Friday, 15 August 2014

Poppy the Perpetual Broody

Nothing gives me more pleasure than to see my animals looking happy, healthy and exhibiting their natural behaviours. But sometimes, allowing them to do what comes naturally can have an adverse effect on their well being.

During the warmer months, when a hens natural behaviour often includes a burning desire to incubate eggs, few things cause the caring poultry keeper more frustration and concern than the persistent broody hen. 

Fortunately for me, only a few of my hens are what you might call the maternal type and those that are tend to just to take themselves off to a quiet corner of the coop and are up and about along with a brood of fluffy little chicks in less than 3 weeks. 
But then there’s Poppy….., 

Poppy - my determined little hen!

 Poppy is a bright eyed, friendly and easy going little hen who has spent most of her summer stuck in the coop in attempt to hatch a little family of her own. 

Unfortunately an appetite for dust bathing and what could be described as a somewhat “relaxed” approach to the responsibilities of incubation combined with an unerring tendency to sit on clutches of infertile eggs have scuppered all her chick rearing plans. Determined in the face of disappointment however she has brooded on relentlessly over the past 12 weeks much to my distress. 

At the end of each incubation period I have had to dispose of a dwindling clutch of sloshy, spoilt eggs and try to persuade her to take a break from brooding for the sake of her own well being. But her determination is equaled only by her hormonal urges and what she lacks in incubation skills, she more than makes up for in her calm but enthusiastic chick raising abilities. So as I’m such a sucker for that appealing little pwoork and the twinkle in those big brown eyes, my acts of persuasion stop short of any attempts to “cool her off”. 

Each time a clutch fails she quickly manages to acquire another batch of eggs from one of the more “career minded” hens and starts the process all over again. Despite being a gentle, placid little hen she’s clearly made of tougher stuff than I am. So as I could bear her cycle of stoic confinement and disappointment no longer, I reluctantly left her in the stuffy, half light of the eggless nest box and headed off to set a small clutch of eggs in the incubator.


 After candling the eggs every few days to avoid further disappointment I finally removed the only developing egg a few days before it was due to hatch and presented it to her on the palm of my hand. 
She stared at it for a short while, wide eyed and curious, before cooing contentedly and drawing it gently beneath her with the underside of her beak.

 I must confess that I wasn't entirely convinced that it would continue to develop if left to Poppy’s liberal approach. Especially as she was spotted dust bathing less than an hour after taking custody of her precious charge. But having been broody for almost 3 months, I reckon that she deserves a bit of pamper time now and then. 
Poppys passion for dust bathing makes incubating eggs a little tricky


 Over the years as a poultry keeper I have stopped marking the hatching day on the calendar and rely instead on a sixth sense when it comes to preparing for new arrivals. So when I went to check on her and to ask if her chick had finally hatched, a triumphant chirp and change of posture told me that it had and that she was clearly delighted! 

Poppy's tiny chick!
It’s hard to say how long she would have continued surviving on her broody ration of one meal a day or if her body's needs would finally have become greater than her hormonal urges. But her pale comb and wasted frame was clearly far more of a concern for me than it was for her. 

Slow down mum I'm sleepy

As a result I am delighted that she finally has a tiny chick of her own and that her admirable patience and perseverance has finally paid off. 



Meeting Daddy and finding bugs...a big day for a tiny chick

Never a hen to make a great fuss Poppy chatters encouragingly to her new arrival, parading it proudly and enthusiastically teaching it all that she knows. 

Poppy's tiny chick

After all our joint efforts, it’s a truly wonderful sight to see a mother hen and her chick looking happy, healthy and doing what comes naturally....bet it turns out to be a cockerel!
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