This year we had one determined hen who “flew the coop” and set herself up to hatch some eggs. Once a hen goes broody, as long as she’s out of the way and safe, we usually try to leave her alone. I didn’t think her eggs were still good (it seemed like she was sitting on them all summer!), but we left her alone. Then one day she wasn’t there and all that remained of her little nest were broken egg shells!
Oh no! I thought for sure predators had eaten her and her eggs, or the goats had trampled her little nest. But then I heard the peeping!
In the next pasture over the hen had a clutch of ten fuzzy little chicks she was clucking softly to and keeping close together! We were thrilled!
Last year another hen had also hatched a clutch of eggs. We left them entirely alone after they hatched. They were totally wild, impossible for us to move into the hoophouse with the rest of the chickens. Unfortunately, living on their own the chicks then mother hen got picked off one by one. At last there was just one chicken left, and he turned into a wild rooster that lived with the pigs all through the winter.
That wild rooster was most likely the father of these chicks. Rather than wait for mother and chicks to get picked off by predators, we caught them all and are letting the chicks grow up with mama hen in a chicken tractor. They are still outside and mama hen still keeps them warm and teaches them about what to eat, but the tractor limits how far they can range and keeps them safe from predators while they grow up.
A few days before they hatched we had a group of young children out to the farm and the children “discovered” the nest of eggs.
“What’s inside?” A little girl asked bringing me one of the eggs.
“We could crack it open and see.” I said and I almost cracked it open for her, but then I said cautiously, “But if we do and it has a baby chick inside, that baby chick will certainly die. Do you still want me to crack it open?”
She shook her head and said “No”
So I said, “Well, better put the egg back then.”
A few days later the chicks all hatched out.