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How To Set A BROODY HEN, Just Like Your Grandma Did
By K.C. Jacob Nofsinger
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 K.C. Jacob Nofsinger
All rights reserved.
HOW TO SET A BROODY HEN, JUST LIKE GRANDMA USED TO
Growing up as a kid in the rainy Pacific Northwest, I was warmed by my Grandma Kathy's stories. Stories that centered almost solely, on farm folklore. And this folklore wasn't hinged on the advice of a revitalized group, of back to the earth hippies. Rather it was based on the rock solid foundation, of literally hundreds of generations of farming wives. Women, who labored from before dawn to well after dusk, just too honestly feed their families. Their wisdom is nearly without fault, and is based on actual experience. The historical experience of generations, of strong willed women, whom deserve to have their advice taken heed to.
Today many of the descendants of these laudable women, are re-discovering keeping backyard poultry. The teaching and instruction of our grandmas was once despised as "Too old fashioned, having no place in our modern contemporary society." And now in an economic down spiral, where it makes sense too: grow our own vegetables, raise our own livestock, and breed our own livestock, our grandmas are sadly no longer with us. Their hard-fought wisdom, of which they attempted to bequeath to us, has now eclipsed into eternity. In this book, I will attempt to conserve some of my grandma's heritage belief. My grandmother's beliefs were reaped from the hardworking farmwomen of Minnesota, and I know that she would be pleased of me recording her beloved heritage experience. Heritage that kept her spirit in the hardship of life, and strengthened my own resolve of preserving our shared family history.
THE HISTORICAL SETTING FOR THE HEN THAT WAS, AND THE HEN THAT COULD STILL BE
Up until most of our great-grandparents' time, chicks were hatched and brooded by the: tisking, whirring, moody, biddy broody hen. A hen that could be relied upon, to set faithfully upon large clutches of eggs. And not only set, but to brood them. Then the incubator would be invented, and be in the common way of incubating chicks. The hen would be "specially" engineered for the vast production of eggs, being bred for the ease of commercial use. Natural broodiness was seen as a nuisance, to the great and mighty dollar. Extreme production was a must, poultry being programmed either for being laying machines, or the strange unnatural Cornish for human consumption. And so the resulting consequence being, setting breeds would either be extinct, or replaced with the Italian Leghorn egg-laying machine, by the next century. Or the natural temperaments and instincts would be so oddly modified, that setting would become an uncommon phase in most chicken breeds.
Resulting from these modifications, common people are now suffering. The greedy intentions of commercialism, has thoroughly enslaved us to an existence that is fake, and being not only unnatural for us as humans, but also for the poultry. Poultry of course being a major food staple in the majority of North American's diets. Eggs are labeled with shockingly high, exuberate prices. I've seen some cartons leveled with an eye-watering price of: $5.35! And there were only twelve! It's not as though these eggs were expelled from Jack's golden hen. The true story couldn't be farther from that tale. The chickens that laid the vast sum of the eggs you see in the average grocery store have never seen a bolt of sunshine in their whole pathetic life. They are probably blinded by an incessant artificial light, and are always chocked by their own foul stench. You can observe from their pale white combs and waddles, that they are depressed. As they have never once been allowed to graze in a green pasture, or dust their lice-infested plumage in the sun-warmed soil. Their prisons are about the average size of a milk crate, and there can be as many as six to eight birds per cage. These birds are always losing their plumage unnaturally, and are infested with lice. Many are often bare of feathers, and are forced to share space with the rotting dried corpses of long-dead hens. Chickens who are cared for in these cruel but capitalist tendencies, are generally: anxious, vicious, and prone to cannibalism, infested with lice, bare of feathers, nearly dead with exhaustion, flighty, loud and obnoxious.
I've also heard disgusting tales, of how these birds are sorely mistreated. Of how they are: thrown around, their wings often busted, legs purposely disfigured or broken so they can't walk, heads and wings ripped off while their still alive, and their eyes gouged out. This and so much more, is the unnatural life of the factory hen. And if you are simple enough to believe the beautiful lies that are painted on the carton (As I was as a child), this is the "Traditional" farm. I can assure you with my grandma's firm rebuttal that these lice-infested sewers are not farms. Though this is the pathetic fairytale, which the business moguls would have us take as a fact less reality.
My grandmother's coop was situated under a ultra-green, low hanging stand of: maples, high cedars, and a hemlock. She technically speaking had two coops. They were divided in the middle by a pair of massive ferns, and a whimsical gravel path. In his high-school years, my father constructed my grandma's henhouses. Rabbit hutch in likeness they were about four feet wide, and eight feet long. Both had a weathered board ramp leading to the inside, and a shutting door that she diligently closed each and every night. Fine-squared screen was on the base of the houses, and each had a ventilated window also covered with this screen. Each had two boxed nests that at one time serviced twenty hens in one coop, and forty in the other. Grandma also had two firm roosts in each house, reaching from width to width.
