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Spring does not bring joy in the garden for everyone. In the chicken coup it often signals a lack of eggs and sudden mood swings. Sue Hammon tells how to help your hens through this difficult time, and still have some eggs for breakfast

A proud broody hen, in India, sitting tight on her clutch of English eggs

THE days are lengthening, the sun is getting stronger, the wild birds are singing and our gardens are starting to reawaken - spring is on its way. This is also the time of year when the call of nature starts to affect our chickens. Egg production increases dramatically, as resplendent males strut their stuff while mating vigorously, but it also signals the start of the 'broody-hen season'.

This, for the uninitiated, is when a female decides that it is the right time for her to sit on her eggs (ie incubate them) and produce some chicks. As poultry keepers this is something which we cannot initiate or dictate to her, but is governed by the hen's hormones.

Inevitably, for first-time poultry keepers this causes panic, and I know my phone will be red hot with cries for advice and for confirmation that the hen is just broody and not suffering from some dreadful disease. First timers often worry that they will miss the symptoms of a broody hen, but her behaviour will be so different from the norm it will be really hard not to spot.

Just like wild birds, left to her own devices a hen will daily lay her complement of eggs (a clutch), which will typically be 12

or so - she will then stop laying and start to sit on them. This means that the eggs will all start the incubation process on the same day and consequently the chicks will hatch at more or less the same time, rather than over a staggered period. However, as you will be presumably collecting the eggs daily, there are other, more obvious signs for you to observe.

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Herbs 101

Herbs 101

Learn what you can do with herbs! How to Plant, Grow, and Cook with Natural Herbs. Have you always wanted an herb garden but didn't know how to get started? Do you want to know more about growing your own herbs in the privacy of your home and using them in a variety of cooking?

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