As you know, we want to be self-reliant / self-sufficient. Eventually living off the grid and reducing our consumption of even solar and wind power.
We want to figure out how to get a chicken to brood her own eggs. Or the eggs of many of all of our chickens. I understand that Cochin, Cornish and Silkie chickens can turn broody ... with their own eggs and other chicken eggs but also sometimes eggs from ducks, quail, pheasant, and others.
But we don't have those three. We have black australorp and easter egger. According to http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html easter eggers are sometimes (occasionally) broody. We'll see. As far as the black australorp (australian black orpington), they are "great brooder (or annoyingly too frequent brooder); good mother" . Ah ha! I chose a pretty decent breed.
Already the blackies, as we call the black australorp, are showing friendliness and mothering tendencies. Yes, they are only a week old but still.... very sweet and loving.
Okay... you know me ... research time! Found a wonderful website: http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Broody-Hens-1.html and started reading. As the author pointed out, a mama hen knows a whole lot better than a human what a chick needs. The trick is getting a hen to WANT to be a mama! Here's what I think we're gonna do:
-raise our current chicks with as much handling and loving as possible
-separate by breed when they start laying
-make sure we have a rooster for each breed, and he's doing his job!
-ten to twelve hens per rooster for good fertilization
-set up brooding area to be ready (except for water and feed)
-make sure it has a dust bath area too (with diatomaceous earth)
-decide which blackie is the most mother-y and loving
-watch for loving mama to become broody (she'll linger in the nest, etc.)
-when she does, add food to feeder and clean water for waterer
-place a couple of golf balls or plastic eggs in the nest
-that night, set the loving mama into brooding pen on her new nest
-collect eggs wanted to hatch (from all breeds) and place in safe area, room temp
-mark eggs for identification, and don't wash or keep cracked or dirty eggs
-keep collected eggs 7-10 days, pointy end down
-monitor her the first day as she could be agitated, esp for first-time mamas
-give her a day or two to settle in on the plastic eggs/golf balls
-if she doesn't settle in by end of 2nd day, she won't so try with someone else
-then give her one additional day of "brooding" her plastic eggs
-the next night, replace fake eggs with collected (fertilized) eggs
-possibly add other eggs from quail, pheasant, duck or goose
-total of 6-12 eggs should be sufficient
-mark the date on the calendar: 20 days or so to hatch (depends on breed)
-remember to not add any new eggs now
-keep waterer full and clean
-keep feeder full (cracked corn, wheat, peas = firmer poop = cleaner box)
-halfway through the incubation period, candle the eggs (night + flashlight)
-throw out any eggs not growing into chicks (rotten, could explode)
-check progress on hatch day without being intrusive (slip warm hand under hen)
-if egg has crack in it, pull it out and examine - should be peeping
-put it back to continue hatching
-remove broken empty shells from nest as necessary
-help any chicks as necessary but we don't plan to (survival of the fittest)
-hen should patiently wait for the last egg to hatch
-a day later, if any eggs uncracked, jiggle a little and if liquidy, toss away
-provide a chick feeder with chick feed and chick waterer
-remove wet or dirty litter from nest
-the loving mama should show her chicks how to eat, drink, scratch, etc.
We have that chicken pen/coop that we bought but we'll need to make modifications. As soon as the big outdoor pens/coops have been constructed, we'll work on revamping the little one. It has 3 nesting/laying boxes on an upper level, but as chicks start to leave the nest, they could fall off the ledge. I think we'll make 2 brooding coops on the ground and close off the top level. We'll separate the 2 coops on the ground with wire down the middle of the length. Make a wire floor (1/2 inch hardware cloth), and place a waterer and feeder in both sections. Maybe make little nesting areas with hay ... will that work? The loving mamas will be able to stretch her legs, take a dust bath, eat, drink and be back to her eggs or chicks before they get cold.
And the door that I can open at the back to let them out ... I think we'll modify it to include a door with slats that are just big enough for the chicks to get in/out later, but not big enough for hens. That way, when the hen and her chicks are out with the general population (!), they can come back in for their chick feed and the nobody else will be able to.
OR maybe we'll just build something!
From what I gather:
A good broody hen will know when to turn eggs or give them room to hatch. She will be attentive, nurturing and protective. She still won't want to leave the nest for the first week or so, providing the warmth to the chickens and helping them find the water and food.
A bad broody hen won't want to settle in the brooding nest, fixating instead on wanting to go back to gang that you took her from. She might sit on the eggs for a little while, but then get bored and restless, possibly tearing up the nest and scattering the eggs. She might even poop in the nest. Might smother hatching chicks. Or, once the chicks hatch, she might forget all about them.
Because the brooding instinct has been pretty much bred out of modern domesticated fowl, we might need to give our first choice a second chance. Gotta remember to be patient.
We'll probably start with one, maybe in a warm month. It gets rather cold here. Let's see ... our babies were born the last week in April. They should start laying in 4-5 months which takes us to August/September. By the time we have fertilized eggs, and they hatch, we could be in to October and it often snows in October. I'm thinking we'll wait until next April before we set a broody hen to task. By then we'll know which would be the best loving mama.
If a hen goes broody and we're not ready to have more chicks, move her to the broody pen with absolutely no nesting materials... just the wire floor. Well, food and water too. Once she lays an egg, we'll know she's out of her brooding period.
Back to the first couple of weeks after hatching: I'll replenish the feeder with chick feed now, and as many bugs and insects that I can find. As for when to leave the double brooding pen... I think we'll let them stay in their brooding pens for a couple of weeks, then open the door and let them out. The slats and openings will allow the chicks to come in and get chick feed but the hens won't be able to come in and steal it! Will also add hard-boiled egg yolks and any tasty worms we have!
I can't wait to do this! Somebody get me a hen and rooster! Quick!
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Please plant a nut or fruit tree today.