Recently, one of our hens hatched out a handful of baby chicks. I love it when this happens. See, I also just popped ten young pullets in the henhouse. I’ve been their mama for about eight weeks. I much prefer it when Nature has its way and a chicken gets to raise a family for me. However, not everyone prefers this. Here’s a few facts you need to know about broody hens vs. raising replacement chickens yourself.
1. Breed. When you buy your own hens, you can choose from dozens of breeds of chickens. You can know what you’re going to get and select for traits like egg laying ability, docility, and foraging ability. If you have a hodgepodge of breeds in your hen house like I do, the chicks your broody hen raises may just be the luck of the draw. Since we only have one rooster, they’re all half Orpington, but beyond that, those chicks could be part Rhode Island Red, Dominecker, Austrolorp, Easter Egger, or Leghorn. Who knows?
2. Hens vs. Roosters. When you choose chicks to raise yourself, you can choose sexed pullets, almost guaranteeing a flock of laying hens or you can choose straight run chicks, getting a few roosters and hens. I always pay more to get only pullets. When your hen raises a family, you get what you get. And yeah, you could end up with half a flock of mean ole’ Rhode Island Red roosters!
3. Poop. This is where the broody hen has advantages. I hate the mess of raising chicks. My garage smells like a chicken house for about a month, and then when I move the young hens to the barn, I still have to keep them caged for safety for another month. So that means for a full two months, I’m dealing with poop. Not cool. Broody hens take their families to run around in the yard, leaving smelly poop in places that I won’t notice it. In fact, if I think creatively, I just call it “fertilizer.”
4. Protection. Those little chicks have a fierce ally in their mama. I’ve seen a mama hen make a full-size cow back down when the cow inadvertently crossed the path of the flock of Orpington chicks. There’s nothing funnier than watching a poor old cow turn and run at the flogging of a mad hen.
5. Eggs. Of course, if you have a breed of chicken that regularly “goes broody” you may find this a nuisance. Because when a hen is setting eggs and tending her babies, she takes a break from egg laying. And if two or three or more go broody, you can see a serious reduction in egg production, which is quite frustrating if you’re definitely not interested in any new chicks at the moment. Breaking up a broody mood takes persistence and dedication. Personally, if a hen is so dedicated to hatching out a clutch of eggs that I am continually having to lock her in broody jail, I take pity on her and let her raise a handful of eggs.
6. No guarantees. With a broody chicken, there are no guarantees. Sometimes they do well and it’s easy. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the hen has no luck and the prescribed 21 days passes with no chicks. And there’s also the “farmer’s luck” of when you need and want new chicks, no hen ever goes broody. I don’t wait on broody hens to raise replacement chickens. I always buy some and if I have a setting hen, I see that as a bonus. Besides, with my luck, every chick she raises will be a rooster.
I do like it when my chickens go broody and provide me with “free” chicks. In the ideal world, I’d have her raise all my chicks. But the ideal world isn’t my world, so I buy a few pullets each spring. And then I hope for the best with my hens.