• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • Anne Miller
  • Mike Haasl
  • Pearl Sutton
  • paul wheaton
stewards:
  • r ranson
  • Burra Maluca
  • Joseph Lofthouse
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • Leigh Tate
  • Carla Burke
gardeners:
  • Greg Martin
  • Jay Angler
  • John F Dean

Five Broody Hens in One Greenhouse

 
Matt McSpadden
Posts: 29
8
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Question:
Do you think I can keep five hens with their chicks in a 12x30 greenhouse without building separate pens?

Details:
I started by seeking advice on delaying broodiness, See this post, I saved eggs for a few days and had 54 eggs ready to go. 9 each for the six broody hens I had. This was probably limited by the fact that I only had 6 nesting boxes. I made 6 new nesting boxes out of milk crates, added straw, then the saved eggs, and went out late at night with my red light head lamp to move the hens. Google makes it sound so easy. Of the 6 I moved, 4 stayed on the nest when I left. By morning, none were in the new nesting boxes, and over 2.5 dozen eggs had been smashed and presumably eaten, presumably by the rest of the flock. The hens had moved back to the old nesting boxes. My plan was to move the rest of the flock to the summer mobile coop with electric fence. I believe my mistake was not moving the rest of the flock at the same time that I tried to move the hens, and especially not moving the current nesting boxes and forcing the hens to use the new ones. For anyone trying this, please learn from my mistake. Once I was able to get this all sorted out, 5 of the six hens are happily sitting in the nesting boxes and brooding the eggs. One hen decided she wasn't quite ready and kept bothering the other 5 so I moved her to the outside pen.

This brings me to my question. I now have 5 hens in milk-crate-nesting-boxes which I was planning to spread out around the greenhouse. Trying to do research here and on google in general does not yield much information. Some places talk about two hens getting along just fine and jointly raising all the chicks, others share horror stories of one hen attacking and killing the other hen's chicks. No where can I find any information on someone (crazy?) trying to put 5 broody hens in the same space. Has anyone ever done something like this? Will spreading out the boxes be enough? Do I need to build some barriers?

I probably bit off more than I can chew. With One rooster and 27 hens, I'm not even sure all the eggs are fertile. Between young hens who are first time moms, and myself being a first time hatch-from-a-hen-instead-of-an-incubator person, I know I may not get many if any, but I would like to give them the best chance. The hens don't seem to have any problem currently and are only 3 days into the 21 day cycle. I figure I've got about 2 weeks max to figure this out if I need to build something.

Thank you in advance.
 
Jay Angler
gardener
Posts: 4371
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1619
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've never had to deal with that many at once. The length of the greenhouse will be an asset. A hen's inclination is to take the chicks away from the nest as soon as they hatch, so having some areas set up that look like good places for chicks may help.

1. I lock my sitting hens into individual cubes - otherwise you risk "nest swapping" which will leave some eggs to get cold and before you know it they may all be duds. I've used large dog crates, although they can overheat easily. I prefer cubes of salvaged dog exercise pen panels with "baby bumpers" at the bottom. I move the chicks out of the cubes as soon as mom brings them off the nest.
2. Yes, there's a high chance that a couple of hens will scoop up all the chicks leaving some disappointed hens when they loose all.
3. No, there's no good way to predict this outcome - hens *do* have personalities. I've got more experience with Muscovy than chicks and sometimes a subordinate female will take over the "Auntie" role which can be very handy when we first let them out to free-range, but I wouldn't count on it. Other times, the extra mom looses out entirely. Some of my moms *love* to sit on eggs and are happy to pawn off any ducklings on some other unsuspecting mother so they can go broody again!
4. Having some visual blocks between areas of the hens may help - a densely planted row of some non-toxic plant like Kale for example.
5. Do you have access to an incubator? If so, putting 10 or so eggs in it for a fertility check would remove one concern. I just did a check for some Khaki Campbell eggs - I figured there would be duds but I was shocked to find out that not one out of 16 developed. I've already got a girl sitting on ones from the same birds, so I've collected eggs from elsewhere and later today will put them in the incubator. This was a similar situation where there may not be enough "males" to "females" so although I've seen one male trying to mate, clearly he's not being successful with the group I was picking eggs from. I'm not looking forward to having to "swap" good eggs for duds some evening, but I don't see any other good choice.

Hopefully some more experienced people will volunteer their experiences.
 
Matt McSpadden
Posts: 29
8
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Update - We are approximately 9 days into the 21 day cycle with my 5 hens. I lost quite a few eggs that I suspect were eaten by a non-broody hen that I thought was broody. She has since been removed, but when I went to candle the eggs, a couple only had 3 eggs when I had given them 7 or 8 each. Still, all things considered, this is my first attempt, and these hens' first attempt, so I am excited that we had around 20 out of an estimated 32 eggs that are developing and growing. Why all the "around", "approximately", and "estimated"? Because I had 3 of my kids with me late at night and I lost track of my counting

I'm still torn whether to simply spread them out throughout the greenhouse so each has her own area but can roam free, or actually build 5 small pens to separate the mothers and chicks from each other. Any thoughts from anyone?

