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In defense of a broody hen

 
steward
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Some people don't like broody hens.  Ours give us chicks.  I like free chicks.

Last year we bought two day old chicks from fellow homesteaders.  They already knew how to drink.  I made them a cardboard enclosure in the coop to keep them close to the heat lamp.  I fiddled with the heat lamp height to be sure they'd be warm enough but not too warm.  I carefully watched their feeder to make sure it didn't run out.  I replaced their water regularly as they pooped in it.  After a few weeks I let them out into the rest of the coop.  A week later I let them outside and they played in the grass.  I had to train them to use the water nipples.  I probably spent 30 minutes a day tending to them.

This year we had a broody hen.  We have a rooster so we just picked 10 nice eggs and set them under her.  21 days later they turned into chicks.  She taught them to drink.  She taught them to use the water nipples.  She kept them warm. She taught them to eat.  She taught them to scratch/peck/forage.  I spent 5 minutes a day tending them and most of that was figuring out how to keep the other chickens from pestering them.

This fall we had another broody hen.  It's kind of late in the year but we risked it.  She hatched 4 chicks and it promptly got cold.  This time I worried less about the other chickens bothering them and sure enough, it wasn't a problem.  The chicks were 5 days old and she had them outside in 50 degree weather to forage.  They're barely a month old now and they're out in a skiff of snow with mama.  If they get cold she sits on them for a bit.  If I was their mama they'd still be under a heat lamp and I'd be worrying.

I like my broody hens
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I love my bantam broodies too.

I don't need more roosters so  I  give them dud eggs and when those eggs would normally hatch I  give them chicks from the feed store. This past spring  I had 2 go broody at the same time and they raised 3 Americana pullets and a Golden Laced Wyandotte.

Here is a video of them from this spring:

 
Mike Jay Haasl
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This next year I want to mix up my genetics a bit so I'm going to get fertile eggs from those same homesteaders and tuck them under a hen and let her hatch them.  The pick the best rooster from that hatch and he'll become the main rooster eventually.
 
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Why I dislike broodys. I'm not interested in getting a ton of unneeded chicks. We've figured out we need 6 chickens to supply our family with eggs. Everyone we know has chickens. I don't need to supply more than my own need.

They stop laying when they're broody, annoying.

The few times before I adopted my "6 chickens only" mantra I used to let them hatch out eggs, They'd pick a nest box of eggs to sit on and switch that one out for another every other day. I was always throwing eggs out because a broody had been sitting on them and then switched to other ones and AHH. If I put them in a cage to keep them from hopping around they'd promptly stop sitting on eggs at all. Drove me bonkers.

I do have peacocks that hatch out and raise their own young. I love that kind of broody hen. Broody chicken, not so much.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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elle sagenev wrote:
The few times before I adopted my "6 chickens only" mantra I used to let them hatch out eggs, They'd pick a nest box of eggs to sit on and switch that one out for another every other day. I was always throwing eggs out because a broody had been sitting on them and then switched to other ones and AHH. If I put them in a cage to keep them from hopping around they'd promptly stop sitting on eggs at all. Drove me bonkers.



Yeah it can be tricky when they try to incubate eggs in a hen house (which is a very unnatural environment, in nature they would have their own little nest that no other bird used). A lot of people keep the broodies in a cage inside the coop to prevent nest swapping. Plus if something went wrong and the eggs don't hatch the poor hen put in all that effort for nothing. That is one reason I prefer to just buy chicks and let them sit on infertile eggs, if they sit on the wrong nest or if a rat snake eats their egg it is no big deal, I just give them another one.

My bantams aren't for egg production anyway, heck my favorite broody probably only lays an egg 2-3 times a year (she is at least 7 years old). But being able to add a couple of chicks each spring without fussing with heat lamps, or brooder boxes, or integrating them into the flock is wonderful for everyone concerned.

I have Mareks in my flock (a form of avian herpes triggered by stress, outbreaks lead to paralysis/death).  I haven't had a bird become ill from it for 2-3 years now but if I tried to integrate older chicks into the flock they could easily get sick and die from it.
 
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I love having a broody hen hatch her own chicks.  I've found I can avoid any associated problems by moving the broody hen and the eggs to be hatched to my chicken tractor.  When the chicks hatch, the mom can take care of them with no interference from the other chickens.  I have had hens kill another hen's chicks when they are all raised together.  It keeps my 30-odd chickens from all eating the chicks' food.  Having the mother hen eat the food is one thing, but trying to keep up with 30 adults eating it is another thing all together.  It also allows me to use a small waterer so I know the chicks are getting enough to drink with no danger of drowning.  I think the chicks learn a lot about foraging and hunting from the mother as well.  
 
steward
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I love good broody hens. Weird broody hens can be unsettling!

