On our homestead, as on many, the arrival of chicks marks the true beginning of spring. We adore their fluffy sweetness, they bring great excitement to the homestead, and most importantly, they increase our chicken numbers. In past years we expanded our flock by purchasing day-old chicks. However, with our solar electric system, the heat lamps necessary for raising young chicks are not really an option. Last year, we got started pullets and six week old ducklings, but by far, the easiest, least expensive and most sustainable way of growing our flock is by letting our broody hens hatch her own chicks.
Two years ago we purchased a couple of year-old hens. Soon after their arrival at our homestead, one of the hens went broody. We named her Broody, of course, and were delighted that she hatched four chicks. Broody has continued to be a reliably broody hen, sitting on eggs at least once per year.
This spring, we anticipated her broodiness with a plan: We would place a dozen or so eggs underneath her in hopes that about half would be roosters that we cull and eat. This is a very effective way for us to raise our own meat. We have very low cost, no extra work, and we can store the meat in the pasture until it’s ready to be eaten, typically in late fall – early winter.
While some consider broodiness a negative trait in a hen, mainly because a broody hen takes a break from laying eggs, we welcome a few broody hens in our flock.
These are my three top reasons why you should let a broody hen hatch her own chicks:
1) Broody hens do all the work! No need to raise chicks with heat lamps, incubate eggs, or clean up after messy chicks! It is such a time saver for our family.
2) Broody hens teach their chicks how to be great foragers. We allow our flock full access to our forest and pasture, which helps keep our feed costs low. At only three days old, Broody’s chicks are already pecking at grass and scratching in the dirt to find insects.
3) Broody hens save you money. Aside from giving chicks a bit of feed, we have no other costs associated with letting our broody hens raise their chicks. This spring, Broody hatched 8 chicks, saving us $20 in chick costs.
Honestly, the only disadvantage is that sometimes the offspring of broody hens are less sociable, as they are being raised by their mama, not a human. If you are looking for a chicken flock that is more pet-like or oriented towards humans, then raising day-old chicks might be a better option. We do let our kids carefully hold the chicks each day, which seems to help socialize them.
How do you get a hen to go broody?
Well, you can’t force a hen to go broody, but you certainly can try to provide situations that encourage broodiness, such as:
• Selecting chicken breeds that are known for broodiness. Some examples are Australorps, Brahmas, Buffs, or Cochins and bantam breeds such as Silkies, bantam Cochins or Orpingtons.
• Giving your hen a darkened, quiet and private place to lay her eggs.
• Placing “dummy” eggs in her nest box. You can use plastic easter eggs, or wooden eggs, or even a golf ball.
Broody hens are a great asset to a homestead, so take advantage of their amazing gift –
the gift of chicks!