Breaking Brood

 In Chicken keeping

For the record, I originally wrote this in July 2014 when, at the age of 50, I decided to go back to school. At the time I was studying sustainable food systems at the University of Vermont and about to start culinary school. I was, in equal measure, excited and terrified. Buttercup, the hen I’m writing about, has since left her feathered mortal coil. I share this story to honor that feisty little bird’s memory and because it makes me laugh. Hope it does the same for you.

BREAKING BROOD [days 1- 3]: Buttercup’s gone broody, which means that she’ll sit on her imaginary clutch of eggs until they hatch. Being that they are imaginary, that’s going to present a problem since she will continue to sit on the ‘eggs’ while neglecting her own care and feeding for who knows how long. So, under the tutelage of chicken-keeping friends and bloggers, I’m now on my third day of breaking brood. I start every morning going into the nest box, being hissed at and pecked in a manner that aims to draw blood. I then kidnap Buttercup gangland style by covering her with a towel and taking her to an undisclosed location in the yard. I uncover her only to be met with more hissing and additional attempts at causing me bodily harm. I toss a handful of treats in her direction and run back to the coop, where I remove the ladder she needs to access the coop and nest box (the other girls, who are not as challenged by gravity as Buttercup, can easily jump into the coop to lay their eggs as the need arises). She eventually finds her way back to the coop and is PISSED that she’s been denied access. More nastiness and ruffled feathers. I keep her out of the coop all day, until bedtime, at which point I hope she has forgotten the lure of the imaginary clutch. But as soon as I put the ladder up, she runs past me, up the ladder and into the nest box where she tends to the eggs that aren’t there, my hopes dashed. I’m sharing this story for several reasons, but today what has struck me most about the situation is that, from time to time, we can all be victims of our hormones [amirite, ladies?], but never has there been a sadder victim of overactive hormones than the broody bird. Word. Take from this what you will.

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Buttercup feeling forlorn

BREAKING BROOD [day 4]: My morning coop check revealed a still-broody Buttercup . So I commenced with the towel-assisted kidnapping and tossed her into the yard with treats and her sisters to take swipes at. She halfheartedly pecked at both. And then, as I made my way back to the house, I was struck by the realization that, for the past four days, I, too, have hardly left the little nest I’ve created on my bed. I’m hunkered down with my computer and surrounded by pillows. I have feathered my nest with notes and books while I nurture a clutch of class assignments that I can’t seem to hatch. I’m crabby all the time and resent being disturbed from my task. It’s all due next week and that pressure makes me want to bite someone. Buttercup, I feel you, sister. I’ve gone broody too.

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A broody Buttercup

BREAKING BROOD [day whatever… I’m too tired to count]: Buttercup remained pretty committed to her broodiness this past week, but there was a marked softening (some might call it more of a defeated resignation) this weekend. On Saturday, when I opened the door to the nest box and she saw me coming at her with the towel, she puffed up a bit and reluctantly left the nest box. We danced a similar pas de deux on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday—the day after I “hatched” my assignments and ceased with my broodiness—she was waiting at the door of the run with her sister chickens ready for an outing. Coincidence, or am I now on some weird-ass hormonal cycle with my chickens?

Don’t answer that.


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