It’s always something with chickens. We have added to our chicken flock (which had dwindled to two). We have the two original Buff Chanteclers, two Wyandottes, and an Easter-Egger. These new chickens have proved to be prolific layers–and I cannot help wondering if that isn’t the source of the problem.

The Chanteclers were never great layers. They are extremely hardy–and they’re not big eaters. I’m not sure if “cheap to keep” is enough. Alpha, the top dog of the chicken yard has never laid an egg so far as we can tell. We contemplated retiring her, early on (read “soup”), but my sister warned that the top chicken of the pecking order often doesn’t lay. She is, after all, a supervisor. If we retired her, there was the risk that any new top chicken would, in turn, cease to lay. So we kept her. She’s a bitch, but she’s our bitch.

The new chickens have upped the game. We are at the point where we produce more eggs than we can consume. Our neighbors thank us. But all this production seems to have rattled Alpha.

Alpha is no spring chicken. She must be five, and remember, she does not lay. But she’s gone broody on us! A broody chicken is one who goes through a hormonal shift, such that she seeks to develop a clutch of eggs to hatch. She’ll hang out in the brood box all day, sitting on any eggs she can find. Her temperature rises, and she goes into an uncharacteristic, driven mode. You can kick her out of the coop– but she goes right back. Some broody hens become aggressive. I suppose it works in the larger context–where a chicken could actually hatch a family, but we have no rooster. There will be no chicks.

Given that this is all in vain, we have to consider the cost to the chicken. It wears the hen out–all this obsessive behavior and the elevated temperatures, they’re bad for the chicken. It is in everyones’ interest to break the broody cycle.

We never had a broody hen before, so I called my sister for help. “You have to cool her down to break the broody cycle.” Just how does one chill a chicken? Apparently, you can either dunk her repeatedly in icy water (which sounds like torture to me), or you can isolate her in a cool location–with no nesting materials for insulation. This slower, but more humane method can take days.

So Alpha is in solitary. Our barn stays cool in the lower level–in the low 50s on the concrete floor. So Alpha is doing time, chilling. The other chickens don’t seem to miss her. As you can imagine, she’s pacing the floor, like the inmate that she is. Rick put the food and water outside the enclosure–he didn’t want any rattling of the tin cup against the bars of her cell. So far, I don’t see her getting any reduction in sentence for good behavior.

In a couple of days, we put her back out with the others, and hope that she is broody no more.