It seems like every spring, one of our hens goes broody. Unfortunately, our success rate with those broody hens has been close to nill.
One year, we learned the hard way that the broody setup needs to be perfect. The nest box should be on the ground so chicks can pop back inside easily if they’re chilled, and it definitely shouldn’t be in a spot that can get wet during rains.
Another year, a Cuckoo Marans did an admirable job hatching eight chicks in an area she chose for herself in a little-used corner of the barn. But we couldn’t catch the hen and her chicks to move them somewhere safer…and slowly but surely the chicks got picked off by a black rat snake.
During several other years, we’ve missed the boat, watching a hen start to go broody…and then watching her relinquish her mothering instincts when
we failed to set up a good nesting spot in time. So this year, I decided to be proactive. Even though it’s January and surely a terrible time to be incubating eggs, when one of our Australorp mixes began hopping the fence to hide her eggs in the garden, we set her up in an isolation coop complete with nest basket, food, and water.
So far, she seems to be settling in — not clucking angrily about being separated from her fellows, but instead spending time on the nest. I currently have five golf balls in the basket to simulate a clutch, but if our hen begins setting seriously, I’ll replace the golf balls with fertilized eggs. Perhaps this will be the year a broody hen comes through for us?
We like to raise new hens every year for optimal egg-laying, and recently we’ve mostly started those chicks by hatching our homegrown eggs. However, last year I opted to branch out into ducks, and that meant that we went into winter with a very small chicken flock — just three hens and a rooster. Since all four of our chickens are siblings, I felt like that was too much of a genetic bottleneck, so I opted to start from scratch this year rather than hatching our own chicks.
Of course, buying chicks will also give me an opportunity to experiment with new breeds, something I always enjoy! In addition to our tried-and-true Black Australorps, we’ll be experimenting with Dominiques, New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red, and Buff Orpington this year. (The photo shows Buff Orpington chicks at Cackle Hatchery, where we placed our order.) Here’s why I chose each new breed:
- Buff Orpington — one of the parent strains of our beloved Australorps, good winter layers
- Dominique — reputed to be excellent foragers and good winter layers
- Rhode Island Red — very prolific, good winter layers
- New Hampshire — good winter layers
To learn more about the breeds we’ve already tried and deemed wanting or perfect for the homestead, check out my ebook Thrifty Chicken Breeds. And, in the meantime, if you’re planning a chick order, be sure to put it together sooner rather than later! For dependable laying of your pullets before winter, you’ll get best results if your chicks arrive by the end of March.