provides an in-house shade canopy), and we hoped to keep our girl comfortable. By regularly spraying the shade cloth and the ground around the brooder, the humidity stays higher and the temperature, lower. Incubating eggs need to be kept at a steady temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity range of around 50% for the first 18 days and about 65% for the last three. It's tricky business for a human to achieve with an electric incubator; for a broody hen, the process is built in by design--right down to the requisite turning of the eggs.
We’re counting the days now, hoping for the best during this heat wave, cheering our faithful Miss Broody on.
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