Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Feeling Broody

Sometimes I lose track of which expressions are English, which are American, and which are universal to the English-speaking world. Do Americans describe themselves as "feeling broody" when they develop the urge to nurture offspring? In England, it's a common euphemism.

In this case, though, it's not me who's feeling broody -- but my chicken, Ralph. (If my husband were reading at this moment, he would now start breathing normally again.) What follows is an illustrative country tale . . . on how you spot broodiness in a chicken, and what to do (or not) about it.

I should have known something was up when I tipped out Sunday's leftover pancakes and only one chicken came running.

As I've mentioned before, the one thing you can count on with chickens is their insatiable greed. They would, and could, eat happily all day long. One not-very-fine day, I lazily dumped some stale bread out of our kitchen window instead of sprinkling it on the lawn, or taking it to the compost heap as I would usually do. I was stunned to see how quickly the chickens came running! And quicker than you can say Pavlov, the minute I unlatch that window they are racing to the spot . . . hoping for human grub, which surely makes a nice change from nutritionally balanced pellets.

According to a website called "Raising Chickens," chickens have "interactive emotional states similar to humans. They feel jealousy, greed, pleasure, affection and camaraderie." Well, personally I can't vouch for all of these traits: but I will definitely agree with "greed," and I will throw in "competitive" too -- which I suppose is a negative form of camaraderie. If you give Ralph some bread, usually Lauren will be right there, open beak at the ready, trying to get his fair share. (Just like children!) So really, I should have noticed when leftover pancakes only yielded one greedy chicken.

But being singularly uncurious about my chickens, it took me about two days to casually mention to one of the kids, "Hey, have you seen the skinnier chicken?" (I keep half-hoping that they will decide to cross the road one day.) After a bit of looking in Ralph's usual hangouts, "he" was found in the nesting box -- which is located on the 2nd floor of his little chicken condo. Oh dear, what could the matter be? Was he depressed, sulking, tired? It took my oldest daughter only a few minutes to come up with the answer: Ralph was broody. (My oldest daughter is quite handy with Google, but she is also the only person in the family who actually read the chicken handbook. She is the "brains" of the outfit, while little sister and mommy do the grunt work.)

In other words, Ralph thought that he was about to be a mother. He was trying to keep the eggs warm, bless him.

At first I was confused. Over time I have grown to think of Ralph and Lauren as a gay couple -- conveniently ignoring that they must have some sort of poultry ovary, as they do in fact lay eggs every day. This illustrates at least a couple of things -- and not just that I am a ding-a-ling. (Although, clearly, my parents probably should explained the "birds and the bees" a little more carefully; that, and/or let me have pets when I was a child.) First of all, my momentary confusion regarding Ralph's natural instinct to hatch offspring shows the importance of WORDS -- of naming things. Over time, "Ralph" became a boy in my mind . . . because he had a boy's name. This gender confusion was aided and abetted by my natural tendency (again, I blame my parents) to "gender" all animals. In my mind, dogs are boys and cats are girls. Fish are neither. Rabbits are girls. Horses, boys. Cows, girls. Chickens -- boys. In fact, I think a chicken is the exact equivalent of an adolescent boy. (If you don't agree with me, read this for an insider experience.)

When we were in Texas, I just happened to read a story in People magazine about a "man" who was having a baby. Did anyone else catch this one? Now, as you will probably guess, the man had once been a woman -- and thus, still had most of the female equipment, sans breasts. However, "he" looked just like a man! It was quite disconcerting, I have to admit. Anyway, this came to mind when I realized that Ralph was broody. Momentary confusion . . . and then the other shoe dropped.

After I got my confusion under control, I turned to my children to see what they were going to do about the fact that Ralph had been hunkering down in the nesting box for days. Again, a little Internet research came in handy. Isn't it wonderful how the Internet not only allows us to self-diagnose, but also to cure those problems which plague our animals? A helpful, if oddly spelled, site called "Omlet" offered two possible solutions: (1) remove all of the eggs from the nest, or (2) dunk the hen's belly in a pail of cold water.

In case you haven't guessed, a broody hen is not particularly accommodating and will not willingly abandon her job. Removing the eggs is pretty much impossible if the hen is actually sitting on them. (Dunking her belly also seemed to involve many dangers -- not to mention technical difficulties.) In the end, the children used a carrot and stick maneuver . . . which I didn't happen to witness, so really can't be held liable if any of you decides to contact the RSPCA. The next thing I knew they were bringing in a large bowl containing FOURTEEN EGGS.

Poor Ralph. She really DID think she was having a brood.

As Omlet so helpfully tells us, "if you are not removing the eggs everyday there is more chance that a chicken will go broody." Somehow, between their father's tender care and jetlag, the chickens were ignored. For days.

