Broody Hens and the Meaning of Life

Instead of making excuses for the fact that I have not made the tiniest appearance here at The Tangled Nest for, um, five months, I’m just going to jump right in with this:  Ophelia, one of my beautiful Buff Orpingtons, is broody. She’s been sitting stubbornly in the nest box for days on end and bristles at anyone, human or chicken, who dares to approach her and the eggs beneath her feathered belly–her future, impossible brood of chicks.  (We keep no rooster.  It is one of the most common questions urban people have regarding chickens:  How do you get eggs with no rooster?  Using our own human bodies as an analogy, we  can figure it out quickly enough—you need a rooster to get chicks, not eggs.)

Ophelia is mad and fluffed, as Ethel tries to get a turn in the nest box.

Last week my daughter Claire and I were in a serious, frightening car accident.  Everyone is OK (except my beloved old VW, which is totaled).  But there was a moment when we could see the crash coming and that it was unavoidable— both of us thought we might die.  Just die right there that sunny morning.  We talked later about how, though we were jumpy and shaken (and sore) all day, both of us also felt a strange, grounding calm descend. The world felt filled with love, and extra light and color and beauty.  It still does.

Ophelia herself almost died this winter.  She was brutally attacked by a dog, and I nursed her for three months in a makeshift dining-room corner chicken hospital. For the first month, I was almost certain she wouldn’t survive her injuries.

Delilah was not impressed to have to share the house with Ophelia while she recovered.
Delilah was not impressed to have to share the house with Ophelia while she recovered from a dog attack.

Ophelia’s broodiness is a nuisance.  But after the accident I’m in a funny mood, and here’s what I see:  In Ophelia’s maternal tenacity is an affirmation that the instinct toward life and birth and renewal are powerful and gorgeous and true.  It doesn’t  matter that the eggs aren’t going to hatch.  She’s going to sit there anyway, dammit. Seeing her fluffed and mad as I drag her off the nest inspires me to lift my face to the sun and say YES.

If your hen is broody, make sure you get her off the nest several times a day to eat and drink—they can forget these things, and get really skinny or dehydrated.  Pull her out of the nest and put her in the chicken yard with the other girls and some food scrap treats. Sometimes you’ll actually have to stand her up and get her feet under her and pet her a little to get her out of fluffed-brooding stance.  Bring the water right to her and make sure she drinks. If you can put her out into a bigger yard or garden without access to the nest, she’ll get over her broodiness more quickly.  I’ve heard you can dunk chickens in water as a cure, but I do not do that to my chickens.

Read my Powell’s essay inspired by William McDonough’s “Celebrate Fiercely” quote (and related to the theme of this post) here.


  1. I am so happy that you and your daughter are o.k. from the accident. Thank you for posting this about you and your broody hen. It pulls me back to myself. And what an important place that is to be. Know that what you write is life affirming, whether it be in book form, blog form or on face book. Thank you.

      1. Elsa

        I just finished Crow Planet (which I LOVED) and was hoping to read something about Claire on your blog. A close brush with death was not what I had in mind, but so glad that all is well–better than well, given the expansive effect it had on both of you.

        Hope that you both continue to healthy and filled with love. I look forward to reading more of your books.

        Thank you for your writing which inspires me to see just a little more every day.

  2. Nete

    Lyanda! So glad you are both okay, what a shocking and scary thing to have happen! Hope the soreness is gone and life becomes more steady soon. Tell Delilah she did a great job sharing her house, too.

  3. Pingback: Saturday Linkages: Broody Hens, Killer Gardens and Salt-Rising Bread | Root Simple

  4. Ellen

    I have 31 chickens. This spring a Partridge Rock went broody. She was serious. I have done this trick before with a broody hen and no rooster. I get some 2 day old baby chicks from the feed store. At night I slip them under the broody hen. Voila-in the morning she thinks her eggs have hatched and she commences to raising those babies. A mother hen is the best guarantee of chick survival. This hen has turned out to be a very good mother.

  5. Matthew

    I had a broody hen. I took a metal dog crate, put in food, water and a perch. Put the crate out in the chicken yard. So it gets plenty of light and isn’t comfortable to sit and nest, she got over it very quickly.

  6. kt

    I’m so glad you and your girlie are OK! Cars are frightening things. And tell Ophelia that we all get broody at times. Lately, realizing that my girlie is flying the nest in about a year is causing me to get fluffed mad at the least provocation of late…..

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  8. Tom Reeser

    4 month Chicken Coop construction in 10 minutes
    Design and color palette thanks to the TangledNest.

    Home to 5 happy hens now. (and one broody “fancy pants”.

  9. Stacia Goodman

    Hi Lyanda. Please provide an email address where I can contact you about possibly advertising on your site. I couldn’t find any contact info. on your Home page. Thank you.

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