We were delighted when our Lavender Orpington hen started acting strangely. She fluffed up her feathers, spent most of her time in a nest box, and gave us a stern warning call if we came too close. She was broody.
A broody hen simply wants to be a mother. Her ambition is to keep a clutch of eggs warm for 21 days and then raise a bunch of bouncy babies to chicken adolescence. We don’t have a rooster so all of our hen’s eggs are infertile and won’t hatch. Broody doesn’t know this, but we found a way to have her happily raise a brood of chicks.
After about two weeks of incubation, we bought a dozen chicks from a local farm store and slipped them under her after dark. Motherhood commenced.
Watching a mother hen is interesting but listening is truly fascinating. While on eggs she sat almost trancelike, but the peeping awakened her. She began clucking in a tone that must have both comforted the downy chicks and instructed them to get into the warmth and security of her feathers.
The next morning she used a different clucking tone to introduce the babes to the big world. They followed her out of the nest and scampered around the coop. We don’t speak “chicken” but she clucked again and it must have meant, “come over here and eat.” She put her beak in a feeder filled with chick starter. The bravest babies picked a few crumbs of feed off her beak and soon all were eating and dipping their beaks into a nearby waterer for a cool drink.
Mother hens are attentive and have a vocabulary of many “words” or at least different sounding clucks. When the babes got too far from her she’d cluck in a certain way bringing them scampering back to safety near or under Mom. If she scratched up a delicious tidbit she’d utter a different sounding cluck and the babies would rush over and enjoy a food new to them. She taught them safety and the fine art of foraging.
Lavender Orpington wants to be a mother!
A mama hen will sit contently on golf balls until new chicks arrive.
Babies gather round Mama Hen at night.
See these YouTube videos and photos of our most recent broody and foraging for treats.
Tucking in for the Night
Under Mama’s Watchful Eye
Babies Eating Corn
At the Gate Waiting for Treats
Feasting on Corn
We like our small flock of hens and the delicious eggs they give us each day. Although a hen can live for ten or a dozen years her laying slows after two or three years. After that, it declines steeply. Eventually, she might only lay an egg or two a year!
To keep a steady supply of eggs for the kitchen we need to occasionally replace old hens with younger ones, and we’ve learned a trick that works well. We enlist the help of a broody hen.
When a hen develops a mothering instinct she’ll stop laying, puff up her feathers, and change her vocabulary. She’s broody. Then she’ll sit and sit on eggs, hoping they’ll magically transform into baby chicks. We don’t have a rooster so the eggs are infertile. She can sit for eternity and they’ll never hatch. So we use a trick to help her have a happy motherhood and produce new replacement egg layers. Here’s what we do:
When a hen begins sitting we put a half dozen golf balls in an extra nest that we keep in storage. We put the broody hen and her nest isolated from the other hens in a separate coop. Usually, she quickly settles down and keeps those golf balls comfortably warm.
After she’s been sitting for a couple of weeks we buy chicks from a nearby farm store or hatchery. When darkness descends we enter the coop with the chicks and gently place them under the broody. She immediately senses that her golf balls have hatched and adopts the babies. Her clucking vocabulary changes and she’ll keep her babies warm. The following morning she’ll lead her chicks out of the nest and begin teaching them how to find food and stay safe.
Broody Hens sit quietly.
After dark, slip chicks under the mama hen.
Chick on mama hen’s back
It always amazes us how quickly the broody changes from the trancelike incubation phase to active motherhood. We keep the chicks and their mom separate from the other adult chickens for six or seven weeks until they’ve grown quite a bit and then intermingle them.
There are several ways to dispose of elderly hens. One is to transition them into stewing chickens, but most people don’t want to kill their hard-working hens. A less lethal way is to advertise them for sale at a bargain price on a social media list. Usually, they’ll be sold within a few days. Four to five months after hatching, our new pullets will lay their first egg.
Spring and summer have been great for walking labyrinths. Catch up with what has happened at the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth since snowmelt. On your travels check out The Labyrinth Locator to find labyrinths along your path. Read more on the wonderment tab of Winding Pathways.
Sharing earth concepts with families.
A class pauses to ground.
In July we hired Brown Concrete and Backhoe to pump out Winding Pathways’ septic tank. We were surprised to hear Trevor Dickerson, who designs waste treatment systems and helped with our project, say that septic systems share similar characteristics with cars.
“If you don’t take good care of a car it might die when you are in the midst of traffic. If you don’t take care of your septic system it could fail just when the house is filled with wedding or graduation guests,” he said.
