I came out for morning chores and released all the birds as usual then I opened that cage door so that the other two hens could hop right down and into the pasture with the rest of the flock then went about my business feeding rabbits and gathering goats for milking. What I hadn't counted on was our broody hen taking it into her head to jump out of the cage and stretch her legs!
I came back to an empty cage and a nest full of rapidly cooling eggs in the chilly morning air. I thought surely broody momma would come back to the cage soon. She'd been so dedicated to that nest, I couldn't see her up and abandoning it at the first sign of daylight. My second thought was, crap, birds are rather stupid. This hen has no clue how to get back IN the cage she just left since I had carried her there in the first place. I had to find her, catch her, and put her back in the cage. Only one problem....
I had already let out the rest of the flock, and we have a lot of white rock hens. Not to mention, trying to get your hands on one hen out in the open who does not want to get caught is darn near impossible.
I tucked as much hay as I possibly could over the eggs in the nest to try and keep them warm, and Luna and I set out searching for our girl. First, look for a hen in distress. One who looks upset and lost. One who seems to be searching for her nest. No luck. Every hen I saw was just doing their usual chicken thing scratching and pecking and whatnot.
Ok, don't panic. How else can we identify her? Well, it's been rainy and muddy the last week or so. Look for a clean chicken, one who looks somehow whiter and doesn't have dirt under nails. So Luna and I tried again, searching for the elusive clean-footed broody hen.
There! Over by the turkey pens! Look how clean that hen's feet are! She looks like she just left some kind of poultry spa and got a full service foot soak and pedicure! Get her!
What followed was a good 10 minutes of Benny Hill style chicken chasing in and out of all the pens and around and around the poultry house with Luna trying her best to herd a wild chicken to me and me trying my best not to crack my head on a roosting pole or run face first into a pen door while running top speed after a previously clean-clawed supposedly broody hen!
We finally cornered her in the turkey pen, and I was able to scoop her up, screaming and yelling and flapping all over the place (both the chicken and me!) and tuck her under my arm, but not before taking a wing full on to the face which hurts a lot more than you would imagine.
I bustled her back to the cage and triumphantly plopped her right in front of her abandoned nest. She took one look at that nest, let out a loud squawk, flew up to the roosting pole at the top of the cage, and refused to come down.
Ok, don't panic. Either she's just too upset from the crazy chase and will settle down and back onto her nest or I somehow have the wrong hen, but how could that be?! Her feet were so clean!
After five minutes, the hen still hadn't come down and I consoled myself to the fact that those eggs would have to come inside and get put in the incubator if they had any chance of hatching. I opened the pen door, took another wing to the face as the hen hot footed her way back out to the pasture and started to gather the eggs into my shirt. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of white doing something rather odd.
It was another white rock hen. She was walking around near the cage and what caught my attention was the way she had her feathers puffed out. She would drop her head and spread her wings if another chicken approached her. I'd only every seen chickens do this then they had little chicks in tow. This was our girl!!
Broody momma was much easier to catch than the first chicken. I sent Luna around, henny puffed up in defense mode, and I snatched her up from behind. I wasted no time in shoving her in that cage, and she immediately climbed into the nest box, settled down on her eggs and started tucking them under her chest with her beak! Luna and I both breathed a sigh of relief. I resolved then and there to band that broody hen and to never leave that cage door open again!