Ronnie and I had been talking about buying some chicks for meat this year. We couldn't make up our minds what breed we wanted. I asked several people what they prefer and got a different answer from each person. Basically, I knew what I didn't want. I did not want any of those that are breed to grow so fast they do the "squack and flop" and basically do nothing but sit at the feeder and eat until it's legs can't hold it's own weight.
No, what I wanted was a heritage breed. The first thing that everyone warned me of about the heritage breed for meat chickens is that it does not look or taste like what you get in the store. I was warned that the meat is a darker color and the flavor..........well.........it actually had flavor.
I had done some reading and was thinking that maybe I would go with the Buff Orpingtons since they are a good sized breed and were supposed to be good dual purpose chickens. Dual purpose meaning meat and eggs.
Nature took it's course
We actually did not end up picking a breed but the breed picked us. One of my Buff Orpington hens went broody and was very insistant that she was going to hatch some chicks. We had never had any of our chickens hatch their eggs so it honestly had not crossed our minds initially.
It was Jonathan that said "If that chicken wants to be Momma then why not let her do it?" That was a good question. We had nothing to lose really. So we decided to let her sit on her eggs and gave her a few extras to boot.
She made herself at home in one of the lower nesting boxes and stayed there. It was the day before we were going to the new homestead for the weekend that I decided we needed to move her to a private location. I didn't want to take the chance that she would start hatching and the other chickens would attack the chickens.
I decided to move them to the chicken tractor in the front yard by the garden. This was a fine plan initially or so I thought it was. The days were warm and the nights were warm too and she had plenty of privacy. There is a nesting box at each end of the tractor so I made her a nice hay cushion on one end.
We moved the broody chicken and her eggs at night. Broody hens do not like to be messed with so I figured we would move her at night and cause the least amount of disruption for her. Ronnie grabbed the very mad hen and I carefully gathered up the 7 eggs she under her.
Oh she was mad! She protested very loudy but it only took a few minutes and we had her eggs and her in the new location. She made a ruckus for just a few seconds and then she quickly settled down. And there she sat for about another week and a half before the first chick hatched. I hadn't even realized that a chick had hatched until one day I went to check on momma chick and suddenly a little head poked out from under momma. Then about a day or so later I check on them again and found 2 little heads poking out....2 down 5 to go.
Now I will tell you I did not do a good job of picking the location where I moved the broody hen and her eggs. The reason it was a bad choice was that the nesting box is in an upper level of the tractor and there is a latch that can be let down to give access to the bottom level where it is closed in by chicken wire and framing. This was fine until the day I happened to walk by and heard a ruckus of peeping from the bottom level and an even louder ruckus from the top nesting box. Sure enough one of her little chicks had wandered out of the nest and down the ramp and couldn't get itself back up to momma. Momma was upset because she didn't want to leave her nest with the rest of her eggs and the other chick.
I opened the side of the chicken tractor and made several attempts before finally getting the little one scooped up and back up to momma, who settled down immediately upon the return of ther chick. After that mishap I closed the ramp the the down stares but that left the chicks and hen with only the lights that could manage to get through the side vents.
I had thought that I would open the ramp at the warmest part of the day and then raise it after a short period to allow more light and air in but everytime I let the ramp down the curious little chick makes a break for it. I am debating if I will try to move them to another location or just keep the ramp up until the chick is a little bigger.
I was not sure if the hen would actually hatch any of the others but I figure I would give it another week and then just remove the eggs. Since the eggs were from different hens they were not all layed at the same time. Today when I checked on the chicks and hen I found she had abandoned the eggs and moved to the nest box on the other end of the chicken tractor. This is not uncommon from what I have read. From what I have researched, usually, roughly 8 of 10 will be hatched. We only had 2 of 7 hatch but some of that may had had to do with us moving the hen and then the cold snap that came in.
From what I can tell and from what I have read the broody hen does not move off of those eggs for days on end. I do think she must have been drinking at some point because the water level was dropping on the waterer. I think she must have been getting up at some point in the night and drinking.
A mother's love
I put waterers and feeders at the other end of the top level of the tractor. From what I have learned the chicks do not need to eat the first three days because they are sustained off of the yoke. After the three days they do need food and water.
You will want to make sure you make available a starter feed for the chicks and clean water inn a waterer that the chicks can't fall or get into.
The chicks need to be kept at about 90 degrees which the mother does for them when she is sitting on top of them. Whenever I open the tractor momma hen shoves her chicks under her so I can't mess with them but also to keep them warm from the draft I am creating by opening the door to the tractor.
After about a week and a half I caught momma hen off of the nest long enough to take her llittle one over to the feed and waterer. My chubby little momma hen is quite a good mother. Although I have read that not all broody hens make good mothers the Buff Orpingtons are supposed to be some of the better moms.
When the chicks are about a month old you can allow them to roam in the sunshine just be sure to have chick grit available because the curious little chicks will be eating all sorts of things that they can not digest without the help of some grit. About this time you can put the mom back in with the rest of the chickens and hope that she retains her status. If she was lower on the totum pole she may move further down in the pecking order for a while. Don't worry about it she will get her footing back and should start to lay again in a few days or so.
The next time
This time we may only have managed to hatch 2 of 7 but we will definitely try the natural method again. I am going to build a broody box especially for my broody hens that will accomodate them and their little hatchlings. The next time we try for some meat chickens or even some layers we will pick the best of our flock and let them give us the future generation.