July 2014 : Dealing with the Broody Hen
Chickens are a staple of the small farm. They "talk" to us. They are where we get the social concept of "the pecking order" (who gets to rule the roost). They give us eggs, manure for the garden, and a reason to go out and do that final check of the farm each evening when we shut them in for the night.
Anyone who has had a flock of chickens for any length of time will eventually experience the broody hen. She is easy to spot: she won't leave the nest. Period. Or at least it looks that way. In reality she does leave the nest for food and water- just not when people are around. She is nesting and cannot be swayed from this effort. She will sit there until she produces a chick. This can be a good thing.
New baby chicks can cost anywhere from $2-3 each in the spring time. Once purchased, baby chicks need food and water continually and special chick starter food. They need to be kept warm with a heat lamp during the cooler seasons and sometimes, for no apparent reason, they die. A farmer can be into this project for $50 quicker than you can say "Oh, honey....they are so cute!"
If you have a broody hen and you want to add birds to your flock, let her set. If you have roosters, the eggs she is setting on are likely fertilized. I would remove her from the rest of the flock to a space with a covered nesting box. If she continues to be broody, giver her 4 eggs you know to be no more than 1 day old. Mark the date down in a notepad and count 21 days - that is the due date. make sure the hen has food and water. Then go on about your farming business.
On the due date check the hen for babies. You don't even have to touch her. You will hear the unmistakable sound of "peeping" the moment you enter the room if any have hatched. Baby chicks hatch with the yolk sack still inside which they consume for the first two days. After that, they need food and water so make sure the feeders and waterers are short enough for new chicks to use. The hen will show them how to drink and eat. In fact for this purpose I use a shallow baking pan and just dump some chick starter in it and it doesn't even have to be medicated.The hen and the chicks will all just jump in there and eat all they want. After about a week, if you can safely turn the hen and babies out into a fenced space/yard, the hen will teach the babies to "scratch" for food. They will follow her around and go under her if they sense any danger. Just FYI: should a snake appear looking for a meal, the hen will make very quick work of it. At the end of the day, the hen and her babies will go back into their space and sleep for the night. You need only shut them in.
By the time the chicks are 3 -4 weeks of age their mother will have already taught them to roost so be sure and have a bar of wood fixed up off the floor for this purpose. A simple piece of 2" x 2" will work fine. If the new family can stay in their space for several months, until the chicks are full grown, this would be the time to introduce them to the rest of the flock. Watch for any chickens who try to hurt the new babies. Sometimes this attacking behavior only lasts until they all get to know each other. However, any repeat offenders go to the butcher. There is no good reason to put up with mean chickens.
This early summer, between three hens I have 11 new baby chicks. That is enough to replace any laying hens and odds are some of the chicks are males so they will go to the freezer for winter.
I hope this has helped those of you who are dealing with broody hens. It is easy once you get the hang of it. And really kind of fun! If you have any questions just email Kathy at roundupadvertising@ yahoo.com.