Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Bothered by a broody


One of the most common questions that poultry keepers ask me, is how to deal with a broody hen. A determined little broody can be a fantastic asset to a breeder but a real cause for concern to a newbie or a keeper who doesn’t want to hatch any more chickens. 
If you have a broody hen and are not sure what to do with her then here are a number of options that you can consider.
Three hens and a Muscovy duck - all choosing
an old sink as a broody nest!
a) Let her sit it out even if she has no eggs, or the eggs that she is sitting on are infertile. She will stop eventually, but it can take longer than the normal incubation time and she may start again fairly soon. The down side to this is, of course, lack of condition (because she won’t eat), lack of production (because she stops laying) and lack of space in the nest boxes if she is brooding in the main coop. Her broody behaviour may also stimulate the others to go broody too. If your hen is one that doesn’t go into a trance-like state then you can give her treats and snacks by hand while she sits on her nest to avoid her losing too much condition.
b) Remove all the elements that a broody hen would require in order to incubate. So, placing her in a dog crate or something similar with a perch, food and water, but without nesting materials and on a cold floor in a well lit open space will tell her that this is not a place to raise her babies. This usually takes about 4 days. Unfortunately her desire to reproduce will mean that if she then returns to all the right conditions for incubating, she may soon start all over again. An alarm bell is ringing in her little chicken body clock...she can’t ignore it!
c) If you don’t keep a cock and don’t have fertilised eggs, but like the idea of more hens, you could buy fertilised eggs from a local breeder and put them under your broody hen. This will mean her basic behavioural needs are being met and all her wonderful maternal instincts are put to a useful purpose. If you don’t want any more hens (not to mention the cockerels that will be produced) then choose a table bird that you can feed up and eat, or a breed that would be likely to sell. Do remember, however, that finding good homes for unwanted cockerels is incredibly hard, even for pure breeds. So you need to decide how you will deal with them humanely and responsibly before you hatch them.
d) Lastly, if your poultry plans really don’t have a place for a determined little broody then it might be kinder to give her to a friend or to a kind and loving keeper who can make use of her talents. I gave a fantastic little Sussex broody to a friend a couple of years ago and she has raised a number of batches of chicks each year. It’s great to get photos of her with her latest batch and see her doing what she was born to do so well. 
A pair of broody hens in a trance
An option that I wouldn’t recommend for a beginner is buying in day old chicks. The Croad Langshans that I breed are great with chicks and often mother each other’s, but some breeds, such as the Sussex, would drive other hens’ chicks away in favour of their own. The nature of different breeds varies considerably and a hen that’s very broody is not necessarily very maternal when it comes to adoption!
If you do want to go ahead with day-olds, my suggestion would be to move the broody to a separate coop/box/pet carrier or whatever you have available, if you haven’t already, and let her settle somewhere private. Make sure that you place the chicks under her at night after dark when she is asleep. Put a supply of chick crumb out for them all and some water in a shallow dish. Make sure that they are in a place where you can easily keep an eye on them first thing in the morning. Ensure that the broody cannot return to the old coop and the other hens can’t get to the chicks (or the chick crumb!) 
The difficulty with all this is that if they don’t bond, then you won’t have anywhere to brood the chicks and, if you do have a brooder, you end up with a bunch of chicks that you didn’t really want and still have the problem of a broody hen!
I raise chicks that I incubate myself and, as they bond with me as the first living thing they see, I find that if I place them with a broody they are not drawn to her as much as chicks that are hatched by her. If they don’t seem to bond with a broody straight off, the hens tend to recognise this behaviour as a sign that this is someone else’s chick. None of my Croads have ever hurt the foster chicks. I have never tried persevering for long enough to see if they could work something out as I have always been too concerned for the welfare of my chicks. 
Showing baby what to eat
If your broody does eventually end up with some chicks of her own, I guarantee that you will have great fun seeing all her natural instincts come together, watching her feed them, protect them and teach them all they need to know.
She will let you know when it’s time to take them out and about, dependant on the weather, and also how and when she should introduce them to the other hens. I love the day when my cockerels meet the tiny chicks for the first time. They are so gentle and interested in them, lowering their heads and standing motionless while the little chicks make inquisitive pecks at the skin on their faces.
Good luck...whatever you decide to do.

6 comments:

  1. Muscovy ducks are nearly as bad as hens for going broody at the drop of a hat! They are also happy to raise chicks rather than ducklings!

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    1. Hi Jennifer. Our Muscovies argue with the hens over the best broody spots all the time. They usually just end up sharing and then try to pinch any eggs from under the hens!

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  2. Hi,

    hens eggs especially bantams have a shorter incubation period than duck eggs and a lower temperature so perhaps your ducks dont have the patience to hatch duck eggs.
    We kept a pair of muscovies at Temple Newsam Rare Breeds farm when I worked there some years ago and they were real charecters!

    I keep promising myself some one day when I get around to building a duck pond. Another job to add to the "To Do" list.....

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  3. We had our Hen's stolen once (another story) but it meant we got our picture in the local newspaper, we then got lots of calls saying "iv'e seen your hens", One such call resulted with us adopting a sweet little hen we called "sweet pea" who instantly went broody, so being good parents went off to buy her some fertilised eggs, when we got there this lady's dog had just had 10 puppies, 6 eggs and a Labrador Puppy returned home with us, how nice is that.
    Things a mean't to be!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Paul sounds like what started as a sad story had a happy ending after all. I guess thats your labrador puppy all grown up?

      Some things probably are meant to be, though its not always easy to see it at the time.

      My sister has a saying, "what's meant for you won't go past you" I guess thats true.

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    2. We did get all our hens back, I recognised them in a garden whilst out walking, called the police and got them involved, the miscreant admitted the we're not his, so home they came back home to a new puppy, unfortunately they had been badly fed so they were a little ill for a while but came back to normal after a bit of a chat.

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