If you want to raise chicks naturally rather than use an incubator, you need a broody hen. Besides sitting on the eggs, the hen can also care for the chicks once they've hatched, eliminating the need for an artificial brooder box. The snag is, broodiness has been bred out of many commercial chickens. For example, Leghorns, perhaps the most common type of egg-laying chicken in large-scale egg operations, very seldom go broody.
A broody hen will set on the eggs of any chicken breed and raise the resulting chicks. If you have hens you'd like to breed but they don't go broody, place their fertilized eggs under a broody hen. You can even use a broody hen to hatch the eggs of other species, such as ducks or quail. But don't expect a chicken hen to raise a different species.
Best Broody Breeds
The best broody breeds aren't the most common breeds of backyard chicken. These include:
- the Madagascar game
- the Dorking
- the Nankin
- the Asil
- the Shamo
- the Kraienkoppe
- Old English game
It's possible you've never heard of any of these breeds, and they often aren't available from commercial hatcheries. One additional breed also makes this list, and that's the silkie. The typical silkie hen loves nothing more than becoming a mother. Better yet, these chickens are usually readily available from hatcheries. They received their name because of their silk-like feathering. They are probably the best "pet" type of chicken, and appear in a variety of colors. The downside: They are bantams, or very small birds. There's a limit to how many eggs they can sit on, compared to standard-sized hens.
Good Broody Breeds
If you can't find one of the top broody breeds, or a silkie doesn't suit your purposes, there are breeds likely to go broody available from hatcheries. These include:
Even the best broody hen may leave the eggs if she's frequently disturbed. Once a hen goes broody, leave her alone as much as possible and ensure that other chickens do the same. If you must move her, do so only at night. Prepare her new nest ahead of time, so it's simply a matter of removing the eggs, placing them in the new location, then scooping up the hen and placing her on them.