The coop was formed of simple chicken wire. Fertile wet woodland ground covered in stumps, was the chicken yard. Grandma used long metal stakes to bolster her large wired coops and what stakes couldn't accomplish, rocks and large pieces of wood did. Grandpa would every now and then spread left over gravel from the lane, in the chicken yard for the firming of the ground, and for the chickens' gizzards. It was always cool for grandma's chickens under the fresh canopy, of this small wilderness. And it was never at all too hot, or too loud here. The canopy acted as a natural windbreaker not only against the entire myriad of natural elements, but also against the screams of my grandmother's grandchildren.
Grandma would fill up one large coffee can of laying crumbles, and two small Mr. Peanut cans of cracked corn from the pump house two times every day. From which she would fill up each trough in the hens' yard, and would sprinkle the rest on large tree stumps throughout the pens. Her coops were situated so that without having to step into either pen, she could reach into the houses to gather eggs everyday. And without much fuss or bother, she could easily and efficiently feed her hens. These are the practices that were best for my grandma, and her flock. You will need to modify these practices for your own particular requirements. Without much work my grandmother's chicken keeping and brooding methods, can be modified for your varying purposes. From keeping chickens as a hobby, or for egg and meat production.
To this day, I have yet to see a batch of eggs that even come close to rivaling my grandmother's. The yolks: smelled sweet, could salute the sky, and were the color of seriously dark orange juice. The yolk and shell were so exceptionally shaped and created by a farmer's wife diet of: peach and tomato skins from canning, bean ends, cut grass, bolted greens, radishes, and so much rotten fruit that hens were sick of it. Along with my grandma's own garden waste they were daily fed laying crumbles and cracked corn, being supplemented often with oyster shells. Her ways were foreign to the factory, but preferred by the hen. As I often saw the resolute signs, by the healthy eggs her flock always laid.
My grandmother was a prudent homemaker, and she didn't often waste a single penny. She didn't buy expensive poultry waterers for her adult flock. Instead, she used her old coffee cans. And the nesting material she supplied for her chickens was frequently alfalfa from grandpa's steer barn, or cedar chips from an economic sized bag from her local favorite feed store, L&J. Grandma wasn't an extravagant lady and was always very efficient, making the most out of simple means. And her layers were always sound testimonies to her firmly resolute convictions and platitudes, on keeping steadfast the traditions of her farming ancestors.
One may wonder what do these traditional agricultural methods have to do with setting hens? Well firstly if your own flock isn't kept in a similar fashion as these, you probably aren't in a mindset for setting a broody hen in a natural way. Regardless if your hens are a broody variety or not, they will not be inclined to set in any unnatural setting. In fact if you are keeping your hens in any way other than what is absolutely traditional and natural, you may very well want to stick to buying your eggs at the grocery store.
A biddy broody hen will usually only be tolerated, by a person like my grandma. Who understands the natural order, and especially traditional farming ways. And understands that natural methods are better not only for the poultry, but also for the humans who consume them in many ways. For not only do we physically consume their meat in various forms, but we of course eat their eggs. And we are, exactly what we eat.
HOW A BROODY IS IDENTIFIED IN THE FLOCK
The hen is hissing and ticking, while you gather eggs. When you attempt to put your hand under her, she attacks your hand and behaves not unlike a pit bull. You try to pry her off the nest but she remains flattened out, and fastly glued. She isn't going anywhere, even if her eggs are all taken away. In the end your seeking hand is burning from her fierce crusade, and probably you have at least one slightly broken egg. This hen is biddy broody hen. She will seem an absurd intrusive nuisance, for the people who don't understand the importance of raising chickens naturally. And the sweetest game hen can seem like a terror, when she is growling like a chainsaw. No matter what you do if she is truly broody, this biddy will not be long off her nest. Even forcing the hen out into the yard, will not put her in defeat. She will be clucking a fire fit, and surging back to her perceived post. Broody hens will fluff up, growl, spin around, and settle back down upon her lonely, empty nest.
THE CAUSE OF BIDDY BROODINESS
Broodiness is a natural state of most wild and domestic fowl, inspired by "Mamma Hormones." When a hen's body releases the hormone prolactin, she temporarily stops laying and goes broody. This happens to any hen that is naturally predisposed to setting. A broody will be old enough to lay eggs but won't lay any during her setting, if she is indeed in a brooding state. When she has either laid enough or adopted a clutch, she will begin her setting. Some broodies will be content with one egg; others feel the call too incubate twenty or more. Depending on the size and temperaments of the broody in question, she may be able to brood a large clutch. Others should be given only twelve or less. And always remember. The average broody knows better than even the most experienced of poultrymen, how to successfully rear her chicks.
A broody, will typically choose a place that she feels the most at ease to nest. Usually this place is dark, and out of the way. Sometimes a hen will choose an area that though she feels safe in, is not in actuality the best. Such places could be: in the barn, under the porch, in the free grass, in the shrubs, in a hallow log or tree trunk, or in the woods. These are quite usual in free-range hens, but should not be the preferred method of setting hens. Hens should only brood in the Brooding run, safe from: mature cocks and other hens, domestic dogs, wild dogs, coyotes, cats, foxes, weasles, ravens, bobcats, outside human intrusion, outside weather conditions, skunks, badgers, possums, and every other domesticated or wild predator. Depending on wherever in the country you live, you need to take serious precautions against whatever native predators are in your native state or region.
