Stopping a Broody Hen

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Chicken tractor AKA the Terminegger on pasture.

Chicken tractor AKA the Terminegger on pasture.

A while back I did a post on the issue of broody hens; what a great thing they are and how to manage them. There’s another side to this issue, however. Sometimes you have a hen trying to go broody and it’s just a nuisance. Maybe you don’t even have a rooster, so you know darned good and well the eggs will never hatch. Maybe you don’t care about having chicks, you just want eggs. Maybe her timing is lousy and she’ll be hatching chicks when it’s too darned cold. For whatever reason, there are times you want to convince a broody hen to get off the blasted nest.
As with many situations, prevention is best: choose chickens that rarely go broody (like Leghorns, which aren’t any good for anything but laying eggs; in my opinion, they don’t even make good chicken broth!). Gathering the eggs several times a day is supposed to decrease the instinct to go broody. Since I’ve seen broody hens try to set on rocks as well as bare nests, I don’t give this one much credence. The other prevention strategy is to keep the hens out of the nest boxes once they’ve laid their eggs. You can do this with a trap door that shuts behind her when she goes out, but it means you have to have enough nest boxes with doors to have one for each hen. Not to mention, that the broody hen just goes and finds a corner somewhere and starts setting in that spot instead of a nest box.

Breakfast time.

Breakfast time.


Other suggestions (and my comments on efficacy):
Keep taking the hen off the nest box – maybe you have enough time to traipse out to the chicken house every hour or so for several days; I don’t.
Block off the nesting box – she’ll just find another spot.
Take her out of the nesting box at night and put her up on the roost (you have to do this just after dark). I did try this a few times; the hen just went back to nest when the sun came up.
Use a Broody Buster – this is basically just a small cage with a wire bottom. Don’t put any bedding in it. Shut the hen in the cage with food and water and leave her for a few days. Put the cage in a spot with lots of natural sunlight. After three days, put her back in the chicken pen. If she socializes with the other hens and stays off the nest, problem solved. If not, repeat or try something else. This one works on some hens, but not all.

Although having a bear invade the chicken tractor might get a broody hen off the nest, I would recommend it as a solution!

Although having a bear invade the chicken tractor might get a broody hen off the nest, I wouldn’t recommend it as a solution!


If none of these techniques work, give her the cold treatment. Apparently a hen that is broody undergoes a slight increase in body temperature. Cooling her down sends a hormonal signal that trips the broodiness circuit in her little brain and stops the process — errr, cold. You can put a bag of ice or frozen veggies under her, or get a bucket of really cold water and dip her in it so that her breast and bottom are well-soaked. I have actually found the cold water treatment to be quite successful, so if I really need to break a hen of broodiness, I just go straight to the bucket method and skip all the other stuff. In a few cases, it’s taken a couple of dunkings to solve the problem, but this method always works for me.

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Summer Lettuce

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Paris White Cos romaine lettuce.

Paris White Cos romaine lettuce.

Ah, seasonal eating from the garden: asparagus and peas in the spring, vine-ripe tomatoes and sweet corn in the summer, squash in the fall and kale in the winter. One fly in the ointment (so to speak) is that summer is the season of salads, which gets you out of cooking in a hot kitchen. Only problem is, growing summer lettuce is a challenge. Not being one to give up gracefully (I LIKE summer salads, especially with fresh ripe tomatoes!), I get sneaky when it comes to summer lettuce.

Mixed lettuce in the shady bed.

Mixed lettuce in the shady bed.

The variety really does make a difference. Leaf lettuce of any kind is generally a better choice than head lettuce or romaine for really hot weather. Of these, butterhead and oakleaf varieties tend to be top of the list for heat resistance. The more colorful lettuces, especially the dark reds and magentas, don’t hold up as well to heat. Lettuces that are speckled do OK, though. In my experience, these are particularly good heat-resistant varieties: Bibb Buttercrunch, Black Seeded Simpson, Royal Oak Leaf, Jericho (developed in Israel, can you guess?) and Paris Island Cos. Since summer temps in my neck of the woods are typically in the upper 90s to low 100s, these should do OK in most localities.

All chopped up, ready for additions.

All chopped up, ready for additions.

Germinating lettuce seed in a heat wave isn’t easy. Chilling it in the fridge for about a week first helps, and some people have success germinating it on moist paper tools in the fridge; once you have sprouts, just tear or cut the paper towel and plant right along with the seedling. Outside, germinate in the shade and cover it a little more deeply than you normally would (maybe ½ inch or so). Make sure your soil is loaded with organic material and very finely worked, or cover with potting mix or compost. Soil with a lot of clay tends to bake into a crust in summer heat and the seeds just can’t break through.