This summer, I moved a broody hen to the spare coop. To do so, I covered the exit of the next box, and picked up the whole box and moved her in it after dark. Removed the covering in the morning. She raised a batch of chicks. During the afternoon, we allowed them to free range with the rest of the flock. At night, the broody hen took her chicks back to the spare coop, and the rest of the flock went to the main coop. After about 5 weeks, the mamma hen took her chicks back to the main coop for the night. Instant and peaceful integration was achieved.



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Broody hen with day old chicks.
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Seven weeks later.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Mine are in the hen house from day one. I pen them off for the first day and then by the second or third day the broody takes them outside. Fortunately none of my birds have ever hurt a chick but I think it is partly due to the fact we add a couple of chicks every spring so they are used to seeing babies (plus most were raised by the same broodies).

They use a cat carrier with hardware cloth for their nest. At night the carrier door is closed for extra protection against snakes and to prevent chicks from wandering away in the dark, and if we have freakishly cold weather it is easy to just grab the carrier and bring them in the house overnight. Fortunately the bantams don't mind if the carrier is moved around. The chicks don't get special food, they eat game bird feed out of the adult feeders (never had a coccidia problem) though they do get a dish of "mush" with raw egg in it every morning so they start the day off with a full stomach.

My henhouse is only 4 x 8, and I originally set it up so there was a broody cage with a separate outside door under the roosts. Then I got an extra rooster and he filled that space. It is a tight fit when there are babies but since they are only in the coop at night to sleep no one seems to mind.

Their setup with a small carrier, then the babies meet the flock:

 
Mike Jay Haasl
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Yup, keeping things separate and keeping the greedy big birds from eating the chick food is the biggest struggle.  It's still a better struggle than raising chicks myself.

Two broodies ago I locked her and the eggs in a medium sized cage on the floor of the coop and let her out with the chicks when they were a few days old.  She sat well but I figured she wanted more freedom.  This time I let the broodie sit up in the normal nest box with the eggs which she did pretty good at.  She'd come outside to cluck and forage a bit every day and my only worries were if someone else took her spot or if she went to the wrong nest.  Both happened but in the first case she kicked the other hen off of her eggs.  In the second case, I luckily caught her sitting on the wrong nest and nudged her over to the correct one.  My nest boxes were removable so when the first chick hatched I slid her out and set them on the ground with the cage over them.  I opened the door on day two to change the water and she took the chicks out for a wander.  

I've since then redesigned the nest box so that I can have a removable box for her so I can just slide that one out hen and chicks and all.  

I've made a little jail cell for the chick food that has bars close enough that only the chicks can get in.  That keeps the hens from sucking it down.
 
pollinator
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I will never NOT have a broody. Broodies are important, for me, just from a sustainable perspective.

My rooster is incredible - he's extremely hardy and he's tough even though he's not all that big. He can take down a rooster twice his size. I want his genetics in my flock more than I want specific breeds. I'll be sad when he passes someday but I am confident his sons will be just as awesome.

I'll never have to worry about the future if for some reason I can't get chicks to replenish my stock.

New chicks give me roosters for dog food and pullets for trade/barter. Yesterday I just bartered some pullets that were hatched by a broody this spring for stud service for my goats and organic seed garlic. Win/win and all it cost me was whatever feed they ate in between the foraging their mom had them do.

Plus, they are CUTE. Nothing like a mama hen clucking to her babies and showing them the ropes.
 
pollinator
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So I have been reading along in this thread because I hope to have chickens that will raise their own young.  Currently I have guineas who have never gone broody for me.  After the last couple of posts, I did a search on Backyard Chickens to see what people generally do with nesting boxes.  Within the first few hits of my search I was led to this article.  I thought it might appeal to us Permies due to the careful observations of the writer.  https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/nest-boxes-why-do-we-make-a-sitting-hens-job-so-difficult.74389/
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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Thanks Ghislaine, that's a great article!  My first hen was isolated in a cage on the coop floor with an inch of cedar shavings for her nest.  I'm not sure if she liked it or not.  The cage mesh under that 1" probably gave her good traction.  The second one was isolated on day 21 in a nest box with 2" of shavings in it so I think it had enough traction.  But neither had a natural hollow and I'm not sure if either hen had a chance to make a hollow.

I'm trying to upgrade the "naturalness" of the brooding situation each time.  I'm just not sure where they want to sit.  They lay in the nest boxes (with an inch of shavings and a wood bottom) so I think they feel like they should set in there too.  I'm going to make a removeable nest box for one spot and maybe I'll work a hollow into the design and see if that helps.

