Our laying flock must see us as egg thieves: each day – multiple times a day if it’s especially cold out – we collect their freshly-laid eggs. If a hen is sitting, we reach under her fluffy feathers and feel around for eggs – a treasure hunt, of sorts. Most of the girls in nest boxes enter a trance-like state, which I like to call “the zone”, and they don’t even seem to realize that an egg thief is there to take their eggs – they don’t move, protest, or do anything but remain blissfully docile. Most.
But within most flocks, there seems to be a hen (or two) who is fiercely protective of the eggs under her – and viper-quick. Stick your hand under one of these girls and you’ll regret it: you may pull back a hand sporting bloody peck marks. These ladies are serious about keeping sneaky hands – or anything else – from getting to what’s under them. I respect that, but the eggs must still be gathered (unless we want to let them hatch chicks).
So how do we deal with these pugnacious ladies? Wearing protective clothing, like gloves, doesn’t work because I need to be able to feel the eggs and gently remove them. Trying to do it quickly and hoping that the resulting damage to hands is minimal (or non-existent) is one way, but it comes with the risk of fumbling an egg in the haste to get them out as fast as humanly possible.
With especially protective hens, it’s sometimes necessary to open the lid of the nest box and lift the hen out, placing her nearby on the coop floor. She’s often displeased by this process, protesting or even (still) trying to take a whack at a hand. Once the eggs are out and the nest box closed back up, the hen usually jumps right back in and resumes where she left off. Slightly cross, but no harm done.
Fierce hens, I salute you: you would make very protective mothers, keeping predators and other birds away from your eggs and chicks, ensuring that they remain safe and sound. This is definitely a positive attribute for broodies. If at all possible, I’ll avoid collecting eggs while you’re in the box and try to return at a later time…but if that’s not possible, I’ll try to bear in mind that your anger isn’t directed at me, personally, and that your eggs are precious to you. They’re precious to me, too. Thank you for providing us with your lovely eggs (for eating and hatching) and stay feisty!