Since my poultry flock is still in its first year I’m getting a quick education in hen behavior, and I must say some of it is baffling. First of all, no matter how many nest boxes I provide, they all tend to use the same one, except for a couple who like to lay their eggs on the windowsill. A friend has also reported this phenomenon, so maybe this is common? In any case, it makes for a lot of drama when one of the hens is hogging the nest box and another one wants to use it. The frustrated hen will run around crying hysterically until the nest is vacated. Sometimes I’ve had two or three hysterical hens at once!
This problem is exacerbated by another strange phenomenon that has surfaced — semi-broody hens. Has anyone else experienced this? My Buckeyes haven’t laid anything for over a month now. At first I thought something was getting the eggs, but I monitored the situation closely, checking often for eggs, leaving them shut up in the coop, etc., and never found any evidence of that.
Meanwhile, I started finding eggs from my Icelandic hens at the rate of almost one per hen every day. And I observed an interesting pattern with the Buckeyes: They would take turns sitting in the nest box for about half an hour without laying anything, then leave and go back to their normal activities. After a while they began to act seriously broody while in the nest box — they’ll get all spread out and sit there with that frown of concentration, making strange sounds. Here’s an example :
(The nest boxes are really a lot darker than it appears, but I didn’t have a way to disable the flash on my camera.)
Sometimes one hen will try and squeeze in next to another one. One day one of my Icies was practically standing on top of a Buckeye who was all spread out in there, practically filling up the nest!
Now the problem has spread to the Icelandics. They’re still laying, but every now and then one of them will sit on her egg after rolling it around a bit with her beak — along with the golf balls I put in there — and adopt that look of concentration, emitting a raucous screech! whenever approached. But it doesn’t last.
Presently I’m anxiously awaiting a broody Icelandic hen, since I have some Icelandic eggs on order and want one to hatch them and raise them. I thought maybe the problem was too much traffic and competition for the nest boxes, causing the hens not to feel secure in there. I tried to solve that by putting one of the nest boxes (a cardboard box they had been using) in the back of a cage, so when one of them does go broody I could shut the cage and give them some peace and privacy. I have cardboard covering the top, and have even draped a towel over the front of it, and put in food and water.
Still, after an hour or so my fiercely broody Icelandic hen couldn’t take being shut up in there any longer. I heard crying sounds coming from the coop, so I went in to check on her, shutting the door to the coop behind me. She quickly consumed some of the food and water I put in for her, but as soon as I let her out of the cage she went and jumped out the window! There were no other birds in the coop, so it wasn’t that.
I could try breaking up the Buckeyes’ broodiness by a method Harvey Ussery recommends: isolating them without any nesting material until they lay an egg. But I don’t really need the eggs, and I need the cage to isolate a truly broody hen when I have one — at least until I can get her relocated. I just wish one of those Icelandics would stop fooling around and go broody for real!
This candidate looks promising--I think I'll hang a towel over the box and see how she does.