The broody hen never had chicks of her own. But she miraculously accepted a brood of newborn chicks and raised them as her own.
- Posted on Apr 24, 2020
‘‘That chicken just growled,” my husband said, surprised and amused.
“I think she’s broody,” I said.
“How long does that last?” Ron asked.
I didn’t have an answer. A hen goes broody when she wants to hatch eggs. She will sit on them for days, weeks, even months. During this time, her maternal instinct kicks in and she can be sensitive and defensive, protecting her soon-to-be babies.
Our hen was one of 17 beautiful Rhode Island Reds on our farm. We hadn’t named them, but she stood out for her behavior and affectionately became known as Broody Hen.
Each evening, when my husband or I would collect eggs from the coop, Broody Hen would growl and peck, upset that we were taking hers again. We didn’t have a rooster yet, so her eggs weren’t fertilized and would never hatch. We had to find a way to help her move on.
One night, Ron came in from the coop excitedly. “I figured out she really likes grapes! I traded them for eggs!” Broody Hen had gobbled up the grapes, raised herself up and let him take all her eggs. No fussing.
Over many nights of this same routine, we got to know Broody Hen and fell in love with her. She would let us pet her and sit with her. She was actually very sweet.
We spoiled her with grapes for about a month until she finally gave up her quest to be a mama. Truthfully, I was a little sad. I knew what it was like to long for a baby. After having my first child, I had tried for years to have another and it just wasn’t happening. I had given up too. Then, by some miracle, I got pregnant. I wanted that joy for our Broody Hen.
We got a rooster and over the years had several other hens go broody and become mamas. But never our dear Broody Hen.
Last summer we had two hens go broody. One had babies she was caring for, and the second hen was due to hatch an egg or two soon. We had also invested in an incubator. Inside sat 11 eggs, preparing to hatch.
Because it’s easier and healthier if a mama hen raises chicks, we had planned for the second broody hen to take our incubator babies, along with her own, under her wing.
Then something strange happened. Broody Hen went broody again, for the first time in four years. She sat on the biggest clutch of eggs she could find (yes, she stole other hens’ eggs), growling at everyone. I couldn’t believe she was back at it after all this time, trying to be a mama.
The problem was, she had just gone broody, and the incubator chicks were due to hatch at any minute. Without going through the process of sitting on eggs for a while, it was unlikely she would accept babies that suddenly appeared.
“Maybe we should stick to our plan and give the babies to the second hen,” I said to my husband.
“I think you’re right. But it’s too bad Broody Hen won’t get to be a mama.”
The first incubator egg hatched. While the second hen slept, we snuck one of her eggs out from under her and replaced it with the baby. She would wake up, think her egg hatched and adopt the baby.
In the morning, I checked on the mama and new baby. The tiny chick was out of the nest, crying. The mama had rejected it.
“We should give her one more chance,” Ron said.
“I don’t know. I heard if they reject the baby, they reject it,” I said. Still, we decided to try again, placing the incubator chick back with the mama.
An hour later I returned. The baby was dead. Not only did we lose that beautiful chick, we weren’t going to have a mama for our incubator hatch. Unless…
Unless Broody Hen could do it.
Soon, all of the babies had hatched in the incubator. That night, we put them in a basket and carried them to our garage, where we had Broody Hen nesting in a crate. I was scared. What if we lost more chicks to rejection?
One by one, we took an egg from under Broody Hen and replaced it with a little bundle of cheeping fluff . Broody Hen stirred but didn’t fully wake. All we could do was pray that our plan would work.
The next morning, I got up very early and hurried to the garage. If there were any signs of rejection, I would pull the babies and raise them myself.
There was Broody Hen, with babies hopping all over her, cooing and purring in utter contentment. She looked so proud. At last her miracle had happened, just as mine had.
Every one of those chicks grew up happy and healthy, thanks to Broody Hen—our little hen who finally got to be the mama she was meant to be.
Did you enjoy this story? Subscribe to All Creatures magazine.