Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Going broody

Sometimes a hen will stop laying and instead will focus on the incubation of eggs, a state that is commonly known as going broody. A broody chicken will sit fast on the nest, and protest or peck in defense if disturbed or removed, and will rarely leave the nest to eat, drink, or dust bathe. While brooding, the hen maintains constant temperature and humidity, as well as turning the eggs regularly.

At the end of the incubation period, which is an average of 21 days, the eggs (if fertilized) will hatch, and the broody hen will take care of her young. Since individual eggs do not all hatch at exactly the same time (the chicken can only lay one egg approximately every 25 hours), the hen will usually stay on the nest for about two days after the first egg hatches. During this time, the newly-hatched chicks live off the egg yolk they absorb just before hatching. The hen can sense the chicks peeping inside the eggs, and will gently cluck to stimulate them to break out of their shells. If the eggs are not fertilized by a rooster and do not hatch, the hen will eventually lose interest and leave the nest.

Modern egg-laying breeds rarely go broody, and those that do often stop part-way through the incubation cycle. Some breeds, such as the Cochin, Cornish and Silkie, regularly go broody and make excellent maternal figures.