True stories of a small flock of remarkable individuals -- and other critters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fern's Amazing Rubber Egg

They say that one nest box is all you need for three or four hens. But when one of your hens is Lil'White, that's another story.

Lil'White hogs the nest box.  Always has.  

Sometimes she pretends to be broody, like this: 

...I swear she's faking it. 

Last year I made a new coop for my five gals, with TWO nest boxes.   
One for Lil'White, and one for everybody else.   

For some reason, everybody preferred Lil'White's nest box, so there was still a line of anxious hens waiting their turn.
Then I had a clever idea. 
I placed a rubber egg in the unused nest box to make that box appear desirable.

Instantly, that second nest box was deemed eggworthy by the flock, and we never had a problem with a long queue again.   

But another problem did creep up:
Her name is Fern.

Right about the time of the rubber egg, Fern stopped laying.
Until that time, she was laying beautifully -- 
Her petite blue eggs were regular treasures... maybe three or four a week.  

The shutdown of little Fern's internal egg factory was a mystery.

There are several reasons a hen might take a break from laying during the summer -- hot weather, a molt, broodiness, poor health...   I didn't see signs of any issues or problems in Fern.  
She was still the little whippersnapper she'd always been. Still getting into trouble.
(Closeup: Fern waits for Lil'White to resume pecking her on the head.)

Fern must have had her reasons for not laying eggs, and I supposed she'd get back to laying pretty soon.

Sure enough, after a few weeks, Fern did start marching into the nest box each morning. 
She preferred the box with the rubber egg. 
Every day, she settled in and hunkered down.

And when she was done, she stepped out onto the upper perch 
to formally announce her accomplishment. 

The problem:   
There WAS no accomplishment.
Fern wasn't laying anything.  
No blue eggs. No eggs at all. 

She still isn't laying, and it's been FOUR MONTHS.

For four months, she has been going through the motions, daily. 
...looks like Daisy's been here already.
Does Fern think she's laying a rubber egg every day?

If that's what's going on in her tiny little head, that's okay with me. But I really am dying to know.

If she never lays a cute blue egg ever again, that's okay too.  She won't end up in the stewpot because I still appreciate all the redeeming qualities that make her...well... Fern.

I guess Fern is just a bit unusual...

But, then, aren't we all?


  1. *sigh* You're such a good chicken mama Lauren. I'm glad Fern will never be in a stew pot! But that IS a mystery. Hmmmmm.

  2. Love the "broody" video. Mine make a different growling noise but it is still funny. Oh to be able to mind read a chicken! LOL! Wouldn't that be great!

  3. OMG, the video of Lil`White is HILARIOUS!!! I fully expected the growling but was not prepared for the peck at the end. I actually flinched away from my computer.

  4. hahahaha I LOVE IT!! Lil'White is an ornery broody, isn't she?

    Poor Fern... she's so proud of her rubber egg. Fern looks a lot like my Dumpling, who also lays blue eggs. She's a naughty girl. If you leave food on the patio table, she will jump up and get it.

  5. what happens if you take the rubber egg out, now that they're used to using the second box?

  6. That is too funny! One of our buff orpington hens hogs a box too. And then they all line up to wait for that one box. We have 3 boxes and 9 hens. And when she gets in her box she will stay there for AT LEAST 3 hours. She pretends to be broody. She won't budge. And when she finally gets even close to laying she will bawk! bawk bawk! in proud anticipation of an egg and this continues for at least 5 mintues post laying.
    Fern and her rubber egg! I'll try that. No one had ever laid an egg in the 3rd nest box.

  7. I really enjoyed this post. The video was very funny the way she paused before she pecked lol. Poor fern waiting for the pecking to resume. What a mystery, I wonder why she has stopped laying....My three hens have two nest boxes but also queue up to use 'The One'. I love the way they keep 'The One' so neat and tidy. They trash the other one.

  8. Love the video!! 4 months--that is a mystery... Maybe she's waiting for the rubber egg to hatch! I'm so glad she's got a good home and is loved whether she lays a real egg or not! Great post :)

  9. What a great story! If you don't have a rooster, then a hen steps up to become the alpha protector of the flock. Our alpha is Zelda - she's the biggest, baddest of the bunch.

    When this happens, testosterone production increases to make the new protector even more fierce and can make them stop laying eggs. This is also the reason my dear grandmother went to her grave swearing that one of her hens actually turned into a rooster.

    Not sure if the situation is reversible but if you really wanted egg production you might want to try getting a rooster (not recommended though if you have neighbors nearby.)

  10. Do they free range? If so I think Fern found a happy hidey hole. I swore that was impossible with my girls till I found 10 eggs in the tiniest of places.

  11. Here's a little known fact: When a chick is born, it has inside it already every egg it will ever lay. When those eggs have been laid, that's it. No more eggs. She may go in the box from habit, but there's nothing you can do to give her more eggs. She's done producing, but she will give you friendship for years to come. Just hold her and love her for what she'd done. She gave you everything she had.

  12. Hens lining up to use the nest box gave me the image of women lining up to use the ladies' room.

    I was thinking Fern was going through the fowl equivalent of writer's block, but after reading the comment about every chick having inside it a finite number of eggs, I may change my mind.

    I do hope people have an undetermined number of achievements in us, and that we may yet surprise ourselves and others with a late-in-life egg. But if we decide we're done, it's nice to know we're cherished for who we are, not what we produce. Except it would be hard to cherish a person who is all boast and bawk far beyond his laying days.

  13. I have a hen that does the exact same thing. She was the best layer for over a year. About four months ago she stopped laying, but every morning she spends an hour or so sitting in the nest. Is it just habit? Will she ever lay again? Such great mystries may not have answers.

  14. Heehee hens are such funny creatures, who knows why they do what they do? Perhaps if the rubber egg were brown and not so close to the colour of egg that she lays...she would start laying again Try removing it and leaving in Daisy's egg instead (putting a little dot on it so you know it's an old egg and not to eat it!). Love your video too :)

  15. Hopefully she isn't eating her egg!

  16. Just want to let you know how much i adore reading your posts. The way you describe your chickens.....perfect, spot on. I look forward to your posts!!
    Laura, Melbourne, Australia

  17. Just hoping if, via your posts, any Aussies out there could direct me to some appropriate chook house designs for your standard Australian backyard?
    Love the posts.

  18. I am not too sure what the answer is but am happy to ask our blog members for you to try and find the answer.

    Lovely posts.

  19. It's all a mystery to hens have menopause....just wondering....

  20. In a former life,I,too, was the proud owner of a small backyard flock.
    When one of my 'girls' would go broody,I would sometimes let her sit on fake eggs for 21 days(normal egg gestation)and then purchase 3 or 4 baby chicks from the local feed store.
    Then,after dark,I would slip them underneath her skirts and the next morning she was a proud new mama!
    Some were definitely better mothers.Banty hens were the best.
    Some of the newer breeds had no mothering instincts and I would have to rescue the chicks,and raise them under a heat lamp.
    However,it usually worked,and it was really fun to watch the proud mama teach her chicks the way of the world as a chicken!