Saturday, June 07, 2014

Give a Broody Hen a Job

Right now we keep about 100 laying hens. Their main job is to produce eggs, but they have other jobs too. Some of their other jobs include eating bugs and scraps.

We raise chickens for meat in batches of 100. They have one obvious purpose. Getting them to that purpose can sometimes be challenging. When they first arrive on the farm there are challenges with keeping them at the right temperature, with pasty bottoms that need cleaned, and other issues. As they get older, the main issue becomes predators. Our LGD, Stella, has greatly helped keep the fox and raccoon away, but hawk have been a problem the last couple of years also.

Every now and then a few hens will go broody. This is their natural instinct to sit on their nest and hatch eggs. I love when our hens hatch out their own chicks, but we've never had success with hens sitting in the chicken house. The only successful broody hens we've had have always made their nests somewhere hidden outside. So, when a hen is broody in the hen house we try to discourage her by removing the eggs under her daily. They will come out of their broodiness, but while they are broody they are not producing eggs, or going outside to eat bugs. They just sit in their boxes.

Last year we had a hen go broody while we had 100 meat chicks in a brooder box that was in the hen house. She could not get in the pen with the chicks, but she could see them and was determined to be their momma. She would sit next to them clucking to them through the fence. She kept a watchful eye on them. When they were large enough to go outside, we moved them to a different pen for finishing on pasture. That momma hen found her 100 babies. This time she was among them, and able to mother them in a whole new way. One day Kellen was feeding the meat birds, and witnessed momma raising a ruckus and defending her babies. She was chasing off a red tailed hawk.

Currently we have about 6 hens sitting broody in nest boxes in the hen house. On Tuesday, we got 100 new meat chicks. One of those broody hens got a new job. Her job is momma. It was very cute to watch her when we put her in with the chicks. She looked a little overwhelmed at first. Can you blame her? It didn't take long for her to start clucking and calling them. Of course she can't brood them all, but she tucks ten or so of them under her, and keeps a watchful eye on the rest who warm under the heat lamps.

Hen is happy and productive. Chicks are happy. Farmers are happy.

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