 
Jay Angler
gardener
Posts: 4371
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1619
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Matt McSpadden wrote:I'm still torn whether to simply spread them out throughout the greenhouse so each has her own area but can roam free, or actually build 5 small pens to separate the mothers and chicks from each other. Any thoughts from anyone?

Matt, you've already seen the downside of "no protection" and are down eggs. The issue is that it's a moving target. I'd choose to protect the moms and chicks for at least a week, but after that you want them to start integrating for periods at least, because eventually, they all have to be one happy flock. There is potential danger that another mom will kill another mom's chicks if they stray into "her territory" which if she's either scared or dominant could be anywhere in the greenhouse and the risk will be greatest early on. When I first started letting the groups interact, it was with "human" supervision and a large field with fresh grass and bugs to distract from fighting.
 
Matt McSpadden
Posts: 29
8
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Jay,
Thank you for your thoughts. You have made me fear the results of no separation enough that I am building some pens.

I got the material yesterday and will be building the pens this evening and tomorrow evening. I'm going with 4W x 4L x 2H. Frame from 2x2's with 1/4 inch hardware cloth on the sides (A certain blue home improvement store had a great price on that size I couldn't pass up). The top will be white plastic roofing, and a milk crate nest inside. I'll post some pictures when they are done. I'm going to try to build one for each hen for hatching, but I hope to sell most chicks within the first week so I only have 1 or 2 pens and 1 or 2 hens to deal with integration. After the first week, the pen, hen, and chicks will get moved into the run with the adult chickens. Based on my research it is important to get the chicks part of the flock while the mother's hormones are still raging with "protect my babies at all costs".

Now I just need to figure out how to stop the chicks from running out the holes in the electric fence while they are growing big enough so they won't fit.

**Edit**
Five more days until May 3rd when the chicks are supposed to hatch .
 
Jay Angler
gardener
Posts: 4371
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1619
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hopefully you will find those pens useful for many situations over time. Let's say a chicken is injured - the other birds may keep pecking at the injury so it won't heal, but if you remove the bird completely for two weeks until it has healed, she'll loose her place in the pecking order. By penning her, the other hens can still see her, and you can possibly let her out for brief exercise periods while you're working or observing your flock, then put her back in the pen when you leave - something I've had to do on several occasions over the years.

Similarly, sometimes we have other reasons for needing to integrate a new hen or two or more. Putting them in a pen for a day or two where they locals can get used to them, and then one night putting each one of them on the perch between 2 of the old hens, is one way to increase the odds of a smooth integration.

So far as integrating moms and chicks:
1. The moms without chicks may have integration issues as they will have been gone for at least 4 weeks. How often do you move your mobile coop/run combo? An ideal time to integrate the chickless hens would be immediately after a move - A) everyone will be distracted by fresh grass and bugs B) the new turf won't be as firmly in the chicken brains as "my turf".

2. I would definitely be concerned about week-old layer chicks in electric net fencing. Not only might they get all the way through, at a certain age, they get themselves caught and can't get out but also can't back up as their wings get tangled. Granted, my experience with this was industrial meat chicks and they're not the brightest sparks in the chicken species! Can you design your 4x4 pens so that you can flip up one side, so that you can abut two pens and get 4x8 to contain mom and chick within the Net Fencing? This will also stop the other hens from stealing the chick feed while the little guys grow some more? Similarly, if you can find useful things to do in the area, you could let them out for longer periods when you're around to rescue or intervene as needed. Personally, I've never worried about integrating until they were a month old, but it all depends on the exact situation - breeds, aggressiveness, where mom was in the pecking order before going broody, etc...

Sorry I scared you about "no separation" - more of my 'baby' experience has been with Muscovy, and they'd steal each other's babies in a heart beat! Whichever mom was lower on the duck equivalent of the pecking order would loose to the primary, and at best keep "Auntie" status. The ducklings themselves contributed to this - there seems to be strong "huddle" and "safety in numbers" sense in them. Good luck with the experiment - ultimately, try to allow yourself time to observe, observe, observe because chickens have personality and chicklettes are adorable, funny and cheep entertainment!
 
Matt McSpadden
Posts: 29
8
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Update:
I was only able to build 3 pens in time, because the chicks started hatching Saturday, instead of Sunday.

I ended up with a total of 14 chicks that hatched. This is a far cry from what I started with, but it has been a great learning experience for me as well as for my first time mother hens I'm sure.

There were no issues between hens even though the eggs started hatching before I got the pens in there. I did get the three hens into their pens before they were really up and off the nest, so that may have helped as well. The hens let my kids pet and pick up the chicks mostly. They would get a little anxious if they held them too long, so I would make them put the chick back. It is interesting how, if one hen senses "danger" (me walking into the greenhouse) and gets all puffed up, the other 4 will automatically also puff up and be on the ready.  

