Friday, 16 April 2010

Incubator / brooder v broody hen....?

For me there is no contest and having two hatches of the same age, one hatched in the incubator and the other under a broody hen the contrast in the early lives of the two sets is remarkable.

Admittedly all chicks are warm and safe, in a clean environment with a continuous supply of fresh food and water,

but ...

.....the chicks hatched in the incubator are now in the garage, they have little human contact and no natural light or air. For the first week of their lives they have the heat lamp on 24 hours a day. After that they will experience a more natural day/night routine as I change the bulb to a dull emitter. Hopefully if the weather stays warm by three weeks they may be able to go outside for a short while. In the meantime I offer them a small amount of freshly picked greens, for both interest and nourishment. All their behaviour is instinctive rather than learnt.

....the chicks with the mother hen are so different. Admittedly for now they are in the shed rather than on grass (although they will be outside tomorrow) but the door is open all day so they have a natural flow of air. They experience day and night and only tuck under the hen for warmth every now and then. She calls them to feed whenever she finds anything of interest and breaks the food into a manageable size for them. She calls to them if there is any danger and they hide underneath her for safety and reassurance.

By six weeks the lives of the chicks will be the same but for now there is a noticeable contrast.

The advantages of an incubator are mostly commercial. A larger amount of eggs can be set in one go and whenever is convenient, rather than having to wait for a hen to go broody, who can then only cover, probably a maximum of 13 eggs. Some people claim to have better results hatching in an incubator, hens have been known to break eggs, kick them out of the nest, leave part way through sitting and some have even been known to kill their young. To me though a poor broody is comparable to a poor incubator, get it right and there shouldn't be a problem.
Incubators do have their advantages and after all I have just used one, but given the choice and if I had more broody hens I would choose them every time without question.


  1. So far,I've had better results from the incubator than the broody. and that's using different broodies. I dont think incubating them is particularly ardiuous, but brooding them is another matter.. lots of looking after, cleaning out etc and cost with the heat lamp
    my favourite option is to incubate, then slip the chicks under a broody.

  2. I think that probably is a good option. It's the rearing that concerns me, not so much the work or expense, just watching the broody with her chicks and then comparing them to the chicks in the brooder...

  3. i know - it seems right to have a hen looking after them, doesn't it. i had hoped, but none went broody, so they have the heat lamp and me as mum instead!