Among the general state of chaos in our lives and around our house, one of our hens- a two-year old Buff Orpington- decided to go broody last week. That means she doesn’t want to lay any new eggs right now, but just sit on eggs to hatch them. Solution? Let her.
Of the two chicken tractors we own, one houses four Buff Orpington hens we bought as pullets from a small farm in El Dorado. A docile, friendly breed, Orps are a dual purpose bird that lay about 5 light brown eggs per week. We love the Orp breed as they are so docile that even our toddler can pick them up when they forage through the yard. Most chicks bought from hatcheries have the mothering instinct bred out of them because folks are buying birds for egg laying, not hatching. Some breeds hang on to the mothering instinct more than others. Such is the case with the Orpington breed, and this particular broody bird of ours.
The other chicken tractor is home to a motley group of cast-off and caught hens and one rooster. One of the former owners of our house used to own chickens. Before moving away, the flock was freed to roam the surrounding neighborhood. When we moved in, the population had swelled to several dozen chickens running feral. Last spring, I managed to catch an Easter Egger and a Marans descended from that released flock, as well as a Leghorn rooster. My brother brought an unwanted but very friendly Old English Game hen that mysteriously appeared in his friend’s yard in Vallejo. Add in another unwanted Plymouth Barred Rock from an elementary school hatch-a-chick project, and you have an odd assortment of 4 hens and a rooster. The hens are solid layers of eggs- small white, speckled brown, light brown- and also will have a much stronger instinct to set on their own clutch of eggs, probably next year when they have reached two years of age. And since they’re descended from birds that have been foraging and living on their own for a decade or so, they have proven themselves adapted to their immediate environment.
The rooster from the motley flock has been “fertilizing” the hens, so I collected 8 eggs to take advantage of that broody Orp in the other chicken tractor. Broody hens don’t care much where their eggs come from; they just want to sit on eggs. In fact, they’ll sit on them from different species of birds in order to satisfy their urge to become mothers. So, rather than try to kick her back into an egg-laying mood, I’ve decided to encourage the brood in her. Incubation is 21 days, so we’ll know in several weeks if we’ll have 8 cheeping additions to the yard.
I had visions of hens setting on eggs next spring when we were better prepared with a pastured yard and stationary coop. But, as is often the case, life happened… on its terms and its timeline.