Choosing mother hens

English Game HenIf you’re going to improve
your flock by breeding for traits
you want, you’ll have to
raise chicks at home.  One option is the
I played with
in 2011, but Harvey Ussery opts for a lower work method — using
mother hens.

As I’ve discovered, you
can’t just expect any old bird to become broody and raise new
chicks.  The broody trait has been bred out of most mainstream
chicken varieties, so you need to choose heirloom breeds that are good
mothers.  Ussery’s favorite type of mother hen is the English game
hen, although he admits that the small chickens can’t sit on as many
eggs as a standard-sized hen.  Other breeds he recommends include
Asil, Malay, Shamo, Kraicenkoppe, and some Dorkings and bantams
(especially Nankin and Silkies.)

Even after you choose a
good mothering variety, Harvey Ussery recommends breeding your broody
hen subflock just as carefully as you breed your main flock.  That
means culling hens that don’t set on your schedule (like our cochin,
who didn’t feel like going broody until midsummer) or who don’t manage
to raise living chicks for any reason.  But remember that the
mother hen’s main job is raising chicks, and don’t cull her if she
doesn’t lay particularly well or bulk up as fast as you’d like.

For more tips on working
with broody hens, check out Harvey Ussery’s
Small-Scale Poultry Flock

Our chicken waterer is a great addition to the
brood coop since it stays clean and doesn’t spill on delicate chicks.

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