Next time I'll put her on the ground on day 21 and cover her with the cage for a day or two.  Then I'll open the door to the cage so she can get out and live her new life with the chicks.  That way she's only caged for a day or two and she won't leave the nest at the critical moment.  And yet the chicks will be able to walk around and not fall to their deaths.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Mike Jay wrote:
Next time I'll put her on the ground on day 21 and cover her with the cage for a day or two.  Then I'll open the door to the cage so she can get out and live her new life with the chicks.  That way she's only caged for a day or two and she won't leave the nest at the critical moment.  And yet the chicks will be able to walk around and not fall to their deaths.



Yeah it is best if the chicks hatch on the ground penned in with the broody (if a chick starts wandering she will usually have to leave the remaining eggs to follow it). Moving the nest after dark usually works best. Sitting hens are in a sort of trance state and if the trance is broken and the hen becomes upset over a moved nest the only option is to put the nest back where it was (and wall it off so newly hatched chicks can't fall out).

I like using a carrier/cage every night for the first few weeks in part because it offers protection for the babies when the flock is active in the hen house.  In the morning when the big birds are jumping onto the floor the hen/babies are still in their carrier so they can't get smooshed. It also prevents chicks from accidentally wandering away from the hen in the dark and being unable to find their way back under (and getting cold/dying as a result). My broodies take the babies into the carrier at dusk so all I have to do is close the door.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Ghislaine de Lessines wrote:Currently I have guineas who have never gone broody for me.



From what I have heard Guineas generally do not make good broodies (at least not outside of Africa). They sit on huge clutches of eggs (25-30) and in best case scenarios when a hen does successfully hatch out a clutch of eggs the survival rate of the chicks is very low.

The most likely birds to go broody are the non-layer breeds of chickens (game birds, bantams, cochins, silkies, etc...) because they have not had the trait bred out of them for better egg production. Some laying breeds do go broody but it is less common. None of my laying hens have gone broody (out of 14 or so) yet all of my Old English Game bantam hens have especially as they get older (2+ years).
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Just had to brag a little....my spring easter egger chicks are laying!  I went from hardly getting 1 egg a day (if the rat snakes didn't get it first) to suddenly having 4 dozen eggs in the fridge and needing to give some away. Should be flush with eggs all winter.

Lots of bluish-green and one is laying olive. I am surprised at the size of them:

 
pollinator
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Mike Jay wrote:Yup, keeping things separate and keeping the greedy big birds from eating the chick food is the biggest struggle.  It's still a better struggle than raising chicks myself.
I've since then redesigned the nest box so that I can have a removable box for her so I can just slide that one out hen and chicks and all.  
I've made a little jail cell for the chick food that has bars close enough that only the chicks can get in.  That keeps the hens from sucking it down.



I like the idea of a little jail cell to isolate the chick food from the hens. What does yours look like?
Last time I had a broodie, the others would all invade the nest and give her more eggs to hatch. She got discouraged and got off the eggs. This time, I want to be better prepared. I figured on getting the broodie and her eggs moved to a separate pen, [perhaps in the covered winter run I'm going to build]. I would move her and her eggs at night in a different nest box.
My nest boxes are 2 sets of 5 nest boxes, so that won't do for isolation. Besides, They may be too high for baby chicks to get in an out of after they are hatched [about a foot off the ground]. So I'll have to figure out something. Maybe a cat transporter, with a handle on top and good warm straw in it? Or I'll build one.
I do have many questions about broodies in general too:
* Out of 25 hens, how many can I expect to go broody on me? [Should I have 3-4  separate nest boxes?] They are sex linked red hens and white roos and I heard that the offsprings will probably not be sex linked, but that's OK. I'll worry about sexing them later. I know that commercial egg producers have bred the broodiness out of the breeds. I'm not sure if that is the case for the sex linked reds.
* If several go broody at the same time, could I isolate all of them together in some sort of "maternity ward"?
* When do they tend to go broody? [I understand that broodiness happens with increased daylight, but how automatic is it?]
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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My jail cell is underwhelming and could be easily improved upon.  I just took two scrap pieces of plywood, about 16" square and then took some small pine sticks (1" square and 12" long) and spaced the sticks around the perimeter of one plywood square and screwed them on.  That piece is the floor of the jail cell.  The top just sits on the sticks so that I can lift it off to change out the food.  If the chicks didn't use the nipple waterer i could put a bowl in there for them as well.

When I build a better one I'll probably put solid sides on all four sides and leave two of the corners cut out with a big enough space that my skinniest hen can't squeeze through.

