Talk Dirt to Me

False Consciousness

I’m having personnel problems. Before I go any further I should point out that I am certainly pro-labor. I don’t wish to align myself with walmart (sic), but my least favorite chicken has effectively gone on strike. Broody has once again decided to brood. She sits in the favored nesting box, fluffs up her feathers and incubates as many infertile eggs as the other hens will give her. All of the hens favor the same box so they’ll nestle in beside her to lay. Some hens brood a few times a year, this one seems to do it every month or so and she lasts for two to three weeks at a spell. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t really lay eggs anymore. She just wants to be a mom.

Broody is suffering from “false consciousness.” Marx described this as the proletariat’s belief that capitalism offers the poor the opportunity to become rich despite abundant evidence to the contrary. We have no rooster, Broody will hatch no chicks. Instead she will sit herself sick. Why Broody? Why do this to us? You are the means of production, please produce.

As with middle school students, the answer to chicken problems is usually hormones. Prolactin is a hormone that vertebrates (from fish to dragons) use to regulate lots of functions. It gets its name because it stimulates lactation in mammals. Hens aren’t well known for lactation, but when a hen lays an egg the amount of prolactin released by her pituitary gland spikes and then quickly comes back down. In hens that have gone broody it does not return to normal (Sharp et al, Journal of Endocrinology 1988). This stimulates her to incubate her eggs, whether fertile or not.

A brooding hen will usually leave the nest box once a day to eat and drink a bit and release a foul turd (a little pun never hurt anyone). This is not enough food for a hen and all that sitting without preening isn’t good for her either. Many broody hens collect parasites. Broody’s comb is a much duller pink than the rest of our birds. She just doesn’t look good.

I believe that Broody is broken. She broods until her prolactin comes down then she goes out and eats and drinks for a few weeks until she feels like laying another egg. Unfortunately, she doesn’t recover the way other hens do so she winds up brooding every time. Each time she broods the other hens get upset and cut back on their laying.

It’s time for drastic action. I’m not going to “cull” her because we still don’t eat chicken -- even a broken chicken. Though I have to admit that Broody is testing me and I may snap. No, I’m going to try the “broody breaker.” I’m going to put her in a raised wire cage in the garage so that she can’t keep her undersides warm. The word on the streets, or perhaps in the lanes, is that this breaks broodiness. It is worth a try.

If it doesn’t work, does anybody want a broody hen? Free to anyone good home.

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