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Pre-broodiness signals?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Flock Leader, Mar 7, 2016.

  1. Flock Leader

    Flock Leader Chillin' With My Peeps

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    In the years we've had chickens, several hens invariably go broody every season, and of course we know all the typical broody behaviors: sitting on the nest, fluffing up the feathers, pecking at anyone and everything who dares to come near, etc.

    However, I think I've also noticed some more subtle sings, what I call for lack of a better word pre-broodiness behavior. As if a hen is preparing to go broody but hasn't quite made up her mind to go all the way yet, such as:

    1. Checking out new places to lay eggs, and/or getting more secretive/protective about her eggs.
    2. Sitting in the nesting box for longer and longer periods of time each day, until she finally remains on the nest overnight.
    3. A stop of egg-laying, usually a day or two before setting.

    For example my Polish hen, who started laying again a couple of weeks ago, took about half an hour in the nesting box at first. In recent days she sat for hours, but left the box eventually. Today she didn't lay an egg but sat for hours on the fake eggs we always keep in the nesting boxes. So though she's not broody yet I think she's on the way there. Anyone else noticed such behavior in their hens?
     
  2. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Sits With Chickens Premium Member

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    All of the above. There are many exciting behaviors chickens exhibit that most people never notice. I personally enjoy observing behavior and figuring out the reasons behind it. It's my favorite hobby.
     
  3. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    Two of the earliest signs that a hen is getting ready to go broody are soft breast feathers beginning to appear in the nest after she has laid an egg, and emitting the "broody cluck", a very soft, barely audible popping sound.

    The closer she gets to being broody, she may become aimless, unfocused and somewhat irritable, often annoying other flock members.

    These symptoms often appear a good week before the hen goes full broody.

    When I hear that broody cluck, I look for the one doing it, and I pick her up and examine her breast. If she's bald along the keel bone, I know I'm going to have me a broody hen within a week or less.
     
  4. Flock Leader

    Flock Leader Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Yes indeed, she's doing the broody cluck too! I only noticed this morning.




    I love observing all the different complex chicken behaviors and interactions. It's mind-boggling to me how people think chickens are "stupid" and "boring", when in fact they simply hadn't taken the time to observe these fascinating social birds!
     
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  5. Lady of McCamley

    Lady of McCamley Overrun With Chickens

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    Yes...agree with all of the above.

    There is a pre-broody phase wherein the hormones are elevated but have not fully kicked in so that the hen will not set fully.

    The reason for this is she needs to gather a clutch to hatch and must begin to collect the eggs. If the eggs are hers alone, she will lay until the growing nest begins to fill.

    As the egg clutch grows, they press against her breast bone further releasing more hormones. Once she has enough clutch, enough hormone is released to trigger a full brood. Some hens will kick into the full brood stage on air (notably Silkies) while others (typically your large fowl) still need the size of the clutch pressing on the breast bone to fully trigger a brood. Heritage breeds are more prone to brooding as the commercial layers have overall been selected against broodiness (for the purpose of production laying...not brooding).

    Her body temperature continues to raise with the rising hormones, she may pluck her breast to ensure good contact with the eggs for heat transfer.

    At this point a dark, warm area will keep the hormone level sufficiently high so that the hen will sustain her brood. She can become unsettled early in the process, so it is important not to move her too quickly or disturb her.

    After about a week to a week and half, she is trance like. As the chicks progress in the shells, she will begin to cluck at them which will trigger deeper brooding and early bonding with the chicks until the final lock down phase where she will not leave the nest for 48 hours (typically) as the chicks hatch.

    All pretty amazing stuff.

    LofMc
     
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  6. Flock Leader

    Flock Leader Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you for sharing your observations - I knew there was a connection between laying a clutch and setting, but I didn't know exactly what goes on there.

    I do have to say, though, that we don't let our chickens keep a clutch of eggs anymore before they set. We had tried to do this before, and it resulted in a lot of spoiled/wasted eggs, eggs thrown out of the nesting box by other hens (before the prospective broody has set), confusion and general mess. So this is what we do now:

    1. Collect all the eggs, every day.
    2. Always keep about a dozen of the freshest eggs out and turn them every day - in case we get a broody or two and need some eggs for them. Older eggs go into refrigerator.
    3. Keep some fake eggs in the nesting boxes.
    4. Once a hen goes broody, put 6 to 10 eggs under her (depending on her size and size of the eggs) - eggs marked with felt-tip pen, the kind you use to write on CDs. This way it's easy to keep track if any fresh eggs are laid, or any are broken, and there's no confusion. Also we get to decide eggs from which hens to hatch.

    We always get more than enough broodies each season - indeed sometimes more than we'd like, as egg production drops to a halt at some points. They go broody sitting on nothing at all or on a fake egg or two, or on stones. We keep some mixed breeds - Polish, mixed RIR and some mutts.
     
