Using a Foster Broody Hen to Raise Chicks

Reader Contribution by Troy Griepentrog
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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