“The only thing that ever sat its way to success was a hen”–Sarah Brown
My mom grew up on a farm and would tell me about how one of her childhood jobs was to climb up into the hay in the barn and find the eggs that the chickens hid there. Having mice and snakes surprise her was sometimes just too much and she would quietly refuse to perform her egg-collecting duties. But eventually a mother hen would come proudly strutting along with her chicks in tow and Mom’s neglect would be discovered.
Since we have cows this year for the first time, we also have a machine shed full of hay bales and I have been thinking about my mom’s stories. Even though our hens have nice egg boxes filled with straw right in their own coop, several of them prefer to make the trek way around the fences, up the hill to the machine shed, and into the stacks of hay with the many hiding places. I can’t say that I blame them–I love the smell of hay and must admit the high cubby holes in the stacks seem very safe and inviting.
So now I must add to my chore duties the task of scouting for eggs. Sometimes I don’t find the hiding places until I see a hen coming down, or hear her crowing her own accomplishment. Several of them share the same favorite spot, which makes it very convenient, though I have to use a stool to get to this particular spot. And having a coat pocketful of eggs creates its own difficulties when you forget and bend over. Ask me how I know this.
Recently while in the machine shed feeding the cows, I noticed that our border collie kept going over to a certain section of the hay. After several days of this, it dawned on me that the dog probably knew something I didn’t. I went over to investigate and found a hiding hen. Her nest was tucked between the hay edge and a half-wall of wood. She had been there for a while and would puff herself up angrily if I tried to touch her. Usually we try to discourage broody hens because we want them to lay lots of eggs, not sit on just a few for weeks. But the weather was warming up and wouldn’t it be kind of fun to see a mama with her new chicks?
My mom described how the mama chicks walk with their babies behind them, constantly clucking and instructing, calling them over to a discovered worm or bug. At night, they hide under her for warmth, and even when they get too big for that, they climb on top of her. That sounded like it could be fun to watch, so we are letting this hen sit on her eggs for the 21 days it takes. If her eggs were never fertilized, the
chicks won’t hatch and interrupt her broody cycle. If that’s the case, we’ll have to help her out or she’ll sit there forever. But who knows, maybe for the first time we’ll have some chicks that didn’t come from the post office!