Recipe for a salad: first, grow the tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and green onions...

Recipe for a salad: first, grow the tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and green onions…

I don’t even think about growing summer lettuce in full sun. It does just fine in partly and even fully shaded beds, so that’s where I put it. If you don’t have any shady beds in the veggie garden you might consider growing it in a shady flower bed or in containers you can keep in the shade. You can also use shade cloth or some sort of home-made sun shelter, or grow it on the north side of taller plants. Plant the lettuce closer together than you would if growing to full maturity; it helps shade the roots. Water is obviously extra important in summer. Keep the beds or pots just slightly moist at all times. You can also mist the leaves a couple of times a day, especially if you only have garden beds in full sun.

Chicken house cleanings to add to the kitchen garden beds.

Chicken house cleanings to add to the kitchen garden beds.

The most important key to success with summer lettuce is fast growth and early harvest. A steady source of moisture and fertile soil are requirements for most vegetables, but critical for growing summer lettuce. Summer really pushes the lettuce to bolt, so ignore what the seed packet says about days to harvest. Plan to harvest as soon as the leaves are six to eight (at most) inches tall. With the lettuces listed above, you can use the cut-and-come-again method, usually through at least three harvests. Harvest first thing in the morning; the lettuce will usually be sweeter and store better. Take it in and put it in the fridge immediately. Don’t wash until just before you’re ready to use it.
Enjoy your salads!

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Agricultural Prejudice

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Start 'em young; grooming the stallion.

Start ’em young; grooming the stallion.


My right hand ranch hand (also known as TBO — The Big One — and OGD — Oldest Granddaughter) graduated from high school a few nights back. It was a typical graduation ceremony, and I was sort of lulled into complacency by the program. Then the last student speaker of the evening stood up.
This 18-year-old girl is a ranch kid. She’s a member of Future Farmers of America and the county cattlemen’s association. She is also active in drama and choir, a math whiz, and won no less than 13 scholarships in her senior year. What caught my attention was that she was speaking about the prejudice she had encountered during her school years because of her agricultural background, like the comment from the advanced math teacher: “I’ve never had an ag major in my class before.” The implication, of course, being that the teacher was surprised anyone with that background would have an interest in and aptitude for advanced math. She also mentioned a few derogatory comments she’d heard from others about her agricultural upbringing and plans to further her education in that field. (By the way, this particular school draws its students from the more rural areas of the county; I’d bet at least a third of them come from families involved in agriculture). Among other things, it reminded me of the comments “guidance” counselors often make to bright young students who want to go into nursing: “Oh, you’re too smart to be a nurse, you should go into medicine!”
Feeding the cows.

Feeding the cows.


It irritates me no end that far too many people haven’t the slightest idea of the complexity involved in agriculture, the knowledge and skill it takes to raise food and manage livestock, or the dedication that keeps farmers and ranchers out there no matter what the weather or how late it is. I want to plunk the ignoramuses in front of a tomato plant and ask them, “OK, so is this leaf problem due to inadequate water, a nutrient deficiency, herbicide residue or a virus?” A farmer would know the answer.
Giving the rooster a bath before the fair.

Giving the rooster a bath before the fair.


I want to hand them fencing tools and tell them to go build fence on a hill with a 30-degree upslope, and wind up with a fence that’s straight, tight and won’t pull out because the builder understood how to compensate for that upslope. Or ask them to drive a tractor, or midwife a ewe, or vaccinate a cow, or build an irrigation dam that won’t wash out, or recognize different weeds and know what each tells you about the soil conditions. or weld up the bucket on the backhoe. I want them to explain clan mating, line breeding, out-crossing and inbreeding, and color genetics in horses. Do they know that baby chicks get curled up toes because of vitamin B deficiency and you can solve the problem by feeding them liver? Do they know that soaking seeds in a 10% solution of bleach can improve germination rates? Do they know how to prune a fruit tree?
Getting the new calf accustomed to people.

Getting the new calf accustomed to people.


Agriculture is not a place for the stupid, the lazy or the faint of heart. And those of us in the field are just as likely to be math and music and drama and art whizzes as anyone who never even saw a farm. My hat is off to this young lady, who told it like it is at that night’s graduation. She’s exactly the sort we need engaged in agricultural pursuits.

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