broody

July 20, 2015

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A chicken. Of all things to plop down on a brain, refusing to free it for dwelling on any other thoughts: a chicken. As if my brain had become the hatching ground, I’ve been dwelling on this chicken since yesterday evening. More precisely, this chicken is a hen. A broody hen. I had never heard of such a thing until now—somewhat surprisingly, since I used to take a certain amount of pride from the fact that I was in on the family neck-wringing and feather-plucking when I was young [my fervor for the task dampened slightly, mind you, when I adopted, and named, a pet from among the bunch. But that is another story: a woeful tale . . .].
But I suppose many decades have passed between then and now, and enough of a lifetime to forget some of my farming roots. Which is why I was all ears as my mother-in-law gave me the tour of her 19-hen collection, explaining the process she has gone through in learning, from scratch [;-)], how to raise and care for different breeds of egg-layers. I kept shaking my head as I listened, repeating “I had no idea . . .” I had no idea there was so much involved in the process of caring for these creatures. I had no idea they had such intriguing quirks and tendencies. I had no idea they were so, well, so much like people! At least, that’s what I was thinking when I was introduced to the “broody hen” . . .
Basically, from what I have learned thus far, a broody hen is one whose hormones and circumstances have made her enter a single-track state of mind: she is ready to raise her young. This means she will squat stubbornly on her eggs, to the extent that she will forego other aspects of daily chicken life: taking her dust baths, eating, even drinking water! What makes this biological phase problematic for the average chicken farmer is that a hen will enter the “broody” phase whether or not her eggs have been fertilized. In other words, if there is no rooster available, so no chance of the eggs hatching, she will nevertheless insist on hatching them, hunkering down until she loses her own life in the waiting.
Admittedly, this analogy does not apply to humans in the same extremity: I doubt that someone would inadvertently pine away while waiting for a “hatching” that they do not know is impossible. I do, however, believe that a great deal of applicable truth can be drawn from this natural phenomenon.
And it need not necessarily be about having children, though that is certainly something people get single-minded about: fertility clinics and adoption agencies abound to give evidence of this fact. All manner of potential fixations, however, can get our attentions and energies lopsided: I know I have my fair share, rotating in and out with life’s seasons. I wish I could propose a grand solution: a happy ending to this writing. With a summer that has consumed me with its travel, moving preparations, and medical issues for both my husband and I, I find myself feeling woefully unprepared for a one-week-and-counting move to yet another continent. I suppose even in the best of circumstances, though, I have never found a way to actually be prepared for these—or for any other life changes, for that matter. Maybe the best I can do here, now, is sit in the peace of a few days left in the gentle company of family and be . . . and maybe learn a thing or two about raising chickens :-)

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