For the birds: a backyard chicken update on molting and broodiness…

There was a recent movement in our sister-city of Moorhead, MN, to pass an ordinance allowing each household/homeowner to be able to have maximum of 5 hens in their backyard. Seems kind of like a no-brainer, but — misunderstanding and misinformation on chickens, their care, and their bodily odors still abound. Alas, the motion was not passed. One of the councilmembers felt that, to paraphrase, there just was not enough of a buzz about chickens. They hadn’t heard of anyone supporting it – or even talking about it. … I suppose it depends on who you talk to. But, that is a stumbling block. People thing of chickens as noisy and smelly, but they are likely thinking of the factory-farm equivalent of chicken-ry — which is noisy, and smelly (not to mention bad for the birds).

I thought that the group, “Moorhead Citizens for Urban Chickens”, had a good idea, though. They hosted a screening of “Mad City Chickens” and the Public Library, and invited enthusiasts or those curious (or even those opposed, I suppose) to come and talk together and learn.

They now have the option to circulate a petition, and gain 1900 signatures, to bring the issue to a vote. I wish them luck (and really had hoped to attend the event a couple weeks back, but didn’t get there. The documentary looked absolutely cool!).

Our own backyard hens have greatly contributed to learning, both for me and my husband, and our boys. Even my two-year old is comfortable (and amazingly adept) at sneaking up on a chicken and grabbing it (gently….gently….GENTLY, PLEASE!).

One thing we’ve learned about is what happens, and how to respond, when a chicken is broody. A broody hen wants to hatch eggs. And while that would be pleasant to have chicks, most neighbors in the city don’t find a rooster crowing to be pleasant. We’re just in a bit too close of quarters. Our own ‘surprise rooster’ was pretty loud, even for us, and he was a bantam silky – its not the size of the rooster that determines the size of the crow.

A broody hen also doesn’t lay eggs. Why would she? She is an expectant mother. She doesn’t need to focus her energy in more chick production. But, for those who enjoy scrambled eggs, this presents a problem.

We have had two of our three hens have multiple broody periods, and have found that gently taking her off her next several times a day, and, in fact, blocking the entrance to the nesting box, usually solves the problem — but not overnight. I think the shortest it has taken to “break” a broody hen has been a month! That’s a long time, to me, who likes omelets. And what’s more, when they do start laying again, you have tiny marble eggs for around a week, just like when they first started laying.

Another issue that recently freaked us out: molting! I was greeted by a fluff of feathers blowing at my flip-flopped feet one morning as I went to re-fill their food and water. Was one of them sick? Was there an animal attack? Nope – its purely normal and natural. The length of days decrease, and in nature, that would signal the chickens to line their nest with comfy warm feathers, while growing new feathers, also comfy and warm. While they’re molting, they look a little goofy and patchy – but, they’ll recover. They’re beautiful birds, patchy or not.

These two learning experience (as well as others!) have made me appreciate the complexity of a chicken, and the gift of how they were made. As much as we think of keeping chickens, or even gardening, for that matter, as ‘natural’, ‘back to the land’ type stuff, we’re tampering with the structure of nature, so I always want to tread carefully, and learn as I go.

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