Hilda is a large white and black Sussex hen.
Last Spring she went broody and was determined not to be put off. However, her eggs were unlikely to be fertile because the cockerels were only just old enough to start crowing.
The solution seemed to be to acquire some fertilised eggs but I couldn't find anyone in the vicinity who had any. A search on the internet produced several advertisements from people prepared to send eggs by post. I ordered a dozen and they arrived almost intact - just one cracked one.
A nest was prepared in a separate henhouse and Hilda was installed with the new eggs underneath her. I calculated we should expect the patter of tiny chicken feet at the end of June.
Hilda seemed happy and went into a trance, hardly eating or moving, intent on sitting on her eggs.
Then one day when she was taking a little walk I noticed there were eggs missing.
Shock, horror! Who or what could be pinching her eggs?
I took steps to make her house rat-proof but still eggs disappeared.
Then I noticed telltale signs of yolk on her beak, but, strangely there was no obvious sign of eggshells.
By the time the eggs were due to hatch there were only four left. I read that eggs could take 3 or 4 days longer than the accepted date but not to leave them after that. Sadly they were all bad.
Hilda went back to the flock but she was a very dejected hen. Apart from the fact that she had lost a lot of weight she had a very depressed air about her; even her feathers drooped.
Something had to be done.
Back to the Internet in search of 'poussins'. I found an advertisement for two week old chicks not too far away and rang the lady.
When I explained what had happened she said she had some newly hatched chicks - one to three days old. Even though it was Sunday she said I could go and buy some so I jumped in the car and drove off with a catbasket to collect some babies for Hilda.
A cage was prepared in the conservatory and I brought Hilda indoors. The lady recommended that I should wait until nighttime and then put the babies under her but I was afraid they might be cold so I put them in with her straightaway.
She accepted her babies immediately and they all seemed happy with their adoptive mum.
I found that an old towel was the best base for the cage at first and then used sand when they were a bit older.
Hilda was an excellent mother hen and despite her size she was careful not to tread on any of them. I was amazed to find that if I gave her a little treat she would share it with her little ones. So much for keeping to a diet of chick food for the first six weeks - but they didn't come to any harm.
Eventually, when they grew too big for the cage indoors they moved outside into a new henhouse with a run.
Of course, Hilda grew tired of her brood and when she showed signs of getting irritable I put her outside with the other hens and she went back to her normal life.
Now Hilda's babies - six hens and six cockerels - are as big as the other hens and are free to roam around the whole garden so the whole experience has been a great success.
I just hope that Hilda doesn't go broody too often.