In this week’s Farmer’s Diary, sheep farmer, Clodagh Hughes, discusses her small flock of laying hens.
Let’s talk about chickens; I keep a small flock of laying hens here on my wee farmstead. Also, I have a handsome, if somewhat ‘spirited’ rooster called Buster.
I keep a rooster primarily to fertilise the eggs; it is sure as hell not for his timekeeping!!!
Every now and then, I have a broody hen who will take to nesting on a clutch of eggs.
To have a naturally broody hen is a major bonus for any flock as it means she will incubate, hatch out and rear the chicks.
Whereas, if you wish to hatch out fertilised eggs without a hen, you will have to buy incubators and other paraphernalia to do what the hen does naturally.
I am not knocking the artificial way. I am just really happy I have a broody hen to do the work for me!
And it is an absolute joy to watch as she teaches them how to hunt for food and where the water spots are. And boy, oh boy, if you have never seen a wee hen with her chicks go into full combat mode, ‘you ain’t seen nothin’! Cats, dogs, sheep and horses…no one is safe!
Survival of the fittest
Now, after all my praise of the aforementioned hen, I have to tell you all a wee story of feathery woe.
The last clutch of eggs this hen sat on started off as normal. The hen was displaying all the classic broody signs, squawking at me every time I came near and only leaving the nest for about 15 minutes each day to feed, drink and grab a quick dust bath.
Approximately 21 days later, which is all the time it takes to incubate and hatch a chick, I discovered she had two gorgeous wee fluff balls under her.
I must explain that, even if a hen is sitting on a dozen eggs, she will have to leave the nest with the hatched chicks after a day or two because the yolk of the egg can only sustain the newborn chick for this length of time. After that, it needs to feed and drink.
So, disappointing as it is to see her abandon the remaining eggs, this is survival of the fittest at its best.
This is where your artificial incubator would come in handy; the only thing is you will have to be their ‘mother hen’ for the next 6-8 weeks!
Anyhoo, back to my wee feathery ‘tail’, after four weeks of top-class mothering, wee hen decided she had enough and began rejecting the chicks.
Although I am unsure why I have one theory; I saw the bold Buster giving her the love shuffle, and I wonder if this interrupted her mothering hormones (more research needed).
But, whatever the reason, she left me holding the chicks. Unfortunately, I lost one, but the other one is flying, and I am experiencing a connection with a chicken that I did not think possible.
They are surprisingly affectionate and a lot of fun. Plus, they fit on your shoulder!
I’m away for lunch…guess what I am having?
More diary entries
Read more of Clodagh’s diary entries.