By Sunday afternoon I had

Pen 1 - Hen with 5 chicks
Pen 2 - Hen with 3 chicks
Pen 3 - Hen with 6 chicks
Green House - Two hens with no chicks

I checked and the other two hens only had 3 eggs each left, and none of them were viable. So last night I removed the bad eggs and took 1 chick from each of the hens that had the most and put 1 chick with each hen that had not hatched out anything. So far things look good. They settled onto the chick, and both chicks were still under their new mothers and seemed to be doing well. I don't have lots of pictures because yesterday I was too busy building pens and being excited, and this morning I was running late for work. I will try to add more pictures later.

The first picture is of the pen with my two helpers, the others of the chickens.
20210501_161400.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20210501_161400.jpg]
20210501_170619.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20210501_170619.jpg]
20210503_061753.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20210503_061753.jpg]
20210503_065938.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20210503_065938.jpg]
20210503_065941.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20210503_065941.jpg]
 
Matt McSpadden
Posts: 29
8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If anyone is thinking how unorganized I am and that I should have planned ahead would be absolutely right. I am making some of this up as I go along as I learn new things and run into problems. I'm hoping next year goes much more smoothly.

In a perfect world where I could tell what I am getting, I would keep 1 rooster and 4 hens to replenish my flock. In reality, I'll probably keep 5 or 6 chicks and see what I get. (If anyone is in Maine and looking for Black Australorps, I've got 6 or 8 that I want to send to a new home )

If everything goes as planned, I will put 4 hens in one of the pens inside the run area for a week or so to let them re-adjust as if they were completely new hens. Then I will put them in the coop some night. The Mother and chicks I'm keeping will go in a pen in the run area, and I'm not really sure after that I have an electric fence and mobile coop that gets moved every couple days unless I'm trying to do a scorched earth thing on a garden spot. Then they may be there for a couple weeks.

Everything I'm reading says if you don't get the chicks in with the flock while the mother's hormones are still raging, then she will not protect them, and you have to wait longer to integrate the young chickens. I'm hoping to integrate early, but my biggest issue right now is how to keep the chicks inside the electric fence until they are big enough to not fit. Any brilliant ideas on that last piece would be greatly appreciated.
 
Jay Angler
gardener
Posts: 4371
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1619
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Matt, you may be winging it, (yeah, *really* bad pun) but you're trying and observing and I expect learning a lot.

The little pens you made look awesome, and as I said earlier, I think you will find lots of uses for them going forward. For example, if you think the chicks need some baby feed, but don't want the older hens eating it all, you could make an "instant creep feeder" but putting one of the pens up on four chunks of two by four so the chicks can get under it to a feeder in the center, but the adult hens won't fit. I'd put a "chick-sized" water source in there also depending on how you water the rest of the flock. That would also make a "safe zone" they could run under if mom doesn't protect them as well as needed.

I have less experience with electric chicken net - we have some, but with my capacity to grow rocks, I've always found it more of a liability than an asset. How large a run are you talking? (How many feet of netting?)
 
Matt McSpadden
Posts: 29
8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The adults are watered using the nipple waterers, but I did not have time and could not think of a simple nipple waterer that would work for an adult plus chicks. So they just have the normal red plastic ones you get from the store. I like the idea of setting it up on blocks and letting the chicks go under if needed.

It is only 100ft of netting. This would be kind of small if I did not move it around. I've thought about getting a second length, but they are all on back order, and this fence fits perfectly over my 20x30 garden beds.

 
Jay Angler
gardener
Posts: 4371
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
1619
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Matt McSpadden wrote:The adults are watered using the nipple waterers, but I did not have time and could not think of a simple nipple waterer that would work for an adult plus chicks. So they just have the normal red plastic ones you get from the store. I like the idea of setting it up on blocks and letting the chicks go under if needed.

OK, start with the one you bought, but I think the only issue with the nipple one would be the height once the chicks are older and the hens teach them about the nipples? So build them a staircase out of rocks/bricks/wood? If it's the style I'm picturing, I haven't used one, but I do believe they use them with chicks, and layer chicks jump pretty well up onto things - to the point I had to make special lids for Hubby's meat chick feeders or they'd sit on top and poop in the feed ... sigh...

It is only 100ft of netting. This would be kind of small if I did not move it around. I've thought about getting a second length, but they are all on back order, and this fence fits perfectly over my 20x30 garden beds.

OK, so if you got some of the fairly cheap 1"square deer fencing, cut it to be 3 ft high by 100ft - it could be 2 sections, and found something to use as stakes to bang in just inside the electric fence, would that do the trick? Is the electric fencing keeping the chickens in or the vermin out? If they've already learned to respect it, would they give you grief with the extra layer? Once the chicks are bigger - 6 to 8 weeks I'm guessing, you roll it up until next year. It's more work in the short term, I realize. I'd suggest just tying an even shorter bit right to the electric net fencing, top and bottom, but unless I was there, it's kind of hard to picture - that's my idea, take it, leave it or change it!
 
Hey, check out my mega multi devastator cannon. It's wicked. It makes this tiny ad look weak:
Greenhouse of the Future ebook - now free for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/greenhouse
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic