We have for many years set hens to hatch chicks rather than using an incubator or buying chicks. We change roosters every couple of years . After all we wouldn’t want inbreeding problems. Still without Mr. Rooster there wouldn’t be a next generation of egg layers and chicken dinners.
We have found our best hens to set are bantams or half bantam crosses. By the way bantam is not a breed of its self. Bantam is a small variety of any particular breed or cross breed of domestic fowl. These little hens for some reason love to set eggs and hatch chicks. They are excellent mothers and very protective of their young.
Our experience has been that most hybrid large hens have lost their setting instinct. They tend to abandon the nest before the eggs can hatch. However we have never had a bantam neglect her eggs once she started setting.
In the past we would collect eight or ten eggs from large hens and put them under a broody bantam. We have had many a chuckle when chicks who grew bigger than their mother were put in their place by a small feisty mama!
This Spring we only had one broody bantam. Our favorite half bantam recently crossed over that proverbial river beyond. She went where every good chicken goes when she leaves this chicken life. She is sadly missed.
The remaining bantam we put in a private area with a nesting box. She contentedly settled down to three weeks of solitary confinement. She left her nest only to consume food and water. Three weeks later she hatched only five of ten eggs set.
We used to set two hens in the same nesting box but they would steal each others eggs. The end result was many eggs didn’t hatch probably from getting cold from the hens playing polo with them! So now each hen has her privacy.
Two weeks after the first hen set we noticed a little white hen had fluffed her feathers as she sat in the horse’s hay crib. Silently and quietly she had gone about her chicken business. Faithfully she layed one egg a day stopping at nine. Setting still with eyes shut she went about hatching a bird family.
Our work horse, Rex, put his huge head into the hay crib and nosed Mother hen gently. He seemed to approve of this intrusion into his domain. Molly our farm dog gave Mother hen a lick. She returned each day to see how things were progressing.
Mama cat and Tiger cat; who are sixteen and thirteen respectively; watched from a short distance. Long ago they learned the difference between wild birds and baby chicks. They know chicks are not to be stalked or touched. I suspose they thought of all those missed chicken dinners as they eyed Mother hen.
We observed Mother hen leaving the nest more often and for a longer time than a hen confined to a certain area. She scratched in the garden and went for food and water with the other hens. We worried a bit the eggs might get cold and not hatch.
Twenty-one days after she first started setting our fears were put to rest. Pecking their way out of cracked shells emerged a rainbow of eight colorful chicks. They varied from mixed browns and yellows to one solid black. The last one was pure white like Mother hen. The ninth egg was not fertile.
Rex gently nudged the new chicks careful not to hurt them. Mr. Rooster crowed reminding us of his contribution to this miracle of life. Mother hen clucked approvingly as Molly gave her a lick. Mama and Tiger cat licked their paws and washed their faces. They tried not to make their observing obvious. The baby chicks peeped and cuddled under their Mother.
It has been a perfect day at Land’s End! I have concluded what nature does, nature does best when not interfered with.