For the first time since my family and I moved back to the UK in 2018, I finally have space for hens, and lost no time in acquiring four bantams. I love hens – they are useful, funny and lovely to look at – but after two months, the honeymoon (hen-ymoon?) is over. I am now remembering all the ways my previous hens used to drive me mad as I go through it all again. There is their unerring ability to find the one plant you really love and destroy it in a few careless bug-seeking scratches, the escaping, the bullying (one of my current flock jumps on the others’ heads, which is athletic, but absolutely unnecessary), the rogue laying of eggs in place or places unknown and inaccessible, and, my least favourite: broodiness.
Hens without fertilised eggs to incubate will replicate the process with unfertilised eggs, or indeed with no eggs at all. They insist on staying in their nest box for the time it normally takes to hatch a brood (three weeks), or often longer, barely leaving, even for food and water. Flattened against the straw, hot and bad-tempered, pulling out their breast feathers to make a cosier nest for imaginary chicks, my girls refuse to budge, pecking me if I try to persuade them out (they would be absolute pros at self-isolation).
Advice abounds for how to deal with your baleful, feathered pancake, since a broody hen won’t lay and is more susceptible to parasites. Removing warm bedding, immersing in cool water and exiling to a fun-free cage are all suggested fixes. But I don’t have the heart for that with my current broody, Stella, much as I miss seeing her pottering around. As a perpetually angry, hot, irrational perimenopausal woman, I have far too much sympathy for her hormonal derangement to give her the cold dunking or cage-of-shame treatment. The tyranny of female hormones is a cross-species curse and honestly, if I thought I could get away with staying in bed for three weeks right now, violently repelling any attempts to extricate me, I absolutely would.