Sunday, April 17, 2016

Instinct is an amazing thing

Animals and their instincts have always amazed me, especially in domesticated animals. I think many times we don't realize that, at one time, many, many years ago, these same animals were wild, and had to fend for themselves; they didn't have food, water, and shelter provided for them.  I have really witnessed the amazing instincts of a domesticated animal in one of my chickens that went broody (broody means the hen wants to sit on a nest and hatch eggs.)

It's rather difficult to break a hen of her broodiness.  Why is it an issue you ask? Well, for one thing, a broody hen will stop laying, so your egg production goes down. And, sometimes she will not eat and drink properly, and lose weight, thus putting her health at risk.
 Twila, the chicken in the above picture, went broody several months ago.  I watched her habits. I knew that she was getting off the nest, and eating and drinking. She was not endangering her health, so her broodiness was not affecting her health. She is obviously a smart broody. After trying to break her of the broodiness a few times, I decided to put eggs under her. 

Before I moved her and the eggs to a separate coop, she would get off the eggs when another hen was laying her egg, and go out with the rest of the flock. I thought that was pretty smart; she was letting the others keep the eggs warm while she took a break.  I did move her to a separate coop. Several of the eggs she was sitting on had got broken by the other chickens getting in her nest. 
I did find some evidence that she had relieved herself on the nest (maybe when the weather turned, and we had 11 degree nights, and 20 degree days, she was afraid to leave them in the extreme cold), she generally would get off the nest every other day and go outside the coop to relieve herself.  One of the eggs was cracked when I moved her. I still put it under her, and it did break several days later. She came carrying it out of the coop, to discard it.  I found that rather fascinating, that she didn't consume the broken egg, as many times chickens will eat eggs.
As the chicks were hatching, the maternal instinct became even more interesting. 

Twila knew when it was okay to be off the eggs. I sometimes second guessed her decisions, but I now know that she knew exactly what she was doing.  I found one chick, still partially in the shell, in the middle of the coop where she had taken it out of the nest.  Sadly, it wasn't completely formed, and did not survive. She obviously knew it wasn't healthy, and discarded it from the nest. 
After the chicks hatched, watching her motherly instincts has become great source of fascination.

I have raised day old chicks before; received through the USPS.  It's not hard to get them to eat and drink (once again, instinct.) But, it is really heart warming to watch Twila teach them to eat and drink.  She knows when to keep them under her for warmth. The other day, one of the roosters made a warning call.  She quickly hustled them into the nest, and covered them up.   She knows and trusts Murphy the dog. However, he got a bit close to the chicks for her comfort, and she did peck at him. I can only imagine the wrath that would come down on a strange dog. 

I'm sure the instincts of a mother hen will never cease to amaze me. It will be fascinating to watch her take them out into the world, and teach them more about the ways of flock life.

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