Buffy is broody.
This has happened before, and it’s terribly inconvenient. The children are afraid of our broody Buffy because she hisses and pecks. She’s nothing like her normal sweet self. Frightened children don’t collect eggs. They whine about whose turn it is, and dawdle on the walk to the coop and generally avoid the task altogether.
That’s what sent me out to the chicken coop yesterday. Three sunny days, six chickens and frightened egg collectors meant I had a treasure trove of farm-fresh eggs waiting for me.
Let me back up, in the event my farm talk has confused you.
Our back-yard mini-farm is a usually a magnet for our six children. They all love hanging around the hens; even sixteen year-old Simon can often be found sitting with his friends in the Adirondack chairs in front of the coop as they watch the chickens peck.
We raised all six hens by hand. We chose our chicks the day after they hatched and the children took turns feeding and holding them. The result is a flock of six sweet, tame chickens. They come when they’re called, eat out of our hands, and allow kids of all ages to pick them up and tote them around the yard.
Except when they’re broody.
When a hen is broody, she sits on her eggs, hell-bent on hatching them. She won’t move at all, barely eating or drinking. She won’t peck in the yard with the rest of the flock. She won’t allow herself to be snuggled. She hisses and pecks at anyone who dares to move her.
A broody hen is stuck in a hormonal cycle that can last up to thirty days. Anxious hen owners can shorten the cycle by encouraging a hen to get some air on her chest (cooling down nature’s incubator seems to help) and enticing her with treats. Sometimes those solutions work, and sometimes they don’t.
As I tried to gently shift our sweet Buffy off her eggs yesterday, she pecked at me furiously. I offered her an apple, which she rejected, squawking in protest. All the other hens were gallivanting in the yard, merrily eating the freshly laid grass seed and scratching for bugs.
Here’s what Buffy doesn’t understand: we don’t have a rooster. The eggs aren’t fertilized. Buffy’s sacrifice will never result in a flock of fluffy chicks. She is starving herself and missing all the fun for nothing.
Sometimes I think the universe sends me broody hens as a reminder.
How often have I sat on eggs that will never hatch in this coparenting and blended family life?
How often have I been itchy and scratchy and pecked at those I love? How often have I sacrificed my own needs to focus all my energy on something that will never change? How often have I missed out on joy because I chose to obsess about something outside of my control?
Like a lunatic, I stood outside that chicken coop yesterday and talked softly to my sweet hen. Petting her head, I reminded her that we’d been here before. All her focus and energy wasn’t going to get her what she wanted. No matter how hard she worked to keep those eggs warm, they weren’t going to hatch. She could be the world’s best egg-sitter and she still wouldn’t get what she wanted. It’s just the reality of her situation.
I pushed her gently off the eggs and out into the yard with her flock. I watched her stop and ruffle her feathers in the cool breeze. I watched her scratch and peck the dirt and cluck softly with her sisters.
I watched her slowly let go of the burden of unhatchable eggs and come home to herself.
And I latched the coop, gathered the eggs, and returned inside to do the same.
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