Farmgal’s advice on “broody hens”
Well, I have heard it a couple times in the last little while, either I want a broody hen or my hen went broody and I heard that is rare now a days, that broodyness has been breed out of most chickens today and that these hens have added value..
I say, yes and no..and I spent a whole bunch of time writing out a answer and then the cat came for a snuggle, hit a key with her foot and it all went bye.. so this time I thought I would do a post on it and put it out in detail.
So the first thing to know is that I am unaware of any way to make a hen go broody, I mean you can set up the extra for broody hens but if they don’t want to sit, they are not going to..
The second thing to know is that I don’t believe that broodyness has been breed out of most breeds, I just don’t think that chicken owners give the girls the time-space-age they need to figure it out, by this I mean that typically my best broody hens are between the ages of 3 to 5, and most folks owners that read the books will have already put those girls into the stew pot. If you know that a girl is going broody and starting to sit, it might be a good idea to give a good hard look at their protein levels, if they are out on pasture or getting to forage in the yard, then they will do just fine but if they are confined, then you might want to increase that protein level if you want good to excellent hatch rates.
Now having said that, if you ask around you can find breeders in your area that will have kept broodyness in their birds, most folks will tell you to get a banty and I will get to that but for now, lets stay with layers and dual purpose birds, in my own local area the very first spring on the farm, I got Bard Rocks from a boody line, and then I went to the bird sale and picked up a set of brown leghorns from a local breeder, turns out to be one of the best choices I could have done, while they do lay smaller white eggs, and give a lighter body to the offspring (but not as bad as banties half breeds would) they have proven themselves to some of the best mothers on the farm, giving me upwards of two clutches in a summer with between 8 to 14 chicks typically.
So what am I looking for in a broody girl..
a) A smart girl that will take advantage of the quieter laying box’s, if a hen try’s to get broody on a popular active laying box, the odds are very good that when she comes off to eat/drink/bathroom, other hens will come in and mess with the nest/clutch. I have never seen a girl yet successfully sit a nest in the most open popular nesting sites.
B) Protective yes, but needs to be calm and steady bird, I repect a hen that will fluff up and give me the eye, and even a couple good strong peeks, as long as she will hunker down and set her eggs, she gets 5 stars on this, however, I need a calm steady broody girl that will let me set eggs under her (this allows you to take eggs from other birds you know laid them and make sure you get a selection of genes in that clutch), it allows you to count eggs, candle eggs and remove bad ones. Now I don’t mess with my sitting hens much or often, but a couple times in the process, I need to do so, and I want to do it while! the momma bird is there, she might peek me but if she stays during the process on the rest of the clutch, she will be happier then if she goes to eat, and you move everything around and then let her back in.
c) She needs to keep good body condition, by this I mean she needs to be willing to get off, eat, drink and do her bathroom breaks, but at the same time, she needs to be set enough that she won’t be temped to head out into the yard, I have hens sit so hard that they loss body condition, this is bad because that hen will take a good long while to get back up to condition and start laying again, where a hen that sits very well but does get off to eat and drink faithfully, will keep her condition and get back to laying within a much! shorter time frame.
d)She in fact needs to sit, lots of the time I hear, they started and then stopped and then started an stopped, or my hen goes broody all summer long.. wrong, your hen is not broody, she’s a faker, and fakers need to end up in the pot or have their eggs taken daily, don’t waste your time on a girl that won’t sit for more then a week or ten days at a time, she is wasting her time and your time.. Even in my own flock that I have been breeding broodyness into for the past 8 years, depending on breed, I can have upwards of 50% false starts from girls that won’t stay on their eggs for the full time required. Having said that once a hen sits till she hatches, I find she will almost always do it again and again..
e) She needs to stay on the eggs for that 12 to 48 hours that it will take for all of them to hatch out, nothing worse then having 8 or 10 good eggs with chicks in them and having a mother only wait for the first two or three and leave the rest to die from lack of warmth as she leaves with the only the first hatched, when you have a hen that cares, she will sit on those eggs till she can’t hear anyone anymore.
f) She should ideally be willing to take extra chicks, most hens will accept extra chicks as long as there is room, this is awesome for a number of reason’s, if you have a proven girl that you can count on, you can get new chicks in for bloodlines from that hatchery, knowing that you will not need a heat lamp, that your girl will take those extra five new females and raise them as her own, or you can move over a second hens chicks to a different mother, the chicks are still momma raises but the hen that lost her chicks will start laying much! faster then she will if she has chicks underfoot.
G)She needs to be a good momma, and just because they can sit does not mean that this is the case, she should be showing the chicks what to do in terms of food and water but she should also be very protective of them from all the other birds, along with other critters and a really good momma teaches them the babies to be weather wise as well. If you use a whistle to call your birds like we do, she will quickly teach the young ones to come to get their treats, and they will learn that you are a good thing in their world, instead of a scary thing, this will help teach the chicks to trust you and will help you raise up the next gen of steady as she goes hens.
Last but by no means least the hen that sits should be one of the best examples of what You want to see in the next gen, and by this I am not just talking about more eggs or more meat like the books are talking about, I mean, do you live in a very cold climate, then breeding to reduce comb size is a valuable trait to consider as it reduces winter heat loss, do you want pasture birds, then breeding in smarts is a good thing, do you have lots of preditors in your area, then breeding for a body type that can still fly either a good distance or up into tree’s is worth its weight in gold, good conformation is a given but I will say it anyway, you want to breed for not just a solid body but for the best legs and feet you can.
So do you look for anything else in your broody hens? Want Chick Advice –Chick 101