We weren’t having any problems with our septic system but it hadn’t been pumped for seven years. That’s getting long so we hired Brown to pump it out, inspect the system, and share tips on proper septic tank maintenance and care.
Few people give their septic system much thought – until it fails. They flush and forget. But, every day millions of bacteria and other organisms quietly consume waste in the tank and soil. They are biological wonders that help prevent water pollution.
The septic system treats biodegradable materials
Man pumping septic system
Most American homes are connected to a municipal sewer that channels waste into a treatment plant. All they need to do is pay a monthly or quarterly bill and not worry about a personal septic system. Folks living in rural areas aren’t as fortunate. They must have their own septic system to receive and treat waste. Proper maintenance reduces problems. Here are some actions we take to keep our system working properly.
- Only flush easily degradable items down the drain, such as human waste and shower and dishwashing water.
- Avoid putting anything toxic to bacteria down the drain. Bleach, antibiotics, paint thinner, and many other chemicals can kill the bacteria happily living in the tank, thus causing the system to fail.
- Consider food scraps, vegetable and fruit peelings, and other kitchen waste as valuable resources. They either go to our chickens or in our compost bin. Chickens convert food waste into delicious eggs and what they won’t eat becomes compost that nourishes our garden. We have a garbage disposal unit under the sink that we rarely use, as septic tank bacteria have a hard time digesting course vegetable matter.
- Spread out water use. Sometimes a septic system is overwhelmed if a homeowner does many loads of laundry in one morning, putting more soapy water into the system in a short time than it can handle. It’s better to schedule laundry tasks throughout the week.
- Have our tank regularly pumped. “Think of pumping a septic tank as similar to having the oil changed or doing a tune-up of the car. Regular maintenance reduces will extend the life of both,” explained Trevor Dickerson.
Every septic system is different because every family and yard is different. Our system works well because there are only two of us living in the home, we have flow restrictors on faucets and 1.6 gallons per flush toilets, and we’re careful to keep toxins out. We also live on the top of an ancient sand dune with steep topography. The soil in our yard readily absorbs water and the steep gradient allows gravity to channel waste quickly into and through our septic system.
Our system might fail if we had a very big family who flushed frequently. Here are some symptoms of a failing system:
- Water pooling on the ground.
- Slow drains and toilets backing up.
Call a septic tank specialist if symptoms show up.
Chemotherapy and Medications
Chemotherapy can result in an unexpected problem. These potent medications are highly toxic to the bacteria essential to septic tank operation. They vacate the human body in urine and feces and can kill bacteria and cause a septic system failure.
Coumadin and antibiotics can also cause problems. And people suffering from Bulimia also can pressure their septic system by discharging large amounts of partially digested food into the system. Trevor suggests that anyone taking chemotherapy medications monitor their septic system carefully and have it pumped more often than the average.
Many additives on the market can be flushed down a toilet and supposedly help the septic system work. According to Trevor, these won’t hurt but they may not help. Any active septic system is filled with bacteria and millions remain after pumping. They’ll quickly reproduce, so adding additional cultures won’t help. Think of a yogurt culture. Add milk to a tiny scrap of yogurt and bacteria quickly convert the new milk into yogurt. Adding more bacteria just won’t make any difference – but it also won’t hurt.
Adding bacteria to a new system devoid of bacteria or one that has had its bacteria killed may help speed up the treatment process.
Permits and Information
Our septic system was installed long before we bought the home at Winding Pathways, and we didn’t know its age or where the underground pipes were. Fortunately, we were able to get this information from our local county health department. It issues permits that are required to install a system and keeps records of systems in place. Permits are required everywhere but the agency that issues them varies from place to place. A good bet for a homeowner seeking information about a system is the local county office. Some municipalities or states may also issue permits. Browsing on the web will help locate area companies that install and maintain systems and usually, they are a wealth of information. We used Brown Concrete and Backhoe.
We’re fortunate at Winding Pathways. Our yard is large and our soil sandy. We also have steep topography. Combined, these help create an effective septic system that drains well. We planted prairie over our drain field. Roots extend up to 15 feet into the ground. They capture water oozing out of our drain field and convert it into lush vegetation and delightful wildflowers. So, even our toilet waste helps create a colorful wildlife haven.
Capturing the sunset.
Iowa may be the flyover region of the country and people are missing out on grand adventures, pastoral scenes and tasty home-cooked meals. Come along with us as we explore the Driftless Area of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. This invitation especially includes the Presidential Candidates! Get out and see our country! Read about our adventures in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.