I love my chickens. They each have their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes, and their own weird habits. Not that going broody is weird, but it is not too common with many modern breeds. The further they get away from their jungle fowl ancestors, the less likely they are to go broody. It reduces egg production, so it’s been selectively bred out of many breeds. Goose is Blue Splash Marans and she regularly goes broody.
Being broody is a reproductive response brought about by the lengthening days and warm weather, but it can occur at any time of year. You will know your hen is broody because she will not leave her nest but once or twice a day to eat, relieve herself, and grab a drink. Then she’s right back on the nest. My reliably broody hen, Goose, also fluffs up and makes dinosaur noises at me when I disturb her. If they don’t have eggs to sit on they will also brood rocks, light bulbs, kittens, nothing at all, or whatever they can steal and roll under their breast. Goose also removes patches of feathers on her underside to improve heat transfer and humidity to her eggs. I’ve let her hatch babies a few times and each has been a disaster, but I’m still willing to try. So is she.
The first batch of eggs I set under her was a mix of the flock’s eggs. I didn’t consider things like temperament, I just chose eggs from my favorite hens. Six in total, and she hatched all six. There were three males and three females. My rooster, Dr. Orpheus, is getting on in years, so I do hope to hatch out a male with his sweet disposition eventually. I never got to find out with that brood. The chicks were about four weeks old when disaster struck.
In the middle of the night, their nursery coop was attacked by a raccoon. That bastard killed two of my baby females and maimed one to the point where we had to put her down. The three males, of course were fine. Nature is a funny bitch sometimes. A few months later, all three of those males were dead because of the raccoons, too.
Clearly I needed to beef up security on my nursery coops. That’s been done.
The next time I set eggs, I chose those from Goose and her sister, Duck Duck, as well as my sweet Petunia (an Easter Egger with blue eggs). The mistake I made with that brood was not removing her and her clutch from the main population. When it came time for the babies to hatch, the other chickens murdered them. There is something in a non-broody hen’s brain that equates the peeping of chicks with killing. I managed to save one and move her with Goose into their own nursery coop. I will never make that mistake again, either. Finding their poor little bodies mangled on the floor of the run is heartbreaking.
Just because I haven’t had much success yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. When I was very young, we hatched and raised many, MANY babies from our jungle fowl. Jungle fowl are excellent mothers, and very protective. Sometimes secretive. My favorite hen from that flock was Frances. She was lowest in the pecking order and I never saw the rooster with her, so I never expected what happened. She disappeared and we thought she’d gone to the Great Coop in the Sky. Then she showed up twenty-some days later with fifteen babies! We made her and her babies a little palace to protect them all.
You don’t need a broody hen to raise some babies. A good incubator can be made cheaply from household goods, or there are many quality ones you can purchase. Egg development to hatching is about 21 days and an excellent activity for anyone, not just kids. Before the eggs hatch, make sure the place where you will brood the newborns is ready and warm. Baby chicks cannot regulate their own temperature and don’t have the feathers to protect themselves from cold and drafts so it is important that the area and the litter is warm when the babies are put into it. The brooder should include litter that is not slippery, like newspaper, to avoid injuring your chicks. Look up spraddle-legged for more info on that. It should also have good air flow without there being a draft on the babies. The general rule of thumb is to keep the temperature at 95F the first week and to drop it by five degrees each week after that, but I find the chicks will tell me what they need. If they are all piled up under their heat lamp and in distress (lots of peeping), they are cold. If they are as spread out as possible and in distress (more peeping, panting, etc.) they are too hot. Please be sure to do your research on this and find out what works best for you. I do not intend for you to follow my instructions here. This is what works for me. I brood my chicks in my unused garden tub in my master bathroom. Some people wall off part of their shed or coop. Whatever you do, protect those babies from the grown birds until they stop making that peeping noise.
Goose is a good mother, but baby chicks don’t need a mom to show them how to eat or drink. Instinct takes over and ensures the babies nourish and hydrate themselves after their yolks dry up a couple days after hatching. Make sure you keep a clean source of water for them, and check their food often.
However you choose to expand your flock, have fun and stay positive. Some babies, and adult birds, are not meant for this world, as I have found out again and again. Enjoy them day by day, laugh at their adorable antics.