A hen gone broody is easy to identify: She sits on a nest of eggs (or sometimes doesn’t even sit on anything) and refuses to budge—grumbling, fluffing and perhaps pecking if you try to reach under her. A broody biddy can be a pain in a laying flock because her egg production stops; however, she’s a boon to the farmer who wants to rear chicks naturally, as she can stand (or sit) in for both an artificial incubator and a brooder. If you decide to let a broody do her thing, take note of the following:
- Brooding instinct has been bred out of many chicken breeds, so some are much broodier than others (including Silkies or heavy and dual-purpose breeds, such as the Cochin and the Orpington). Individual chickens vary in broodiness, too.
- A broody hen requires a predator-proof brooding pen outfitted with a nest box, food and water that is separated from the rest of the flock so she won’t be disturbed.
- Move the broody onto her new nest at night and tuck several dummy eggs into the nest. Golf balls or plastic eggs work well as dummies. Check that the hen is still eager to set before introducing the eggs you want her to hatch. She’ll even hatch turkey, pheasant and duck eggs, too.
- Make sure she can easily cover the entire clutch—too many eggs will reduce hatching success—and give her all of the eggs at once so the chicks hatch around the same time.
- When the chicks emerge in about 21 days, mother hen will keep her brood cozy warm beneath her, and she’ll show them where to find food and water. Don’t let the family out of their safe, sheltered enclosure for at least two weeks.