Topic of the Week - Broody vs Incubator

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by sumi, Feb 18, 2018.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    Pic by @Majikthise
    When it comes to hatching eggs there are two options available: broody hens and incubators. Each with their own set of pros and cons. Broody hens can be fickle, but are so easy, as they do all the work for you. Incubators allow you to incubate eggs when you want to and in any quantity, but has it's own worries, such as power failures and other mishaps.

    This week I would like to hear your thoughts on incubation and using broody hens or incubators. Which do you prefer and what did you find works best for you?

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  2. BantyChooks

    BantyChooks Pullarius

    Aug 1, 2015
    My Coop
    I prefer incubators, because I am too curious for my own good and find learning about incubation to be one of the most fun parts of poultry raising. Is it easier? Not even close. Broodies are dead easy if you've found a reliable one. Just stick some eggs under her and pull out the products of a 90% hatch rate 21 days later. If you have a good incubator and a turner it isn't too much harder, but there's still some temperature monitoring involved that isn't there with a broody. Like noted in the original post, you have to have a plan for power outages or risk losing much of your batch. For those of us on solar electricity, the standard light-running configuration of DIY incubators is a power drain and would be best at least swapped for a more energy efficient incubator if not a broody. I am still 'plugged into the grid' so I can persist in my incubation without too much worry except for that of having to pay a little for whatever energy I used and didn't produce. Also, you then have to heat the chicks you hatch, which gets pricey fast if you're not using a heating pad.

    The downsides to a broody, and in reverse the upsides to an incubator—in my opinion—are inability to mark chicks at hatch as being from a particular sire or dam; it's hard to use hatching baskets under a broody. Sure, you can set eggs from two birds only, but that gets old pretty fast when you want to hatch large quantities including different pairings at the same time. If you're trying out a broody to see if she's a good one, I suggest having an incubator warmed and ready for maybe the first week and then keep checking on her when they're hatching. I have yet to have a bad broody hen but they do come around now and then. Broodies also don't lay eggs, meaning you have two or three months of zero eggs from that hen. That's $28 in possible egg sales money (if you sell at $4 a dozen) that's gone. You can run an incubator for less than that.

    Broodies have the advantage of the bird being on home soil from day one. They're wiser, tougher, and seem to be raised to be smart about predators. They learn robust foraging behaviour from momma, and c'mon, if you don't think a hen leading her babies around is cute you must have a heart of stone. I let a broody raise a few batches per year and I think it's the best start they can get.

    As to mortality rates; at this point it's not a fair comparison because I have hatched ~70 in an incubator and maybe 15 or 20 under broodies, but it stands to mention I have lost 3 chicks from manual incubation and brooding (intestinal prolapse, mushy chick, and a brooder accident) and only one under the hens, which was entirely my fault. I left a water bowl in reach that was too deep and the chick drowned.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2018
  3. AlleysChicks

    AlleysChicks Enabler

    Oct 10, 2016
    Southern Ohio
    I prefer an incubator, so I can keep a close eye on the eggs. I can also set more eggs than what a broody can cover. If I want a variety of breeds I can separate them at lockdown and know which chick is which.

    Broodies do all the work but I like to be able to constantly handle chicks so they remain friendly. Although not having to clean the brooder every week was nice!
  4. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Crowing

    Oct 16, 2010
    NEK, VT
    Better hatch rate with incubators and ability to incubate more at a time. Not to mention you can hatch on your schedule not a birds whim to brood.

    Upside to letting a broody do her thing is you don't have to do anything. She hatches and rears the chicks. It doesn't get any easier. They are integrated into the flock naturally so no need for grow out pen either.
  5. Jrose

    Jrose Songster

    Jun 6, 2013
    I have learned to wisdom of “if I let the broody have it, don’t get attached.” I never trust a broody with my precious eggs anymore. My general prolific hatching eggs, sure.

    Broody issues; other hens trying to join the nest and breaking eggs. Broodies having brain farts and changing nests on me, from a 15 egg nest to an empty one! Broodies not breaking their trance and not getting up to care for peeps. Or worst of all, a duck or turkey falls in love with the nest, fights the broody off so she can sit the ggs, and all eggs are destroyed in the process.

    Sometimes isolating the broody really helps with all this but I’ve had broodies snap out of it two weeks in and want to rejoin the flock. Then again I’ve had it work wonderfully. I’ve had broodies keep sitting for two months, I have to keep taking chicks away and adding more eggs becaus she won’t care for the peeps.

    My preference with broodies is finding which hens are the best. I had a turkey hen who would diligently and tenderly raise chicks all year for me. Let her sit the nest once and then jut keep piling more babes into her brood. She would take day old peeps and raise them with the 3 month olds she want letting go of yet. I could have her brooding 50 or more mixed age chicks at a time! She was a dream! I’ve had other broodies that are so finicky I dread what might happen. Some broodies that are perfectly studious and predictable. Just getting to know the birds helps a lot.

    Incubators are harder if you have to travel, deal with power outages, mechanical failure, or what have you. Easier when you need the best hatch rate possible, you need to sort your chicks at hatch, etc. I balance my hatching between both, but I do utilize every broody I get! Even if you keep her on fakes until the peeps hatch, then let her raise them. Though I’ve found if you don’t want chicks losses a really good tight broody pen is a must!
  6. kwhites634

    kwhites634 Slow hands & an easy touch

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  7. J&Kfeatheredfowl

    J&Kfeatheredfowl Songster

    Oct 7, 2017
    I prefer broody, it’s easier, and I find looking at a hen with a little chicks the most beautiful thing, although I do agree about incubators allowing larger clutches

    Also I having a broody makes it easier to introduce the young to the rest of the flock, as they have some to look out for them at a young age. Rather then having to wait till they can fend for themselves.
  8. kwhites634

    kwhites634 Slow hands & an easy touch

  9. chickencheeper

    chickencheeper Free Ranging

    Jun 4, 2017
    My Coop
    If I were to hatch under a broody would I be able to take the eggs at the latest stage and hatch them inside the house and raise the chicks? Would she let me? Would the chicks/pipped eggs just need a heat lamp? I love raising chicks and I couldn’t bare to watch those cute little fluff butts not be friendly with humans
    Cluck 'n Quack likes this.
  10. RodNTN

    RodNTN Hatchaolic

    May 22, 2013
    The Volunteer State
    My Coop
    I prefer a broody, since all you really have to do is stick the eggs under the hen and wait until day 21 :) But it can be challenging if the hen isn't separated from the rest of the flock, in fact that can be harder than hatching with an incubator.

    It depends on what incubator you choose, if it is one that has to be tampered with constantly, a broody hen would certainly be easier. But there are a lot of good bators out there that make it a breeze :)
    Skipper81, Tlmcq and honanbm like this.
  11. honanbm

    honanbm Free Ranging

    May 25, 2015
    Western Washington
    I go one step further... I let her hatch the whole mess out, then I take them immediately to raise indoors in the brooder. I use a bantam - I can't stop her from going broody so I just let her do her thing. Using this method, I get friendlier birds by raising them after the fact but I don't have to do any of the work :)
    I do agree with most folks when referring to large numbers of eggs, my little gal won't wait for them all to hatch. She usually gets fed up at about 6-7 chicks so I keep the number of eggs at that. Also keeping with what others are saying - it pays to know your bird and their limitations, but if you do and respect that, can't go wrong!

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