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.)
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.
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.