I've been trying to get a minute to talk about my chickens, and what I'm trying to accomplish with them. I have a very mixed flock of 28 chickens. There are 3 roosters, two bantam breeds and one a bantam crossed with a full sized hen. The hen was either a black star or a Columbian Wyandotte. Of the 25 hens, 3 are Dominique's, 3 Golden Penciled Hamburg's, 1 Columbian Wyandotte, 1 Rhode Island Red, 1 Black Star, and 16 various bantams.
It seems an odd mix, and one that is not entirely efficient at any job. True, that. However, they are a part of a long term goal of generating a flock that is self perpetuating without incubating eggs or buying new laying hens. I'm essentially trying to go back in time to a day when hens sat eggs and perpetuated their kind without a lot of fuss and bother, but also have a flock of laying hens that will lay reasonably well without constant broodiness.
Right now, I have all the broodiness I can handle with these bantam hens of mine. The original 7 bantam hens were hatched by broody hens themselves. In turn, most if not all of them hatched eggs last summer. Currently I have 4 broody hens, some of them hatched last year, sitting on full size hens eggs in my nest boxes. The full sized hens eggs were fertilized by either a bantam or bantam cross rooster.
What I'm hoping for now is to get some hens that are full size/bantam crosses that might have a bit more egg laying desire with a bit less broody behavior, and a larger egg size.
Here's the current flock:
Pretty rainbow, are they not?
When a hen goes broody and starts setting in a nest box, I move her to a small cage with a nest box, food and water that is partially covered with a sheet. I do it at dusk, when she's drowsy and likely to stay where we put her without getting too shook up about it, as quickly as I can and put her right back down on her warm eggs. Tonight, I will move four hens in this way.
Waiting cages, needing food and water containers added:
We used this process around 7 or 8 times last summer. It worked perfectly every time. These bantam hens are broody to a fault. I'm pretty sure that some of them would die of malnourishment if they weren't allowed to set eggs and hatch a brood. They will literally sit on nothing if you take the eggs away, and never move from their post. Sometimes I have to make them get off of their eggs to eat, drink and of course poop. :) I don't actually remove the hen from the nest. I just uncover the cage and a lot of times that makes her decide to get off of her nest to eat. I can tell if they've gotten off to eat by seeing if there's any fresh poop. A broody hen poops one very large, stinky pile of poo each day when she gets off her nest for a quick drink and bite to eat.
Here are a few of the broody gals:
I leave them in the cage, removing the nest box after all have hatched, until they're a couple of weeks old. If there are eggs left after 24 to 48 hours and the hen is still sitting, I remove them with the nest box. I do make sure there's no live chick inside before getting rid of them. So far, there never have been.
Here's the result of around a 21 day wait. These are from last summer:
I love letting the hens hatch the eggs and care for the chicks. They do it so well, of course! :) No pasty butts to worry about. No heat lamps needed. The chicks are hardy and happy, and so much fun to watch as mom teaches them to eat and drink, scratch up seeds and insects, and perch on a perch. They're so young when they manage to fly up with mom. It's really the sweetest, most natural thing.
After a few weeks the chicks and their mom go into the coop with the other chickens: