The Unhatchable Egg. A tale of five broodies

This is a short and very sweet story from the Summer and it further illustrates just how wonderful Nature can be and so full of surprises. It also made me question that old adage. 'Don't count your chickens before they hatch'.

Mother and chick kissing

This dictum is said to have originated in the Aesopica, a collection of fables written by Aesop between  620 to 560 BC and in particular the moral tale of 'The Milkmaid and her Pail'. The illustration below is a woodcut by Helen Siegl from the artofchildrenspicturebooks blogspot.

don't count your chickens
In Aesop's fable the girl walks home with a bucket on her head planning in stages how she will convert the very saleable, rich milk in her pail to finery. She will buy eggs, hatch chicks, grow then on and purchase a party frock with the proceeds. Of course it all comes to naught because as she thinks about the gown and how she will disdainfully wow the local lads, she tosses her head and drops the milk. Then of course comes the sententious punch line. Personally I don't go in for morality tales, they smack to much of the status quo, I like them where the eggs hatch and they all live happily ever after. 

Like the following:

Broody hens - an introduction

Broody Ardenner hen wanting in to the chicken coopI've written of this on other occasions but I think it is apposite to include it here, that in my experience there is no such thing as a typical broody hen and furthermore that there are many reasons why a bird becomes and maintains the character of the broody.

These are:

Status - To a young hen, or one low in the pecking order, being broody gives status, which it may otherwise take her months or even years to attain.
Position - a broody hen and even more so, the mother of chicks, is revered by the whole flock, which as a collective has, in my experience a fine understanding of continuance.
Freedom - in a forest garden, likes ours where there are several flocks and thus territorial boundaries decided by the birds, a broody and/or hen with chicks has passe-partout.
Food - a broody has by her very nature of quasi-'insanity' priority at the food bowl, plus I usually allow my broodies and mother hens and chicks, first sitting at breakfast and they know this.
Respect - by the very nature of a broody's erratic and often aggressive behaviour, she can instil fear and or reverence into the heart of even the bravest of cockerels
Protection - broodiness and motherhood can often bring out monogamy in a cockerel, many of my broodies find themselves squired around the garden, this happens in particular if the male believes that the chicks are his own.
Respite - in a mixed flock, particularly with young males, hens can get chased and annoyed by over-amorous cockerels. Being broody keeps them out of harms way, in particular if the hen has also formed a relationship as in the previous paragraph.
Peace - there is a great deal to be said for spending hot Summer days, in a cool hen house chatting with your friends.

To this end it should become obvious that, not all broody hens incline to motherhood and that being a serial broody has its advantages.

Why I leave broodies alone

Victorian inn keeper and her brood of chicks
Even prior to the First World War there was a move afoot to industrialise farming and bring it into the Agrochemical domain. To this end many things had to change, from the side-lining and then near annihilation of ancient, slow growing, independent and ancient breeds to the breaking and breeding out of natural impulses such as broodiness. If you want a hen to be a laying machine in a factory farm then you certainly don't want her broody. This in turn engendered a whole new set of satellite industries, such as small-scale incubators, heat lamps, plastic feeders, chick crumbs and of course medication and vaccines. A complete paraphernalia of goods which previous generations of small homesteaders, including my innkeeping great grandmother, seen here above with her brood of chicks, could quite easily do without. 

Polish chicks

Of course with the reversal of this trend of the past decades and a return to organic farming, chicken keepers have began to realise that a good broody is a very rara avis indeed. Furthermore, just ask yourself what would you rather have if you were a chick, a warm loving feathery Mummy or a heat lamp and a pile of shavings?

Mother and chick free-ranging in a meadow
Even so it can be annoying to have several broodies blocking up the nest boxes and chasing away your laying hens. This is particularly annoying in a forest garden where your hens will quite naturally lay away and build up clutches of eggs and hatch them. To this end my solution is to give them an egg and put it in one nest box. Hens do know the difference between a golf ball and a real egg and even if they have no intention of becoming mothers, the attraction of a nice smooth egg to sit on is very tempting. Thus, in the Summer I ended up with five broodies in one box all sitting on one egg. However, as all five of them fitted into different categories above, once the initial excitement of having a potential chick to hatch was over, they settled down quite happily in the one box and completely ignored the egg. Hence the following film:

Anyway, whoever heard of a milkmaid owning her own pail of milk?

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All the very best,


broody hen in full display

Understanding broodiness in hens and how this helps in raising quail... read more

Cochin broody adopts chicks

Broody adopts chicks in cold weather - the amazing kindness of birds... read more

©  Sue Cross 2016


  1. How sweet! A good momma took up the chick. Thanks for your lovely films and well written works. I return to your site often and have enjoyed learning about how to gently care for hens and quail. I hope to get quail soon and chickens (again) as well.

    1. Hi there Erin, Thanks for your kind comments, much appreciated and I do hope you get your birds soon. I see from your blog you are raising compost worms, I am presuming these are the red worms or bramblings aka brandlings the ones that hens don't really like, well I don't know if you knew that quail love them! So you've got part of your food already set up.

      By the way we share the same surname!
      All the very best, Sue