The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Broody hen

White CochinSince we want to propagate the genes of birds who have proven themselves on our farm, we have to find a way to incubate our own eggs.  Our experiments with cheap incubators in the past has been one long failure, primarily due to our lack of climate-controlled living conditions.  Luckily, nature has a simpler answer --- the broody hen.

Although most productive chicken varieties have had maternal qualities bred out of them, some old-fashioned breeds have a strong biological clock.  Once spring comes around, broody hens like nothing more than to sit on eggs, barely hopping off the nest for a sip of water and a peck of food once a day.  Our White Cochin is a perfect example, and last week I noticed that she was starting to lose her breast feathers, a sure sign that broodiness is about to kick in.  This week, we plan to give her a quiet, dark spot in the back of the coop where she can sit on her flockmates' eggs and raise up a new set of Walden Effect chickens.

White feather in the grassIn the long run, it probably costs more to feed a broody chicken all year than to run an electric incubator, but after watching our cochin teach her foster son to forage last year and leaving all of the warmth worries to her, I was sold on the natural route.  Using a broody hen also keeps our chicken-raising on a more manageable scale --- an average hen can sit on ten to twelve eggs, so we won't be stuck slaughtering 25 meat birds at once the way we would if we ordered chicks from a hatchery.  Instead, I hope to tempt our cochin to raise three batches of chicks this year, which will pay her keep until she's called upon to do her duty again next spring.

Edited to add: I wrote this over the weekend, but since then have started to lose faith in our particular broody hen, although not in the broody hen concept.  I thought our hen was pulling out breast feathers, but it looks like she's instead molting...for the second time in six months!  I stuck her in a brood coop, and she started hyperventilating at being separated from the flock --- clearly, she wasn't in brood mode.  So, we're going to hatch our first set the high-tech way (I hope!), and still hope that our broody hen will shape up eventually.

Our chicken waterer is so clean and dry, it can go right in the brood nest with our hen.

This post is part of our Chicken Pasture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Sometimes leaving a few eggs in the nest for a week or two will inspire the girls to do their thing. Mark the ones you intend to leave so they don't end up in the refrigerator. My grandmother would put her darning eggs in the nest to stimulate them. I've often wondered about using Easter eggs. You should probably use light colored ones since birds see color and might catch on to bright pink and orange. I would fill them with mud or something to make them the right weight when they start rolling them.
Comment by Pam Wed Mar 23 23:05:38 2011

We use golf balls for this. They're a bit small, but seem to trigger the egg reflex in a hen --- they're very effective in getting the flock to lay in the nest box rather than on the floor.

I usually put just one or two golf balls in a nest, but two months ago I added half a dozen more in hopes of tempting our hen to turn on her broodiness. No luck.

Comment by anna Thu Mar 24 08:20:12 2011

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