Hatching chicks the natural way doesn’t always go smoothly. Grant Brereton, author of The Broody Hen Hand Book, reveals some of the past challenges with broody hens that inspired his publication…

It was summer of 2017, and we had not long moved into our dream house. The lawn was covered in chicken coops containing broody hens and chicks of various ages. One day, a good friend called round, and observing all of these busy coops, said, ‘you make it look easy!’ In the glorious evening heat, I had to stop and take in his words for a moment. Hatching under broody hens was something I just ‘did’ and had been doing for a long time. But then all the memories of the bad times and the disasters came flooding back.

I was happy with the compliment, but had to be honest with my friend, informing him that it hadn’t always been so ‘easy!’ My friend is a renowned and respected poultry breeder, exhibitor, and judge, who has won supreme champion at a National show with his famed stock. So, it proves that even the most accomplished of poultry people can still struggle when it comes to using broody hens successfully.

1 The Quitter…
Around 1999, we lived on a smallholding that had the luxury of spacious outbuildings. One such outbuilding had an open front and was rather long with a pent roof. Dad let me use this building to try a broody hen in. Her sitting quarters would be made up of wooden pallets constructed into a rather large square. She would have room to get up and feed, drink and refresh herself. The hen in question was a large Orpington cross, that looked quite similar to a Buff Orpington. She was on loan from friend Julie Brixey, and was very broody (Julie had made use of her sisters with much success).

My ‘on loan’ broody sat tight for about two weeks, when one day I inspected her to find her nowhere near the nest, with the whole area scratched up, freezing cold eggs (the ones I could find), and most perplexingly, the hen not appearing remotely broody. She was quickly returned to her owner, and the eggs candled to see what ‘would have been.’

Never in my life had I wanted eggs to be infertile so much, but to my absolute horror, and learning the true meaning of irony that day, every single one of the ten eggs I could find was fertile! I had no thoughts about trying to rescue the eggs at the time. Quite why I didn’t transfer them immediately to my incubator still baffles me today.

In hindsight, I can only think that I believed if eggs beneath a broody hen became cold, the developing chick would instantly die. I now know this ‘not to be the case’ – it is always worth trying to save developing eggs that have been cold a few hours. But anyway, dismayed, I returned to the house and tried to move on.

This article extract was taken from Practical Poultry in the April 2024 edition of The Country Smallholder. To read more of Grant’s ‘broody hen distasters’, you can buy the issue here.

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