The Jersey Giant chickens we got last summer are quite big, and still growing.
The young hens have been laying "pullet eggs" (very small "beginner" eggs) for some time now. Once more we are awash in eggs, though most of them are very small (only our older ladies are laying full-size eggs).
One thing we didn't know when we got the Jersey Giants is how readily the hens would go broody. As it turns out, very readily. Two of our young ladies are setting.
Not that we're ungrateful for this instinct; far from it. Hens that will go broody are a valuable addition to a farm. But c'mon, girls -- at the beginning of winter? With temperatures in the teens? What are you thinking?
I jest, of course. Chickens don't think. It's all instinct. And instinct dictates that when a hen goes broody, she stays broody (for a long while, at least). It's very difficult to "break" broodiness.
This young lady has decided to make her nest on top one of the hay bales in the barn. Every morning she flaps seven feet up and settles herself on the nest.
And every evening I climb a ladder and gently pick her up to put her in the coop for the night. That's because she's setting on twenty eggs. The way our randy roosters have been acting, I can almost guarantee most of them are fertile. The last thing we need in December is 20 baby chicks to care for.
So the eggs freeze solid overnight (temps have been dropping to 11F), thus guaranteeing they'll never hatch. And meanwhile, it gives the hen a sense of duty and accomplishment to set on the nest.
The second hen who is setting chose one of the nest boxes in the chicken coop. Since I don't haul her off this nest at night -- thus risking the chance she may indeed succeed in hatching some eggs -- I swiped all the real eggs from underneath her and substituted a selection of wooden "nest eggs." Thus she, too, can get her sense of duty and accomplishment by setting on her nest.
After a few more weeks of pointless "duty and accomplishment," the broody instinct will finally fade and the girls will rejoin the flock. However I sincerely hope this instinct kicks in this upcoming spring. As I said, broody hens are valuable things, and I'd welcome their instinct during a time of year when chicks have a chance of surviving.