I’ve posted before about the advantages
of a broody hen, but
after raising two sets of incubator/brooder babies and one more broody
hen batch this spring, I’m even more sold. Here’s why:
- Predator protection.
We lost a ghastly 24% of our first brooder batch to rats and 22% of our
second batch to something (probably the same.) On the other hand,
our mother hen only lost 1 chick out of 10 — her success rate is so
much better than mine that I’m embarrassed.
- Foraging prowess.
Not only does the mother hen take the chicks out to forage nearly as
soon as they hatch, she also trains them very well about what’s worth
eating. Our first brooder batch is the same breed as nearly all
of the mother hen’s flock (Black Australorps), and I considered them
very keen foragers. However, it took a lot of trial and error for
the motherless chicks to figure out what to eat, and even though I
tossed Japanese beetles in front of their noses multiple times, the
chicks didn’t get with the program until they were nearly three months
old. In stark contrast, I threw in beetles gleaned from the
garden when the mother hen’s chicks were a month old, and she taught
them to peck up the nutritious treats in minutes.
- Easier rotation.
Having unmothered chicks in the same pasture with adults is tough after
the former reach a month old since they will get chased away from the
food. Our mother hen made sure no one else came anywhere near her
chicks’ food, so I was able to keep her in the same pasture with the
main flock. That meant more frequent pasture rotations and less
- Less work. All of
the factors above make sense, but I have to admit that the real reason
I prefer a broody hen is because it takes so much less work on my
part. Rather than nursing incubators and brooders through power
outages, worrying over hatching chicks, and checking on newborns
multiple times a day, I can hand the entire job off to their mother.
The slight downside is the price
tag. You have to feed a broody hen for about three or four months
while getting no eggs in return — an estimated feed cost of $10.50
per hatch compared to about $2 in electricity costs for an electric
incubator and our high
Meanwhile, broody varieties tend to be less efficient at their other
job of making eggs, so you’re spending more on every egg they produce
during the down season. That said, once you add in the lower feed
cost for raising the better foraging chicks, along with the chicks
saved from predators, you might break even. That’s why our
flock next year will contain our proven White Cochin, three new Cuckoo
Marans pullets, and a couple of other potentially broody breeds.
day 1 with clean water.