We’ve had two of our hens going broody all spring, named Dolores O’Riordan and Billie Holiday. Most chickens today have had the instinct to sit on a clutch of eggs bred out of them. Broody hens don’t lay eggs, which isn’t great for industrial egg production. This leaves humans to take over the hatching process. Last year we hatched out chicks, which you can see in one of our videos. This year we weren’t going to go through the work, but then our hens went broody.

We saved up a dozen eggs for each chicken to sit on. We put them all out under the hens one night. We did this because all the eggs need to start the process at the same time or they’ll hatch out at different times. Unfortunately, our hens had chosen high-up lay boxes, which were unsuitable for hatching chicks as they would fall out after emergence. So we twice tried to move the hens and their clutch of eggs into a nursery: two lay boxes, water, and food in a fenced area of our shed. Both times the girls broke their broodiness to escape from the shed, effectively killing their eggs.

We were able to break Billie of being broody, but Dolores was stubbornly sitting in that upper lay box. I was talking with my friend Holin, proprietor of the Victorian Technology Institute, located just down the road in Evansville. She suggested that we buy day-old hatchlings and put them under the hen one night. She’ll think her eggs have hatched.

Holin is also getting some new chickens. You can read all about her adventures at the Victorian Technology Institute blog.

I built a cardboard lay-box liner and last night we brought the chicks in the coop when all the hens were asleep. We lifted Dolores off the eggs, pulled them out, and replaced them with six chicks. These are straight-run Rustic Ramblers, which means they are male or female and a cross between a barred rock hen and a black copper maran. They are a dual-purpose breed for eggs and meat.

This morning I went out and pulled Dolores and her six new charges out of the main coop in their cardboard liner. I moved them to the nursery and voila! I’ve never let a chicken raise chicks, but I was surprised with how much calmer the chicks seem. Usually they sprint around their brood cage peeping incessantly. But when under their mother they were absolutely silent. And when they ventured out from under her protective wings, they were quiet and calm — no manic wheeling about. Dolores looks like a giant ship, fluffed up, with her wings held out, walking slowly around to monitor her little ones. I can already tell she’s going to be a good mom: when she got out of the lay box, one chick was left behind, and within seconds she noticed it and went back to the box, shooing her straggler out of the box and showing it the drinking water.

And now, enjoy some chicks to brighten your morning.

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