11:52 15 December 2016
How do you stop a hen going broody? Janine Marsh asked the locals in her French village
I have a grey chicken called Brenda. She’s a happy bird, but recently she started acting a bit oddly. She was broody. Instead of running over to the gate to greet me as usual when I arrived with food, she stayed in the coop. I guess she must have come out to eat at some point, but I never saw her. As there was no cockerel in the pen, I knew the eggs weren’t fertile and she was just wasting her time. She lay flat out, spreading her wings protectively over the eggs, pecking at me when I opened the nest box to collect her ‘babies’.
After a couple of days, I pushed her out and she just went straight back in again. Worried that she would get weak from not eating, I popped her into a separate run where she scoffed her food and lapped up the water. After a week she started laying eggs again. When I let her out, she was back to her usual bossy, greedy self and normal life was resumed in the pen. In the little café in the village where I live in the middle of nowhere in France, I thought I’d ask for advice. Did I do the right thing? Should I have done something else? At Chez Annie, all the regulars keep birds and everyone’s an expert, of course.
Old Monsieur Leroy told me I should just put broody ones in the pot. Erm. I don’t think so; my birds are pets, all 70 of them. I didn’t intend to have that many, but I’ve become known as a soft touch in these parts by ex-pats going back to the UK or who get fed up with cleaning the coops and changed their minds about keeping poultry. Luckily, I have the room and the time to care for them properly.
Madame Dumont told me she has a foolproof method for curing broody birds and getting them back on course tout de suite.
“Get a big bowl, or a bucket. Fill it with cold water. Grab your bird and dip its bum in the water.”
“Really?” I said. “Why would dipping a chicken’s derriere in cold water stop her wanting to sit on eggs that aren’t fertilised?”
“I have no idea,” said Madame Dumont. “But my mother and her mother have always known this and now I do it too. I have not had a broody chicken for years. Come to think of it, I’ve not had any eggs hatch either for a long time.”
At this, old Monsieur Leroy, who had a glass of Pastis to his lips, choked and was smacked on the back by his friend, really old Monsieur Dupré.
I think I’ll stick to separate runs for the broody ones for now.