Broodies do not necessarily need to be fertilized, to feel the calling to set. Like general laying, cocks aren't needed to stimulate broodiness. However if you want the broody hen to be successful at her particular calling, you will need a mature cock to fertilize a quantity of eggs. Or you could ask a friend, to give you a couple of eggs that are believed to be fertile. A broody hen will either sit on her own eggs, or she will simply adopt many eggs. She really doesn't care, so long as she is able to set.
Also, remember this. You cannot force a hen to go broody. Broodines is all based on hormones, and natural inclination for a hen to set. Some hens will go broody, if another hen is also in the same state. Peeping chicks are also agents to induce broodiness, as well as strewing eggs around the henhouse. Though it is seen by many as a waste of good eggs, to just leave them lying idle. Any hen has the ability to go broody. Though there has been such an unnatural messing with chicken breeds, that not all are willingly inclined to do so. A truly broody hen, will attempt to set on: wooden eggs, marbles, rocks, or nothing at all. Some hens will be broody all year long and provided you take extra care and precautions, you can maximize their brooding potential and set broodies throughout the calendar year. And always remember, that particular broodies are preferred over others.
Once the broody is settled into the brooding run, she will very rarely leave the nest. In anticipation of her chicks, she won't foul her nest. Of her own free will, she will choose what days to cover her eggs, and to dash ticking and clucking outside for a quick scratch and drink, then back to her post. Trust her hardwired instincts. Broody biddy hens will not want to leave their clutch, the whole 21-26 days it takes for chicken eggs to hatch. She knows how many days she can go without food and water, and what days she must go out. Never force her to come out and eat, she knows far more than you on hatching eggs. And you will only be the origin of her serious stress, and adamant consternation if you go against her natural instincts.
RESPECT FOR THE BROODY HEN
There are some people who keep chickens, who actually feel put out when their hens go broody. They don't seem to realize, that broodiness is natural, and should be encouraged if at all possible. Not lamented, or fretted over. The so-called breaking practices to rid a negligent owner of broodies are cruel. And should be resolutely discouraged. The hen according to one practice should be isolated in a: drafty, tilted, bare cage or box for a set designated number of days. Another says that the unwanted broody should be dunked, and even held under for a time in cold ice water. These are cruel, vicious tactics. My grandma never approved, or condoned these hateful unnatural methods. A broody hen should either be maximized safely and responsibly to her vast potential, or simply left alone. When she didn't employ them for use, grandma left her biddies alone. And the hens were fine with setting, until they believed they should halt. Grandma Kathy never once employed the vices of animal cruelty, just to make her life more convenient.
Why not be wise, and use the hen for what she was specially designed for? Trust me, you would prefer the hen: setting, incubating, hatching, and rearing the chicks. Instead of you having to: worry about a proper box and brooding light, worrying about fire, and always having to clean the box, you could let the broody hen rear her chicks. She will raise them far better than you ever could, and the chicks will inevitably be healthier with her out in the brooding run, than in the house. Where even in the very best of setups, there is always the possible chance of electric fire. What with the flying: dust, down and feathers with flying manure being the feat one must deal with, when brooding chicks in the house. Not to mention the incorrigible smell, that accompanies all developing chicks.
And most importantly, respect the natural instinct of the brooding hen. What would our ancestors have done, if they hadn't broody hens? Contrary to today's popular belief, chicken meat and eggs are not "made," in the store. It's sad that the majority of children do not know what a traditional, working farm looks like. Or where and how the chicken on their plate came into being. Or where the milk and eggs in their refrigerator were produced. Likewise, it's disturbing to see how people revile domestic farm stock. Without the early domestication of: horses, cows, sheep, goats, hogs, chickens, ducks and geese, our civilization wouldn't have been able to survive for long. We need to respect, and be thankful for what our ancestors have left us, regarding the old ways of agriculture. Many of us cannot afford to lose anymore of our heritage. Especially if the food prices keep going up and if you have gone shopping lately, you know that they're not going down.
VERSATILE LAYERS THAT USUALLY DON'T GO BROODY
The majority of layers do not usually go broody. Though these are generally the hens that are used for laying, and the females who are mated most often by the cocks. So set your layer's eggs under reliable setters, and usually shun the versatile egg layers for setting purposes. Versatile in chicken breeds, mean they are for either: show, egg production, meat or even all three. All layers including the Leghorn should be culled for their meat after they're past their egg-laying prime, of usually four years. Some producers cull their layers at aged two.
Excerpted from How To Set A BROODY HEN, Just Like Your Grandma Did by K.C. Jacob Nofsinger. Copyright © 2013 K.C. Jacob Nofsinger. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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