My resident raccoon has reduced my flock to three chicken hens — two of which are setting on eggs — one guinea hen, and two five-and-a-half week-old chicks. Until now the two non-broody hens have shown a mild interest in the chicks, the guinea hen occasionally pecking at them just to put them in their place, but more often showing an interest in their food, seemingly enjoying a little change from her usual diet.
I had wanted to relocate the guineas to a chain-link shelter since they tend to intimidate the smaller chickens, but had to abandon this plan after the raccoon got the two guinea cocks out, so the remaining hen went back in the coop. Yesterday while the chicks were outside in their cage I noticed something unusual — the guinea hen was poking her head into the cage rather aggressively, even before I put their food in. Soon she left them alone and I gave it no further thought till evening.
When it was time to let the birds in the coop, however, guinea hen was nowhere to be found. This puzzled me at first. Surely nothing could have gotten her, since it was well before dusk. After giving it some thought it dawned on me — guinea hen had gone broody. I realized that the last few times I collected her eggs from the outdoor shelter they were in a bowl-like depression she had made in the ground, something I hadn’t seen before. Normally she would just leave them haphazardly somewhere on the ground or on the litter in the coop.
The trouble with a guinea hen going broody is that they don’t do it in the coop or in a nest box — they hide a nest outside somewhere, which around here means in the woods or thickets. Now that I thought of it, a couple of times lately I had seen her go down into the stream bed, walk very purposefully down the stream, then disappear. This is not good, I thought. The more I waited for her to turn up, the more I was inclined to give her up for lost, since I knew if she stayed on that nest the raccoon would find her.
Suddenly I heard frantic screeching and a beating of wings from somewhere downstream, and soon I saw my guinea hen running up the road toward the driveway as fast as her legs would carry her. Clearly the raccoon had made a tactical error, trying to sneak up on her while it was still daylight. Poor guinea hen spent the next 20 minutes or so running back and forth, seemingly torn between the security of the coop and the urge to return to her nest. Meanwhile the raccoon and her young were no doubt sitting down to a disappointing meal of eggs.
I started getting ready to cage her — though I’ve never been able to catch her before — fearing that in her distraught state she’d attack the chicks at the first opportunity. Thankfully, when she finally entered the coop just before dark she ran right into the cage and I quickly shut the door.
This morning I got her relocated to the garage with some food and water, where I plan to keep her until she gets over being broody. She hates it, and so do I, but at least she and the chicks will be safe!
Postscript: This evening I went to check on her, and guess what I found in the cage? An egg. So with some relief I let her out, and later she returned to the coop without incident. I guess the quickest way to break up a broody hen is to have her scared off the nest by a raccoon!
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