I didn't have trouble with the other hens adding eggs.  I saved the eggs for her and gave her 10 all at one crack.  Maybe I could have given her more?  Then I think she defended the nest from there on out.  I'm guessing you could mark the 10 (or however many) eggs you give her and then a week later check to see if the number is the same.  If there are extras you'd know which ones to remove.

Having a separate place for the maternity ward would be pretty nice.  I'm making due with one coop.  Once the chicks hatch I thought I had to keep them separated from the other hens for a couple weeks.  So I "protect" them in a big wire cage within the coop.  Well, this time when I opened their cage door to change the food on day 2, she charged out and took the chicks with her and didn't go back in all day.  The other hens stayed away because she was really pissy and protective.  So I learned that once the chicks are hatched and a couple days old, there's no need to keep them apart (with my flock).  She still needed a nest box to sleep in with them though.

I tried putting the eggs on the ground for the broody hen but she didn't want to leave her "normal" nest box to sit on the ground.  That's why I'm coming up with a removable box.  She can set on eggs up off the ground and once they hatch, I'll move them all together.

IF your hens are like mine, out of 25 hens you'll have about 10 broody ones.  I had 10 hens and four went broody.  But they went broody at vastly different times.  One was in really early spring so she didn't get to set.  One was at a good time in spring, one was mid summer and one was late summer.  I'd base your maternity nest boxes more on how many chicks you want instead of how many broodies you think you'll have.  I'd assume you could cycle two different broodies through a maternity ward in one spring/summer.  So 20+ chicks from one nest box.

I would imagine that several broodies could share a maternity ward.  I would imagine that it would be best if they all start sitting on the same day so you don't have one sitting while the other has 4 day old chicks running around.  But I don't know...
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Well, Mike, actually, since you have a winter run, you might *also* use it in early spring and summer to isolate a broody hen and her clutch? (stacking functions?) Being covered, she and her babies would be safe, and probably warm enough unless she goes broody in winter.
Marking *her eggs* in the first few days when you may not sure she is broody is the right thing to do: I would not want to move her too soon and discourage her, but once I'm sure, and she has enough eggs for a good clutch, I'd move her at night.
You would have
1/the coop itself, then
2/the winter run, and inside the winter run, you could make
3/ a removable partition with 1/2"wire? Inside of that,
4/ the nest, the hen and her clutch, their feed and water?
(Think of katchina dolls). As I recall, inside the run, you have a solid wall the height of a pallet to the north, correct? That could be one wall. The movable wall could be a stretch of chicken wire with a piece of 2"X 4", or maybe rebars fastened against the wall at one end and attached temporarily at the other end.  I would put her nest facing the wall so she can still go in and out [away from prying eyes] while she is brooding. Another piece of rebar planted in the ground to keep the wall straight and taut / tight should work. I doubt that the other hens would jump in and bother her, but if they do, making the wall taller should put an end to that.

By the way, I think that the idea of the chicks having their own little jail to have their own food and water is a great idea, but maybe not while they are tiny: Look at the article below. I'm not sure if the hen would need her own food too, separate from her chicks: Brooding takes a lot of energy out of her and she can go thin sitting eggs. Hens need higher protein to make up for their exhausting 'Ramadan', just like baby chicks do to grow strong bodies.
This article next article is packed with good ideas that make sense. It says that while brooding, she can be given the same food her baby chicks will need: More protein, less calcium since she is not laying anyway. Plus it is bad for the chicks to have too much calcium [like getting at her layer pellets]. So maybe within the nursery, only one type of food would be necessary? Forget about the internal food jail?? [Too bad: I thought it was a cool idea.]
Perhaps keeping their food separate from adults would work better once they are all mixed in and growing hardy?
https://www.hobbyfarms.com/how-to-work-with-a-broody-hen/

I guess I should not "count my chicks before they are hatched" (Chuckles chuckles, cluck cluck) literally, but my next endeavor would be to separate them by sex. (I've never done that but it involves looking closely at the vent upturned). Then mark them [Little rings for their feet, or maybe paint their feet with methyl blue dye? not sure how long the dye lasts, but probably not weeks]. I'd use them first as broilers probably.
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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Good idea Cecile!  I always thought a maternity ward had to be inside the coop but there isn't any reason it can't be outside (that I know of).  Unless she'd miss the nighttime clucking of her friends...

When I had hens sit, I collected ALL the eggs and kept the ones I wanted to hatch on the counter (room temp).  Then when I had enough I put them all under her in one shot.  Then count off 21 days and you'll have chicks.  So just mark them before putting them under her.

 
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