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The Omlet Blog Archives: November 2011
You can usually tell if a hen is broody or not fairly easily. If she goes into the nest and doesn’t come back out again and starts making a very strange noise whilst puffing herself up like a football she could be broody. The noise they make is obviously different from the usual range of sounds and can vary from something like a very deep cluck-cluck-cluck rather like horses walking on cobbles to an ear splitting screech! Another sign of broodiness is feather pulling and you may notice that your hen starts plucking them from her breast to line the nest ready for the eggs resulting in an embarrassing bald patch on her belly. You may also spot a strange habit of picking up leaves, twigs, feathers and bits of grass and throwing them over her shoulders in an attempt to make her nest! A normally placid hen can turn aggressive and will peck you if you try to move her and the opposite can happen to a very flighty bird who will suddenly let you cuddle her till the cows come home as soon as she turns broody!
If you act quickly, you can get her to resume egg laying much sooner so try to restrict her access to the nest if possible, although this is usually very difficult if you have other hens who are trying to lay. If she sleeps in the nest, you need to encourage her to sleep on the roosting bars to allow lots of nice fresh air to circulate around her to keep her cool as she’ll get wonderfully warm and cosy overnight and that will just prolong the broodiness. If you put a brick, upturned plant pot, football or even a garden ornament into the nest, this will stop her from roosting in it but remember to remove it during the day so that your other hens can lay eggs. Keep her out of the nest if you can during the daytime. If you spot her in the garden sitting on a nest she’s made from leaves, twigs and feathers, make sure this is quickly removed and move her on or tempt her away with a treat or two.
The urge to go broody is usually caused by a rise in internal body temperature so a quick cold bath usually brings her back to normal and should stop the urge. Dunk the hen’s rear end and abdomen in a bucket of cold water until feathers are soaked. You can do this several times a day. Continue soaking until she stops being broody which should only take a couple of days depending on how long she’s been broody for. It sounds horribly cruel but they actually seem to find it soothing as they are so hot, bothered and cross that a cool bath makes them feel a lot more comfortable. Some people use an old towel to wrap an ice block or fill a plastic bag with ice cubes and put that under the hen in the nest and the coldness soon drives them from the nest. If your hens are in a run and she is determined to sit on the eggs at every possible opportunity, a trick we have used on our own hens might work for her too. We sectioned off the end of the run for our broody hen and put food and water in it. We popped her in there as soon as they woke up in the morning and kept her there until our other hens had laid. As soon as they all had, we removed the barrier, closed the coop door and let her socialise with the others. It took about a week of isolating her out of the way of the nest to break the broodiness but it worked and she’s been fine since. If your hens are free ranging, it’s even easier. You can make a separate run for her using some fruit cage netting or chicken fencing and leave her in there with food and water until the others have laid then you can let her out to join them.
You can let her sit it out if you like as it won’t do her any harm but you won’t get any eggs until she stops being broody and if she’s been sitting for a long time, this could mean no eggs for weeks afterwards. If she does stay put in the nest, try to encourage her to get up once a day to eat, drink and go to the toilet. Broody hens can lose a lot of body weight while they are sitting. It’s important that you check her regularly for lice and mites as they tend to infest broody hens because they aren’t dustbathing and preening as regularly as they normally would. A bad infestation of red mite can kill a broody so it’s also vital to check the coop carefully too as these mites live in crevices and corners of the coop rather than on the bird itself. If you happen to find anything on her, a dusting with a suitable powder or spray, repeated a week later, should remove any stowaways and there are various red mite treatments available for treating the coop. Once she’s lost the urge to sit, she’ll come off the nest and start socialising again and hopefully the eggs should start to arrive again.
A sick hen may also give a false impression that they are broody so be aware that she may not be feeling hormonal at all. A sick chicken will look completely miserable – head tucked into its neck, eyes closed, hunched up shoulders and a droopy tail. They withdraw themselves from the other hens and look unhappy and listless. A hen in lay or even a broody hen should have a bright red comb while a sick hen’s is yellowish and droopy. If you are concerned that she may be ill, it might be a good idea to take her to see a vet to get her checked over properly.
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If you find blood on the egg shell or little spots in the nest, she may have ruptured a little blood vessel in her vent as she attempted to lay an egg or passed a particularly hard dropping. This happens sometimes and is usually just a one off event but if you notice that she is continuing to pass blood or if she develops a protuberance around the vent area, you may need to take her to see a vet.
If there is anything sticking out of the vent area this could be a prolapse and this is where the oviduct or egg laying tube has been pushed out of the body in an effort to lay an egg. It is imperative that you separate her from other hens as they will be attracted to the redness and peck at it which can cause your hen distress and even serious injury.
If there is obviously anything unusual hanging out of the vent, wash the prolapsed area with warm water with some antiseptic in it. You may see that there is an egg in the prolapse and you’ll need to carefully remove this without breaking it. If you do happen to break it, make sure that you remove any pieces of shell as they may lead to an abdominal infection if they are left. Once the prolapse is clean, tuck the hen under your arm with her head covered to keep her calm and gently push the prolapse back into the vent cavity with clean hands or wear clean rubber gloves or even use a clean wet cloth to help you push it back. Keep the hen in a darkened room or box to recover and allow the prolapse to settle back into her body. Applying haemorrhoid cream to the prolapse can help shrink it so that it’s easier to pop back into the body. You will need to stop her laying for a while to stop the prolapse from just popping back out again so make sure that she has water to drink but starve her for 24 hours. You can gradually begin feeding her again with a very bland diet such as Weetabix after that or you could try to encourage her to go broody by sitting her on a few false eggs. This doesn’t always work but it’s worth a try. She may need veterinary treatment if it keeps happening and if it does, I’m afraid that the prognosis isn’t good.
If she has ruptured a little blood vessel in her vent because she’s struggling to lay a large egg, you may be able to help her to pass it by warming up the vent area either by sitting the hen in a bowl of warm water or on a towel covered hot water bottle or by gently blowing warm (not hot) air from a hairdryer onto the area. This, accompanied by a little Vaseline or olive oil rubbed onto the vent is usually enough to relax the muscles and allow the egg to be passed. It’s probably best to bring her in to the house so that she’s nice and warm and you may find that she lays an egg and returns back to normal soon afterwards. If you give her a towel covered hot water bottle to lie on and keep her calm in a darkened room, it might not be long before she lays if this is the problem. An egg bound hen will look miserable, hunched and fluffed up. She may appear to be straining to lay an egg and she may also be panting and breathing fast. If you feel her abdomen and vent area, you might be able to feel the egg.
There’s a chance that bleeding has occurred because your hen has been pecked in the vent area by another hen as this is a prime target for bullies. If you find that this is the case, you can get a variety of sprays to use on the bullied bird which make her feathers taste unpleasant to the other birds and these are usually enough to deter pecking. When the skin is red, sore or broken, it is important to separate the injured hen straight away and you can use Veterinary Wound Powder on them to help stem the bleeding and promote healing. Hens are morbidly attracted to the colour red and will peck at wounds until they are in a dreadful state if nothing is done so Gentian or Purple Spray is very effective as it stains the skin purple and this makes it a much less obvious target for the bully. If a hen develops a wound of any kind, remove them and allow it to heal for a few days before reintroducing them to prevent the wound being pecked. All these products are usually available from animal feed merchants or farm supply warehouses – usually in the equestrian section, and some large pet shops.