Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Using a Foster Broody Hen to Raise Chicks

Old Cluck Hen

Five chicks (from the Community Chickens project) hatched late (on a Saturday). They needed a little extra attention, and my wife Sue and I had them in a homemade brooder. The following Tuesday, we noticed that one of our hens didn’t roost at night, but stayed on the nest. That’s a good sign the hen was broody, or “clucking,” as my family used to say.

My mind started to race: What kind of eggs could we give that old cluck hen to hatch?

But Sue had a better idea: Let’s see if the broody hen would foster the five chicks we had in the brooder. I had recently read about Gwen Roland using a broody hen to raise some broiler chickens (Raising Chickens for Meat: Do-it-yourself Pastured Poultry).

On Wednesday morning while it was still dark outside, I moved the broody hen to a secluded box to see if she’d continue to cluck. I left two eggs for her, and she was setting tightly — fluffing up to look intimidating when I’d check on her. By Friday night, I was satisfied that she was committed to the project.

Saturday morning (so I’d have more time to watch the results), I took the chicks from the brooder box — again before sunrise — and tucked them under the old cluck hen’s wings. Although they’d been under a heat lamp for a week, they seemed to sense the hen’s warmth and nestled right in.

The broody hen immediately gathered the chicks, keeping them under her wings. She seemed a little confused by their activity throughout the day and didn’t really want to get off the eggs. In the evening, I removed the eggs. (There were three eggs. She must have laid one more the day I moved her to seclusion.)

Sunday afternoon, I moved the hen and chicks to a small portable coop. The chicks are doing well with their foster mother, and we’re happy to have one less brooder to box to manage during this busy summer.

Photo by Troy Griepentrog

robbie huber
2/12/2010 1:51:57 AM

Had around Christmas time -2 Sebright roosters &2 Sebright hens(All brothers&sisters-born last June).The 2 hens;the oldest(?)\more dominate nested together. My "coop" is my old building. the 2 hens picked out 1 of the old feed troughs 2 lay their eggs in.Hen #1 (more dominate) started off. she mated with a neighbors Old Eng. roo& aBlack Astrolorp(both also bantams)- So I got brown tinted eggs!My4 chickens parents were purebred Sebrights! Anyway, sis1 got going laying eggs;then sis2 got up beside sis1 &started layig.Sis1 went broody 1st. They would sit on ea others eggs. someties1 hen(hen1) would have 3 eggs &sis2 would have 16. Sometimes it would b 12 ea was sitting on. They started hatchingout the day b4 Christmas eve.Hen#1 Sat on squahed 2 of the babies 2 death within 10 mins. By the day after Christmas "mama1had saton\squased 20 baby chicks!1baby was "tossed over the side of the nest& died! I tried rescuing2-set them in a plas. tub w\hay; they got 2 cold so Ihad to put them back with mama1- she sat on\squashed them.Other hen meatime join her brothers- she was no longer broody. Few days later Hen #1 was killed by an owl or a hawk??Poss. somethingelse--all that was left was justa few feathers. Hen #2 islaying again,but NOT broody! she avoids the roosters(the neighbors roos all got killed)I think I need a broody hen-it must b experienced: not a "squatter"!Thank you -would accept any comments

conan carter
6/24/2009 12:14:49 PM

I will try these and see what I can do. Thanks for the great suggestions.

troy griepentrog_1
6/24/2009 8:45:57 AM

There are several methods to “break up” a broody: -Move her to a different coop or pen—during the day, not when it’s dark. Make sure it’s well-lit, not a dark spot. -Move her to a cage that’s hanging from something (ceiling, etc.). It should be slightly unstable so it moves a bit. -Put her in a few in a few inches of water so she has to stand (can’t sit) for several hours. -Or you can simply isolate her so she’s not sitting on any eggs and let her stop on her own time. Troy Griepentrog

conan carter
6/23/2009 9:39:20 PM

This sounds like a great solution, but I have a different problem. I have a broody hen and nothing for her to set on. My rooster became too aggressive towards my children, so he ended up in the freezer. I now have a hen that is setting on non-fertile eggs. She is gathering up the other hens eggs and ends up with 4-6 eggs under her each day. How can I break her from being brood or do I just need to isolate her until this passes? I don't trust the eggs for eating after being at an elevated temperature all day. Anu suggestons?