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Even more advantages of a broody hen

Hen with chicksI've posted before about the advantages of a broody hen, but after raising two sets of incubator/brooder babies and one more broody hen batch this spring, I'm even more sold.  Here's why:

  • Predator protection.  We lost a ghastly 24% of our first brooder batch to rats and 22% of our second batch to something (probably the same.)  On the other hand, our mother hen only lost 1 chick out of 10 --- her success rate is so much better than mine that I'm embarrassed.
  • Foraging prowess.  Not only does the mother hen take the chicks out to forage nearly as soon as they hatch, she also trains them very well about what's worth eating.  Our first brooder batch is the same breed as nearly all of the mother hen's flock (Black Australorps), and I considered them very keen foragers.  However, it took a lot of trial and error for the motherless chicks to figure out what to eat, and even though I tossed Japanese beetles in front of their noses multiple times, the chicks didn't get with the program until they were nearly three months old.  In stark contrast, I threw in beetles gleaned from the garden when the mother hen's chicks were a month old, and she taught them to peck up the nutritious treats in minutes.
  • Easier rotation.  Having unmothered chicks in the same pasture with adults is tough after the former reach a month old since they will get chased away from the food.  Our mother hen made sure no one else came anywhere near her chicks' food, so I was able to keep her in the same pasture with the main flock.  That meant more frequent pasture rotations and less bare ground.
  • Less work.  All of the factors above make sense, but I have to admit that the real reason I prefer a broody hen is because it takes so much less work on my part.  Rather than nursing incubators and brooders through power outages, worrying over hatching chicks, and checking on newborns multiple times a day, I can hand the entire job off to their mother.

Turken chickThe slight downside is the price tag.  You have to feed a broody hen for about three or four months while getting no eggs in return --- an estimated feed cost of $10.50 per hatch compared to about $2 in electricity costs for an electric incubator and our high tech brooder.  Meanwhile, broody varieties tend to be less efficient at their other job of making eggs, so you're spending more on every egg they produce during the down season.  That said, once you add in the lower feed cost for raising the better foraging chicks, along with the chicks saved from predators,  you might break even.  That's why our flock next year will contain our proven White Cochin, three new Cuckoo Marans pullets, and a couple of other potentially broody breeds.

Our chicken waterer keeps chicks healthy from day 1 with clean water.

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