It’s hard to believe we’ve been raising chickens for 11 years. In all that time we have learned much – what to do AND what not to do. Whenever we wanted to add some more chickens to our flock we either ordered our chicks to be delivered by mail (we like Murray McMurray Hatchery) – or we are gifted chicks or hens from others.
But you know sometimes your biggest lessons come from trying something new. That’s what happened last year when we learned a super-easy method for hatching eggs: using a broody hen.
What is a broody hen?
Last spring a hen we eventually named “Mama” became broody. Broody hens want ONLY to sit on the eggs in the nest in an attempt to hatch them. They spend so much time sitting on the eggs that they don’t eat or drink much, and they stop laying eggs. They can also get a bit feisty when you come to collect “their” eggs – even if other hens have laid in the same nest. Broody hens don’t care. Their biological clock tells them it’s time to raise some little ones. Talk about Angry Birds – that’s what you get when disturb mother hens on the nest.
Curing a hen of her broodiness
Why would you want to cure a hen of broodiness? Well, if you don’t plan to hatch eggs, it’s probably best to get her back to her egg-laying state as soon as possible. Some hens, will continue for weeks being broody if left alone, and that isn’t good for their health in the long term.
There are ways to “break” a broody hen of her habit. Papa’s most common technique is to go in several times a day and toss her out of the nest, sometimes shutting the door back into the coop so they can’t sneak back in right away. A few days of this usually helps.
I’ve also heard tricks of removing nesting materials, confining them to a non-nesting area or even placing cold or frozen water bottles under them.
Letting (fertile) eggs lie…
So anyway, back to last spring when Mama turned into a broody hen. We have friends that have larger flocks, complete with roosters, so their eggs would most likely be fertile. We made a trade with them for just 5 eggs. Approximately 21 days later, we had 4 of them hatch into baby chicks! We did the same this month with 10 eggs -> 7 baby chicks. The ratio is not 100%. Not all the eggs will be fertilized and this year we had a couple of eggs break during those 3 weeks.
3 benefits to using a broody hen
While adding baby chicks to our flock is exciting, we realized that having broody hen Mama hatch them meant several benefits:
- No incubator. We didn’t have to worry about keeping the eggs warm. The broody hen sits on the nest exclusively except for the brief moments when she gets up to eat, drink and poop.
- No heat lamps. Once the chicks are born, no heat lamp is needed. They snuggle up under or next to Mama to keep warm until their feathers come in. Our babies were born this week and that same night we had frost warnings. We still didn’t need to worry about them though; we knew Mama would take care of them.
- Protection. When it’s a couple of days before hatching time, we do segregate the other hens from Mama. Papa creates a see-through barrier that allows the hens to hear and see the chicks but they can’t interact yet. However, when it comes time to start introducing the younglings to their “aunts”, the broody hen helps out there too. If any hen starts to get a bit too close, she’ll come after them. She is the ultimate protector and herder of her children.
In other words, we hand over the fertile eggs to a broody hen, make sure she has a good nest, and 3 weeks later there are baby chicks that she continues to take care of. Very little fuss on our part!
I can guarantee this is going to be our preferred method for raising baby chicks in the future. Now if we can just keep the predators away so we don’t need to keep adding to our flock…. sigh.