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Expanding the flock with a broody hen

Our chicken adventure began a few years ago when we joined a local CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture), we wanted our children to get a better understanding of where their food came from and enjoy the experience of being with the animals that provide for us. It was not long until we were so enamoured with the lifestyle, that we decided that we would have both chickens and bees at home.

Freya and her chicks

True to my nature, I read up on everything I could to figure out what would suit our family and property best. It was quite clear that having a rooster was not going to sit well with our neighbours, many of which have hens as well and also conceded to ‘no roosters’, so we needed a plan on how to expand the flock when that time came. When we chose our girls, we purposely selected heritage breeds and wanted one of those breeds to have a strong instinct to go broody.(see Broody Hen Notes at the end of this post). For that reason we chose two Icelandic hens, and they did not disappoint! Our girls are free ranging in the garden, and last year one went broody, unfortunately up in the blueberry bushes, it took us a while to figure out what had happened to her, as she simply disappeared and we of course thought the worst. Once we realized what was happening, we moved her inside along with her eggs, and decided that if she remained on them, we would switch them for fertilized eggs. She did not take well to the move, and abandoned her clutch. It was not a problem, as we still had more hens and eggs than we needed, but it was a good learning experience. About a month ago, her best friend went broody in one of the nesting boxes, as we siezed the chance to take advantage of her position. After an unfortunate encounter with a fox, we were also in need of expanding the flock, so the timing was perfect. We contacted a Anne Karin Bohdal who I had heard about via the farmers market, she raises a variety of fowl including turkey, ducks, and hens, all of whom lay a range of colourful eggs. So my gang hopped in the car to pay her a visit.

left, Plymouth Rock, middle and right Icelandic hens

left, Plymouth Rock, middle and right Icelandic hens

We arrived home with 10 eggs, and waited until the evening before making the shift. We did not want to disturb Freya (our broody) during the middle of the day, as it could lead to her not taking to the eggs. My husband took her from the nesting box (with gloves, as she had become quite aggressive, typical of broody hens) and I switched out the eggs and added some extra padding to the nest. She settled back down for the night, and three weeks later, we heard pipping! I can not begin to describe the look on our children’s faces when they saw the first chick, still wet and only just emerged from it’s egg. The first one hatched on Day 19, the last on Day 21. We had chosen 10 eggs, in hopes of getting 3 or 4 hens in the end, with a 60% hatch rate, and the likelihood of 60% hens to 40% roosters on average, I think we are bang on track.

fertilized eggs

fertilized eggs

We have friends with incubators, and had considered going that route, but we know that a broody hen can do the job better than any of us.

So far, we are thrilled, looking forward to figuring out which are boys, which are girls, and what races they stem from. see Broody hen notes at end of this post.

Broody hen notes:

  • Breeds that ARE likely to go broody:
    • Cochin, Silkies top the list, as well as heritage breeds that have not had the instinct bred out of them for production, including Orpington, Australorp
    • Icelandic such as ours are perfect in Norway, as they are also cold tolerant and do not require an insulated coop.
  • Breeds NOT likely to go broody
  • Broody hens will not defecate in the nest. They will leave the nest once or twice a week and leave a big stinky mess somewhere else. Broody poops are unmistakeable!
  • Due to their eating and drinking only minimally throughout the incubation process, they are quite malnourished and easily at risk of being infested by lice etc. Do check her for parasites, and use some Diatomaceous Earth in your coop and roosting boxes. It is a staple in our coop.
  • Broody hens can sit on up to 12 eggs proportional to her size (Bantam hen on Bantam eggs, larger breeds on their own sized eggs.)
  • Broody hens will lose their feathers on their breast area to warm the eggs and coincidentally ‘feather their nest‘ as the saying goes 😉
  • Provide her with ‘chick crumb’ as feed, she does not need the extra calcium from her regular layer feed while broody.
  • If you are going to change out the eggs for fertilized ones, wait until evening to do so.
  • Broodiness is contagious. I am not sure exactly why (feel free to let me know if you do!) but I am guessing that there is potentially a hormone/pheromone thing going on. Our other Icelandic went broody in the box next to her within a week, and then our Norwegian Jærhøns did the same.
  • A good broody hen will be a better mother than any human, protecting her chicks, teaching them how to forage for food, as well as socializing them into the flock.
  • Provide her with a place that she can call her own if you have the chance. We have a mini coop in our outdoor covered run that is there should we ever need to segregate a hen for health of other reasons. It will provide her with a stress free place to take care of her chicks, help keep the other members of the flock from pecking  and allow for socialization into the flock.
look closely, one of the chicks is hiding in her feathers

look closely, one of the chicks is hiding in her feathers

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