  7. Lady of McCamley

    Lady of McCamley Overrun With Chickens

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    You have laid out an excellent setting plan to avoid the problems when hens gather their own clutch.

    I totally agree that letting a hen collect eggs herself can create problems with setting times as well as general egg loss. (My intention was not to champion hen egg collecting for actual hatching but to explain the science behind the brooding process....a fascinating process.)

    I too like to duplicate this process by fabricating the clutch gathering phase with golf balls or ping pong balls or sacrificial eggs which are marked as such. This does a good job of creating the clutch size necessary for the hormonal release and settling phase while yet preventing the problems caused by a hen gathering them at will.

    I then follow a process very similar of actual fertile egg collection, storage, and setting for better results in hatching. After I know the hen is appropriately settled, I then place the "real" eggs I want hatched.

    To further avoid transfer and interference problems, we built a designated broody hutch where I keep a stable of broodies with an attached grow out pen. I found it kept things more orderly, avoided the clog in the main nesting boxes, provided better protection for the growing chicks (from nosy hens as well as adult pathogens), and is reinforced better for the predators that inevitably are drawn to the peeps of little chicken nuggets.

    I keep bantams for my main brooding needs (bantam Cochin and Silkies) using the occasional seasonal large fowl hen if opportunity arises. From that I've had a mix of volunteers from Black Sexlinks to Wyandottes to Welsummers to Marans to Rhodebars. Typically my large fowl will brood once, maybe twice, but as they age almost all of them have ceased to go broody. I suspicion as their hormone levels drop. However, my Silkies have been the queens of brooding. I can almost time my clutches to their regularity. Gotta love a Silkie for that!

    Right now, I've got my 2 bantam Cochins co-brooding due to hatch today or tomorrow. This will be my first attempt at letting hens co-brood as I generally separate, but these sisters were raised together and are pretty bonded, so I thought I'd give it a try and see how it went (on a clutch that is general utility rather than anything crucial).

    I love letting broodies do the work. No more messing around with heat lamps, brooding boxes, acclimating to environment or flock...momma does all the work!

    LofMc
     
  8. Hay Belly

    Hay Belly Out Of The Brooder

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    This is fascinating. I've just gotten my first rooster that won't go into the freezer and I want to breed a few chicks but know nothing. Said rooster is only a week old so I've lots of time to gather info. Is there a good place to go? I have two girls I want to get chicks from (also a week old) and I'd much rather have them raise the chicks than buy an incubator. My meat chicks are enough work!
     
  9. Lady of McCamley

    Lady of McCamley Overrun With Chickens

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    This article is pretty comprehensive for brooding with hens:
    http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/broody-hens-1.html

    For specific questions and issues, I can recommend the Broody Thread here on BYC as well as the Old Fashioned Brood Thread. I'll link those below.

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/496101/broody-hen-thread/10690#post_16664943

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/...-and-informational-thread/26310#post_16667221

    The hardest thing is finding a good broody. They are born and not made. I have found Silkies to be your best dedicated brooder and mother. While they are smaller bantams, they have a good "spread" factor and can typically cover 6 full size eggs, which if you keep several Silkies could set a dozen each time more than enough for many backyarders (provided they go broody at the same time...which can offer happen as one Silkie will trigger another to brood).

    Silkies will go broody throughout the year (my last brood was with a Silkie in December). My Silkies typically brood 3 to sometimes 4 times a year.

    I purposely purchased known brooding hens. I looked through my local chicken classified and craigslist and advertised for a proven broody Silkie. I was rewarded both times I did this with fine hens, about 2 to 3 years of age. Many Silkie breeders have broody hens coming out of their ears and are willing to part with one or two if they do not need them for breeding purposes. So you may get a non-show quality Silkie but a fine brooder.

    Good luck with your endeavors!
    LofMc
     
  10. Flock Leader

    Flock Leader Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm totally with you on the broody mama advantages - last year was the first season we didn't use an incubator and let broodies do all the work, and it was such a relief not to have all the mess of raising chicks indoors, then transferring them to coop and losing half to predators because there's nobody to watch over them. I find that chicks raised by a broody are generally hardier, learn better and have better survival rates, not to mention fit more naturally into an existing flock.

    The only minor drawback, perhaps, is the fact that my children love to handle and play with chicks, but with a protective broody mama it's kind of hard to do!

    It sure sounds as though you have things going on a larger scale and more professionally than we do; we currently only have 5 hens, all non-pure-breed backyard layers, though I'd love to expand.

    I think I will indeed look into broody breeds, so that I have at least one thoroughly reliable broody. I've had too much experience with half-hearted broodies who set only to abandon the clutch a week later, or peck at the eggs, etc. Ideally I'd like a flock of good egg producers with a broody or two for hatching.
     

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