Poultry keepers frequently debate the merits of hatching chicks with a broody hen or an incubator. Hen keeper ANNA TWITTO has tried both options and considers the pros and cons
Incubators v broodies
After several years of raising chickens, and with many broods of chicks under our belts, I thought I would outline some of our experiences in hatching chicks using an incubator and also doing it the natural way – that is, by a broody hen. Should you go for nature or technology? What are the pros and cons of each option? Read on to find out what has worked for us.
It was in the second year of our chicken-keeping that we felt the desire to increase our flock by means of adding some new chicks. We wanted to observe the entire process, from egg to softly chirping ball of fluff to productive adult egg-layer. We also felt that a truly sustainable flock maintains itself, by addition of a new generation each year, without us having to buy new pullets to replace aging layers.
However, circumstances played out in such a way that there were no broodies in our flock that year. As much as we desired to have at least one of our hens sit on some eggs, the girls just didn’t cooperate. And so it was that my husband launched his admirable project of a homemade incubator. It was done very simply and on a very small budget – a Styrofoam box with a thermostat and humidity detector. I was sceptical, but what did we have to risk, except a few eggs? And so an experimental batch of five eggs was placed inside. Imagine my surprise when, 21 days later, we had five beautiful fluffy baby chicks!
We have operated our incubator many times since, but we’ve also had some broodies step up to the plate. Last year, we had so many broodies the incubator actually sat on a shelf gathering dust, and hatching and raising chicks was done in an allnatural way.
PROS AND CONS
I know many people swear by using broodies exclusively to hatch and rear chicks, while others love their incubators.
Personally, I think there are pros and cons to both options. Here are a few points:
CONVENIENCE: I believe nothing beats a broody hen on this one. We put some eggs under a broody, wait three weeks, and see the new chicks. We don’t need to worry about adjusting temperature or humidity or turning the eggs, nor about providing heating for the chicks afterwards. We don’t need to clean an indoor brooder, change the bedding constantly, or deal with the smell. The broody hen takes care of it all; she rears the chicks, teaches them to peck and forage for food, and introduces them to the flock.
ECONOMY: By dispensing with an incubator and a heating lamp for the young chicks, we save electricity. This is important in yet another sense – we live in an area where power shortages are common. Just last week, we experienced a spell of over 24 hours with no power. This would have been a potential disaster for a running incubator or young chicks that require heating.
RELIABILITY: On this point I do see the advantage of taking matters into my own hands. We have had several instances when broodies suddenly decided they didn’t want to bother hatching the eggs after all, or even broke the eggs – in particular if moved from their chosen nest (which is usually one of the nesting boxes) to a quieter spot where they wouldn’t be bothered by other hens. This week, a broody abandoned eggs in the final stages of hatching, and a newly hatched chick, because we moved her to the brooding area we have in the coop. We had no choice but to do that, since if we had left her alone, the chicks could potentially be pecked to death by older birds.
Both broody hens and incubators have their place
ABOVE AND TOP RIGHT: Hatching chicks in an incubator BELOW: A Leghorn mum and chick reared the natural way