That first little 'peep peep' from under the wing of your favorite hen, a chick the hen hatched, is something you'll never forget.
That sweet little face is the culmination of the hours and days and weeks that you've put into raising your backyard flock. In our case, my son strangely knew exactly which of our 14 girls would be the first broody hen - it would be Lucky Wattles, he said, and he would name the first baby 'Pip'. And so it was.
The Benefit of Broody Mamas
I wasn't sure I wanted to raise chicks this year. Our hens are only slightly more than a year old and because they're pretty happy and healthy, we've likely got another year or so before their egg production begins to drop off (or so all the books say). So when suddenly it was May and my son asked if we were still going to raise a small batch of chicks this year, I cringed a little. No, a lot. Not only do we not have room for a big brooder, but the idea of having to deal with thermometers and washing water founts every day made me want to run back to the city. Well, not really, but you get the picture.
Now, conveniently, we had two hens go 'broody' right around that time. I have to admit that I didn't do a lot of research - it was one of my rare 'dive right in' moments. We stopped collecting eggs for a couple of days, crossed our fingers that some of them were fertilized courtesy of our big Buff Orpington rooster, and hoped for the best.
21 days later, we had our first chick. A day later, another 2 sweet little fluffballs. All tolled, we ended up with 6 live chicks from 14 eggs between the two hens - 2 babies died when their eggs were broken before they were ready to hatch, and the rest either didn't develop fully or weren't fertilized in the first place.
And now, 11 days post- the first hatch, everyone is doing great and we're well on our way to revitalizing our flock with new egg layer for next year. That is if they're all hens, of course.
To say this has been an adventure is an understatement. There are things I should have known before we started (like the challenges of having two mama hens with chicks in the same flock), and things I'm glad I didn't know (like the fact we'd find dead pre-hatchlings in the nest). Mostly, it's been a great experience (my son loves it), but it's also been a lot of work.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to give your broody hens the opportunity to do what hens are meant to do. It's not an exhaustive list, and I'm not an expert, but it's a good place to start!
We've learned so much more than this, but these 5 points stick out as important for the first week or two. We'll definitely keep you posted as things progress...
One of our Facebook friends said that there's nothing cuter than a mama hen out with her babies, showing them the world and clucking softly. Now that I've experienced it first-hand and spent a lot of time out in the rain observing our new little 'families', I'd have to say I couldn't agree more.
Have you ever raised chicks with a hen doing most of the work? Is there anything I missed in this article that you think would be important for new chicken raisers to know? Are you new to this gig and have questions about hens raising chicks? If so, share it in the comments below! We'd love to hear your experiences!