First, I would like to thank Marjory for sharing her research and providing such an active hub of knowledge and inspiration on a subject very dear to me – sustainability. Her repeated request for input on breeds of chickens that go broody encouraged me to contribute my experience on this subject, and this is my first participation in an online dialogue.
I live in South Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. Our summers here can be quite humid, with temperatures getting into the low 90 F range. Winter temperatures fall to the -20 F range. Our chickens, therefore, need to be hardy to thrive here with our management style. They free range on our farm at all times when there is no snow on the ground. When the snow does come, they live in a bright coverall that is not insulated or heated; although their roost area is covered rather closely to allow for body heat retention. How much their living conditions affect broodiness I do not know, but the background might be helpful.
Over the years I have kept several different breeds and crosses of chickens. My impression at this point is that hens of most breeds will go broody if the environment is supportive. I have had successfully broody hens of Brahmas, Chanteclers, Barred Rocks, black Harcos, Wyandottes, and Ameraucanas, as well as various crosses. The only hens that have shown no inclination to broodiness on my farm are the red hybrid layers such as red stars or the like. I have had approximately 300 or so of those, so I don’t really expect to be surprised by any in the future.
How to Help Your Hens Become Broody
I have noted a few ways that you can help broodiness develop in a flock. Mark some eggs and leave them in a few nest boxes, or just don’t be too hasty in bringing in the eggs. This will help to bring out the broodies. Once a broody hen is identified, it is important that she be separated to sit undisturbed on her eggs. Dominant hens may be allowed to stay in the public domain, but you run the risk of others laying eggs in the nest on subsequent days when the broody leaves her nest for food or a drink. Don’t despair if you have no broodies by mid-summer. My girls tend to wait well into the warmer weather and can get broody even towards the end of summer.
I have also learned that feed and water in the broody house should not be left so close to the nest that the hen does not need to leave the nest in order to reach the food or drink. The hen will poop in her nest and over the eggs, which can contaminate and kill the embryo. She needs to get off her nest for food and drink so that she can keep the eggs clean.
On my farm, the chicks that have been hatched and raised by a hen are superior in every way to the ones I’ve hatched in an incubator. Although it is quite possible that I’m just not very good with an incubator, hatch rate is much better with a hen, as is the viability of the chicks. My hens have almost never lost a chick that was strong enough to emerge from its shell. They are more vigorous and they learn to forage more effectively under the hen’s direction, staying out and active in more varied weather conditions.
Another benefit of broodiness is that you get great roosters. I have purchased roosters that turned out to be quite aggressive, which is a life-ending problem around here. However, not one of the roosters that my hens have raised has ever become aggressive toward people. I often wonder if others have noticed this as well.
I hope my experience might be useful to others who want to breed chickens naturally.
This article is an entry in our January – March 2015 writing contest. Be sure to rate this article – your vote is an important part of picking the winners!
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