Let it be a lesson for all of us. If a child or an animal is being too quiet, it is probably up to no good.


Anne said...

I first heard "broody" from a Scottish guy, so I'm guessing it's not an American term. How funny about Ralph!

I second your theory about silence indicating mischief. Sometimes the cats are sleeping, granted, but if they've been running around and are suddenly quiet, it means they've gotten into something they shouldn't. This is especially true in Dusty's case, as he has a knack for opening drawers and raiding them for treats and catnip. He carries his loot off to a lair somewhere and tries to tear it open, usually with messy success.

One of the early indications that he was feeling much better after his surgery was that he stole a bag of catnip from on top of his crate. We found him lying on the floor, stoned out of his furry little head, with catnip strewn everywhere and looking very pleased with himself. said...

That is hilarious! Although vis-a-vis the boy/girl animal thing does the name ROOSTER mean anything to you? Can't see how you could equate chicken=boy when the whole Rooster thing throws that fundamental innacuracy to light. I love it when I get to show off my three facts about country living that I actually know.

Anyway, the chickens will eat anything anywhere scenario is true. My mother had a friend who despite growing up in New York City as a nice Jewish girl felt an overwhelming need to farm and moved to a farm in Maryland where I grew up as soon as she possibly could. You hear of weird, abberant genes like this from time to time. It gives me the shivers. Anyway, she retained a very good sense of humour, some would say, a slightly sick sense of humour which I guess I always enjoy. For a treat she would feed her chickens Kentucky Fried Chicken thus turning them all into cannibals. I loved that. I know, I know it's sick but it's funny....

Brave Sir Robin said...

Haa!! That's funny!

I'm pretty sure "broody" must be an English expression.

We raised chickens (and rabbits) when I was growing up, and we always called it "Setting", as in "We have a hen that's setting"??

As for silence meaning up to no good. Oh yes, yes indeed.

Delightful post.

Lucy said...

Ho ho, I love your chicken posts - I like your more literary ones too of course...

My sister did chickens quite seriously for a while, she used to have a place called 'the house of correction' for unwantedly broody birds, where they were deprived of the objects of their broodiness and had their bottom ends in a draught, which apparently did the trick!

I was hoping to join your Booker reading group, but have been side tracked into another project for a month or two. I still might need some distractional reading so perhaps I'll find one on the list, but books take longer to get through now...

Bee said...

"Broody" is such common parlance here; it IS strange to think of Americans not having knowledge/access to it. "Knackered" is another one of my favorites -- also taken from the animal kingdom.

Silence=good stuff (my kids never listen to me blathering on the phone unless I suddenly lower my voice)
It's probably nice for kitties to get stoned post-surgery.

Chicken cannablism: GROSS! Our chickens are vegans.

You know, I've got no problem whatsoever with the rooster/chicken gender (il)logic. That is because chickens are teenage boys, and roosters are men. A young rooster struts around like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever . . . "well you can tell by the way I use my walk, I am a woman's man . . ."
An old rooster is Mick Jagger. An old fat rooster is Jack Nicholson.

BSR, yes I remember "setting!" I haven't heard that expression in a long time.

Apparently a cold bottom is really the key to putting you off keeping the potential babies warm. The girls read something about ice cubes, too, but we didn't have to resort to that.

I totally empathize with the lack of reading time. It's hard to read books and blogs both -- plus get anything else done. Tomorrow I'm going to do a 10 mile walk . . . you know I'm in training for my June marathon. By the time we work up, it's going to take the whole morning just to do that!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Wow--FOURTEEN eggs? I must be too much of a city girl because that really impressed me.

And "Knackered" is my favourite. "Cheers" drives me nuts.

Bee said...

Yea, it's a "broody" baker's dozen.

k said...

hey b!

is "nothing in my way" on the new keane album? i don't have the new one, but love the one from a few years ago- with the black & white cover. if it's british "alternative" rock (do they call it that in england too?) chances are i'll like it. i check itunes UK for inspiration and always make sure to watch the brit awards when they show them here. that's how i was introduced to orson, whom i adore.

i did get gelato! heath bar. yum.

more soon... i'm tired after a phone conversation with an old friend that went into the wee hours of last night.

Bee said...

Hi K,

Yes,it is on their second album -- "Under the Iron Sea" (not so new now; but new to me).

Heath Bar is one of my favorites!

I LOVE long conversations with old friends. I am going to London tomorrow to catch up with a friend I haven't seen in years. We lived in London together when we were 21, and now she's a New Yorker. One nice thing about London is that most people seem to pass through here eventually. (Hopefully that will include you!)

Alyson said...

"Over time I have grown to think of Ralph and Lauren as a gay couple" - That's hilarious!