The Broody Hen
Abigail has gone broody.
She has spent the last few days camped out in a nesting box (this habit has been building in duration over the last week or so). This wouldn't be all that big of a deal, but she's wicked cranky. You can see in the picture how she's all puffed up, showing off how big and mad she is that I dared to open the door. She's also pushing all the other hens out of the nesting boxes, forcing them to lay their eggs on the floor.
Sally is the only one who minds — she is a very reliable nesting-box-layer. This morning I heard them squabbling, and Sally must have gotten the upper hand, because Abigail was shrieking her fool head off outside of the henhouse, and Sally was grumbling inside.
Yesterday we had blocked up the nesting boxes with bricks to try to keep Abigail out, but she just pushed her way back in as best she could, standing guard on the roosting bar in front of the nesting boxes. I took out the bricks to make room for Sally and shut the henhouse door to keep Abigail out while Sally was laying.
Sally always gives a satisfied squawk whens she's done laying, so I was able to go grab her egg and open the henhouse back up when she was done. And then I went straight to the pet store to get a cage for Abigail:
So here's the deal with a broody chicken. She'll spend all day trying to hatch eggs, and she'll do anything to protect them — including bitching at their former friends in the henhouse. Since we don't have a rooster and her eggs aren't fertilized, it's never gonna happen. But she'll spend so much time nesting the she won't eat or drink much, and she definitely won't lay.
According to some internet research, the key is to lower the hen's body temperature to break the broody cycle. She'll get warm to keep the eggs at the right temperature, and being enclosed in the nesting boxes keeps her warm. But if you can cool her off, you can break the cycle. I have read that people give their broody hens' butts a dip in cold water, but that sounded pretty messy (and loud). I found more sensible advice at hencam.com, where they suggested a cage off the ground. She has food and water, and isn't quarantined alone (as she was when she was injured), but she is kept unable to nest. The open cage bottom (propped up on some bricks) allows for air flow and keeps her from settling into any cozy corners to stay warm.
In three days she should be back to normal. In the meantime, Sally (the Barred Rock above) looks psyched to be on the outside of the cage where Abigail can't peck at her. You can see Abigail is still puffed up in the last photo, but I'm hoping she cools down (literally and figuratively) this week.