This summer, I've had lots of hens go broody and hatch their own chicks! This is really the easiest method of raising chicks, so if you want to do it mamas way, I'll give you a rundown of how it's done. This will be part one of a series of posts on how to raise chicks using a broody hen instead of an incubator.
First, lets make sure you know what you're getting yourself into.
Pros of hatching chicks with a broody hen:
1. Mama does all the work. She sits on the eggs for 21 days. She (sometimes) pushes bad eggs out of the nest. She turns the eggs. She shows the chicks where the food and water is, finds them tasty treats if free ranging, and teaches them everything from dust bathing to roosting.
2. You don't have to worry if the power goes off or if you got all the temp and humidity settings right on an incubator.
3. Chicks are usually healthier raised naturally. You don't usually have to worry about pasting up, spraddle foot, and the like.
4. Chicks raised by mama are also protected by her, so you can let them out in the pasture as early as you wish, which helps them learn all of the chicken behaviors that they need to know in life, like how to forage, dust bathe, and heed the rooster's warning calls of predators. She will protect them fiercely against other chickens and even predators, keep them close to her side, and warm them if the temperature outside is chilly.
Cons of hatching chicks with a broody hen:
1. You can't have chicks whenever you want. If a hen is broody, she's broody, if she's not, she's not. You can't make a hen hatch chicks.
2. You can't hatch as many at a time as you can in an incubator. A standard size hen can only keep warm about a dozen or so eggs, less if she's a bantam.
3. If you don't have a rooster, you may not have fertile eggs available when your hen decides to go broody.
4. Not all hens who go broody are good mothers. Some are horrific mothers. I have many examples of this. Some of my hens wouldn't leave the nest at all, which meant that they used the bathroom right there on top of their eggs. The eggs were then so dirty and bacteria filled that they never hatched. I even had a hen once who was great at incubating the eggs, but once they started hatching, she went homicidal! I've had hens accidentally step on chicks or sit on them too hard and squash them. I've had one who stopped sitting on her eggs only two weeks through the incubation period.
5. Sometimes, mama can accidentally push a good egg out of the nest, and if it is out there too long, it will cool and die.
More later on hatching chicks with a broody hen, so keep watching for the rest of the series!