Raising chicks : broody hen or incubator?

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We began raising our own chicks this year on Franger Farm using both an incubator and a broody hen. We had varying degrees of success with each method and have discovered that they both have their pros and cons. So, which one is right for you? maybe you’ll be like us and give both a go. Here we discuss some of the good and bad points so that you can make up your own mind.

Broody hen.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

The best thing about letting a broody hen hatch and raise chicks for you is just that, a broody hen will hatch and raise chicks for you, no major input required. However, we have discovered that there are a few things that need to be considered when you’re using a broody. Firstly, you cannot choose the timing of your hen’s broodiness, she’ll become broody when she feels like it and she won’t be interested in sitting on eggs until she is. Secondly, your hen will decide how many eggs she wants to sit on, our broody will only sit on two at a time, despite being a light sussex which is a fairly large bird. Our broody also managed to break one of the eggs she was sitting on quite early on and we had to separate her from the rest of the flock so that she could sit without being hassled and we didn’t have to worry about her chicks being attacked by the other hens or the rooster. We also didn’t know what sort of mother our broody would be, not all hens make great mothers, some will lose interest in their chicks when they hatch and others may even kill them. There’s no way to know what sort of mother your broody will make until she’s raised her first chick, so it’s worth giving your her a test run before you put any expensive fertile eggs under her. The big advantage of a broody comes into play once the chicks are hatched. The hen will teach the chicks to drink, eat and look for bugs, the chicks will also be naturally integrated into the flock, under the watchful eye of it’s mother.

Incubator.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

There’s no denying that using an incubator is high maintenance when compared to using a broody hen, there are some advantages though. The main ones are that you are in control of the timing of the hatch and the number of eggs to be incubated. It does however, require a lot of commitment. The eggs may need to be turned regularly if your incubator is not automatic, there is a risk of losing chicks if the power goes out, the temperature and humidity must be monitored constantly and that’s all before the chicks hatch! After the chicks hatch and dry out, they have to be transferred to a brooder where they’ll need heat, food and water. They need to be checked constantly for the first few days and there is a chance of losing chicks if the power goes out and you can’t keep them warm.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chickens will go from fluffy little chicks to fairly large, noisy birds inside a few weeks, it may be a while before they can be fully transitioned outside with the other hens, are you prepared to deal with the huge amounts of sawdust they kick everywhere? It’s your responsibility to ensure that they are slowly introduced to the big outdoors and the rest of the flock, this can be a slow process. Incubator hatched chickens will be friendlier than chicks raised by a broody, simply because they are used to being handled and that can be a definite advantage.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot to consider before you decide which method to use. We started with an incubator because it gave us a lot of control over timing, which can be important if you’re working or very busy, but when we found ourselves with a broody hen, we couldn’t resist giving her a few fertile eggs to sit on. What ever you decide to do, one thing is for sure, it’ll be a lot of fun.

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Why every suburban backyard should have chickens

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We started small, with one little veg patch and a few tomato, lettuce and sweetcorn plants grown from seedlings. That spring was very wet and the summer not especially warm. Our harvest was rubbish, but we were excited, it planted a seed of thought, maybe we could grow more of this stuff, maybe we could feed ourselves from our backyard? We threw ourselves into building a huge veggie patch ( this will be big enough to feed us, surely? erm…no.) and we grew more and more, but it didn’t feel as though we were really producing until we got ourselves some chickens. It’s the neatly packaged protein that they produce every day that makes them so amazing, the fact that you can do so much more with your veg when you have a few eggs, the wonderful sound they make in your garden and how happy they are to see you when you’re holding the food bowl. There are so many reasons to keep chickens in suburbia, here are just a few.

You don't have to spend a lot buying your chickens.

You don’t have to spend a lot buying your chickens.

They’re not very expensive to buy and house. Our first chickens were purchased from a battery farm, they weren’t ex-battery hens, rather, point of lay, that were just about to be shoved into the horrifying cage egg system. They were not very expensive but you can save even more money buy purchasing the ex-caged birds. These birds are not very old, around 18 months and are still laying well, just not productively enough for the caged egg industry. They will be very pale when you bring them home as they have spent their entire lives inside, they usually have a lot of missing feathers and they are usually scared of the big outdoors. Within weeks though, they will be looking and behaving just like chickens that have always lived outdoors.

Their housing need not be elaborate or expensive.

Their housing need not be elaborate or expensive.

You don’t need to spend a lot on housing your chickens, we started with something similar to this and now have an array of different types of housing, we even have plans to convert our kid’s cubby house when it’s no longer in use! The most important thing is that it should be lockable at night and predator proof.

Chickens do best on a varied diet of commercial layer pellets, grain, greens and leftovers from the kitchen.

Chickens do best on a varied diet of commercial layer pellets, grain, greens and leftovers from the kitchen.

You can build a run area around your coop to give your girls plenty of room to scratch and dust bath, we’ve learnt the hard way that it’s a good idea to net the top, no matter how high your fence is!
your chickens will help you reduce your waste, they love nothing better than polishing off the kitchen scraps, ours are especially partial to stale bread, pasta, lasagne and bolognaise.
Now may be a good time to talk about poo! If you’re growing your own veg, there’s nothing better for your veggie beds than having a home produced supply of chicken manure. You can add it to your compost, leave it in a pile to rot down or make manure tea with it by adding it to water and using it as a liquid fertiliser. Just don’t use it direct when it’s fresh as it’s too high in ammonia and will burn your plants.

Eggs! The best reason to keep chickens.

Eggs! The best reason to keep chickens.

Let’s not forget the biggest and best reason to keep chickens in your backyard, those wonderful eggs. The eggs that your chickens will produce on their varied diet will be better than any eggs you’ve eaten before, if this doesn’t sell you on the benefits of keeping chickens in your backyard, I’m afraid nothing will.

Reggie the rooster.

Reggie the rooster.

And a quick word on roosters. There’s no need to keep one. Forget everything you’ve heard about needing a rooster to keep the chickens in line or sort out the pecking order, the girls will manage just fine on their own and a rooster would be unwelcome in most suburban areas. We keep a rooster because we have begun to raise our own chickens and because we have wonderful and tolerant neighbours who put up with our “foibles”. So don’t let the idea that keeping chickens may be too noisy put you off.
I could go on and on listing the various reasons that suburbia needs chickens, we’ve covered the main ones, now it’s up to you to get a few chooks and see what keeping them means to you.