There’s little wonder that no one knows which came first, the chicken or the egg!
Springtime in our barnyard meant hatching season. We had quite an assortment of hens in our yard..egglayers..Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Concords, Leghorns and Aracaunas.. who lay the prettiest tinted colored eggs in all colors, pinks, blues and greens. In addition to our egglayers we had many banties of various breeds who were wonderful mothers and most friendly. No farm, even the smallest would be complete without a flock of hens
Gertie was our oldest hen and one of the best broody girls in our henhouse. I could easily gather up any fertilized eggs from the other ‘girls’ in the coop and Gert would happily hatch them out. You could set your watch by her built in timer.. twenty-one days and out popped a chick!
And these eggs will hatch only after they have undergone a period called incubation. We preferred to not use high tech hatcheries..and incubators, but chose to let Mother nature, and fine mother hens incubate their own on our farm.
During incubation..mother hen keeps her eggs warm & dry. In nature this is all accomplished by the hen. Presumably hens do not know what they are doing, or why they are doing it; they just take a notion to go off to a quiet corner or find an undesturbed spot..usually where you’d least expect it..and sit on a clutch of eggs for the twenty one days.
This kind of sitting is called..’setting’, and a hen that is in this mood to do so is called ‘broody’. If you didn’t want a hen to set, you have to break her up, which means discouraging her broodiness through various means. An old tale often told is a story of…. Breaking Up the Settin’ Hen:
“Go dunk our biddy once in the creek.
She’s been clucking around all week..
“Now it’s time for her to lay
An egg for us to sell each day.”
So Grandma told her family
They responded quite willingly.
Down the creek went the children 10.
Each took one turn to dunk the hen.
A sad and sorrowful group returned,
carrying a limp hen, and much concerned.
Poor shocked Grandma wrung her hands and said,
“Good land of Goshen! The hen is dead!”
“We’re sorry! said Will with a look of surprise,
“She just said ‘chee-awk’.. and then closed her eyes.”
Of course.. as you very well might know…
This happened many many years ago!
It was common practice about a century ago for farmers to get their sitting hens who had raised their family of chicks to stop clucking and begin laying eggs once again by dunking them in water. Though “mad as a wet hen,” they’d quit their clucking!