Broody Hens

Buffy the Buff Orpington Demonstrates Broodiness

There is always an adjustment period when you add new hens to your flock.  Flocks maintain a strict pecking order and when new chickens are introduced the entire pecking order has to be reestablished.  This can be a brutal process.  You can expect pecking hard enough to draw blood – and the new hens usually take the brunt of it because they are young and inexperienced, they are smaller, and they are outnumbered.  There have been a couple of occasions where I have actually removed a chicken to prevent it from being injured or killed. 

I have always raised baby chicks under heat lamps and introduced them to the flock when they are old enough to defend themselves. With new babies showing up here at the end of the month I’ve been mulling over what I can do to make the process easier.  Right now I’m considering raising the babies with a broody hen.  Since the hen is already a member of the flock there is the potential that the flock will accept her chicks more readily than they would “strange” chickens.  And potentially the young ones will have a mom to protect them from the other chickens.  This is all great in theory.  First, though, I need a broody hen. 

A broody hen is simply a hen that sits on eggs until they hatch and then takes care of the babies.  Broody hens are as rare as hens’ teeth.  Broodiness has been bred out of most modern breeds of chickens because broodiness costs commercial egg producers money.  When a hen goes broody and decides that she wants to hatch a clutch of eggs, she stops laying more eggs and sits on her eggs almost around the clock with only very brief breaks to eat and poop.  If there is no rooster, she’s sitting on sterile eggs, but that doesn’t deter her.  If you take away all of her eggs, she will continue to sit in the empty nest, pining away.  If you are in the business of producing eggs, this hen is useless.  Not only is she not laying, but being broody is physically taxing since she’s not eating or exercising adequately.  So breeders have selected for hens that don't go broody and today most breeds simply never do.  They must be propagated entirely by artificial incubators.

There are some heritage breeds, though, that retain the propensity for broodiness – Marans are one such breed.  Orpingtons also frequently go broody.  And there are Silkies.  Silkies go broody at the drop of a hat.  The smallest trigger- changes in lighting, leaving eggs in the nest boxes too long, looking at them wrong – will make them go broody. It’s a problem.  While Silkies generally aren’t kept for egg production anyway, it is still unhealthy for a chicken to be broody all of the time.  So when my little fluffy girls go broody, I usually try to break their broodiness.  There are a several tried and true methods to break broodiness – more on that in a later post.

Right now both of my little Silkie hens are broody and rather than breaking them of it, I am encouraging them.  They are currently both sitting on a small pile of golf balls.  On the day I get my babies, I plan to sneak into the coop in the dead of night and surreptitiously remove the golf balls and replace them with baby chicks.  Hopefully, they will think that the eggs have hatched.  They will then raise their babies who will be destined to grow to be twice as big as they are.  When the time comes, Moms and semi-grown babies will be reintroduced to the flock. 

To be clear, I’ve never tried this before.  Will it work?  Stay tuned.

Emily and Courtney the Silkie Hens

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