15 December 2009

Breaking a Broody

A reader poses a good question in the Comments section for one of the posts about our broody hen:

We've got a broody hen and I don't know what to do with her! My neighbor has told me I need either a bucket or a trap to get the hen 'off the cluck'.

It is indeed hard to break a hen of her broodiness. Once she's in full brood mode, she's already stopped laying eggs. If you can catch her on the first day, she should start laying again in seven days. But if you don't catch her and break her until the fourth day, it'll be another 18 days or so before she begins laying again. We basically let our hen brood this time because (1) we had enough other hens to keep laying; (2) we had a bunch of fertile eggs we didn't need to eat; and (3) it's too much work to break a hen of broodiness --- and we've never had much luck doing it.

Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens lists several tips for breaking up a broody hen (p. 181):
  • Don't let eggs accumulate in the nest
  • Repeatedly remove the hen from her nest
  • Move or cover the nest so she can't get in
  • Move the hen to different housing
  • Put the hen in a "broody coop," which is a hanging cage with a wire or slat floor, for a few days.
How hard you work to break a broody hen will depend in part on why you're raising chickens in the first place. If your egg production is tight, and you're interested in nothing but eggs, and you have just a few hens, you'll want to do everything you can to break her. You may even want to cull a persistent broody hen, if broodiness is a trait you do not want in your flock.

But for us, in our situation, raising chickens has always been about more than maximizing egg production. We've fortunately always had enough "extra" hens, and have always had roosters running with them, so we can allow broody hens to remain broody. Broodiness is a trait that we actually appreciate, and it gives us another "teachable moment" in homeschooling our children. The kids are learning that chicks don't come merely from a hatchery; nature has a beautiful and mysterious way of ensuring that the cycle of life continues itself without our mechanical intervention. Also, there are few things as fun or entertaining as watching a hen escort a brood of chicks around the barnyard, keeping them close and showing them what is good to eat.

We've also wondered if there may come a time when it's difficult to obtain chicks from a hatchery, or when hatchery chicks become prohibitively expensive. For that reason, we've wanted to have some heritage breeds of chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese that will be capable of "getting the job done" without our help, and ensuring that we will always have some home-produced supply of meat and eggs. The birds haven't always been successful in brooding and raising their own young. We're just glad that, in a pinch, we have some brood-capable birds we can work with.


Homesteading Mama said...

we tried hatching eggs in an incubator and failed miserably. we wanted to let a hen do it, but we weren't successful in getting one to go broody on our time frame. like you said, we'd really like to get to hatching our own chicks because NAIS is an all too real threat. it will be hard to "fly under the radar" if you frequently order chicks through the US postal service. i'd take a good broody hen any day!

Randy said...

We were concerned about NAIS and thinking of how we could slip "under the radar" by hatching our own layers, mayber meat chickens, and very likely Muscovy ducks. Well, our 1-ac (really 0.5-ac, since the other half is transitioning from forest to pasture right now) with neighbors all around just doesn't make a welcoming environment for the loud-mouthed roosters. The trio of Muscovy ducks got eaten probably by a racoon after almost a year with no produce but a few eggs laid. If NAIS does come through FL like it already has in MI, I think we'll try again with the Muscovies. They grow wild and abundant around here. We've also looked into raising pigeons for squab and/or quail for eggs. The chickens seem to be bred to be the best, but its good to know that there are other, less obnoxious poultry that I can use to be civilly disobedient. Do you know if Kahki Campbell ducks are noisy?

TYF said...

Muscovies are wonderful setters and brooders; we had good luck with them in that department. They're also very quiet. Campbells, unfortunately, are obnoxiously loud (as are pretty much every other breed of duck we've tried, other than Muscovies). Campbells are also lousy mothers; we had a number of them set on a nest and hatch broods, but then immediately lost interest once the ducklings arrived. We ended up brooding themselves under heat lamps any time they'd hatch.

Rachel said...

While we've never had muscovies (they are one I am interested in, but haven't bought any ducklings to get started with), we do have Khaki Campbells. They are HORRIBLE mothers. Noisy...not too much. My geese are *far* louder (and messier, iykwim). My one Campbell female would lay her eggs where-ever--in the yard, in the coop, under the trampoline...yeahhhh. Once, she laid it *right* outside the coop door.

I told DH she was like a really really bad example of a "welfare queen". Wandering about the yard, dropping her babies here there and everywhere...totally oblivious...and letting everyone else take care of it.

Yeah...that's our experience. One rooster should be plenty, really, depending on how many hens you have, and honestly, they aren't *that* bad. Unless there are other roosters around, mine doesn't crow that much. To change the genetic diversity, every year and a half to two years, get a new rooster. Or two. And then cull the one who has the fewer traits you want. Cull the cockerels for the freezer, when they hatch out.

At least, that's our plan. I do need to order some chicks this next spring, because of the debacle with our birds this summer.

Now...turkeys...anyone got good experience with turkeys..? We've got wild ones around here...but we'd love to have one for a meal once a month or so...