It’s officially Spring time (though it may not feel like it where you live) and baby animals are popping up all over the place. If you raise chickens you may find yourself itching for some brand new peeping babies this time of year.
Hatching chicks at home is an experience like no other. It’s not often that the opportunity arises to watch the beginning of a new life, a new soul emerging into the world. When you hatch chicks, you can experience this as many times as you want, and it’s a true wonder every single time.
Hatching chicks requires one of two things, an incubator or a broody hen. You may have one and not the other, and therefore you’re likely not deliberating which way is right for you. If you’re one of the lucky ones to have both and just can’t decide which method is ideal, this article was made for you.
Here’s hoping this list of pros and cons will help to steer you in one direction or another. Incubator versus broody hen is not an easy decision to make, and if you’re anything like us, it will steer you in both directions because you simply can’t make up your mind (more on that in a bit).
Broody Hen Pros
Letting nature take its course
If you’re the type of homesteader that likes to do things the most natural way possible, there’s no question that this is the way to go.
These babies are accepted into the flock from the start, they have their mother’s protection at all times, even when you’re at work or asleep. If you’ve ever tried to integrate little chickens into a flock of big chickens, you know how difficult and heart wrenching it can be to see the brutality that goes down. Broody hens don’t allow for that, making your life much easier.
Watching the momma raise the babies is SO much fun. Seeing her demonstrate how to properly take a dust bath and teaching them about all the delicacies in the yard is precious.
The chicks are better adapted to life outside of your arms. Unless you’re going to let your chickens sleep in bed with you (please don’t do that) they’re going to have to leave the comfort of your home and live in the coop at some point. This separation is much easier if they aren’t bonded to you and you aren’t bonded to them.
Mother hen takes care of all their needs. No need to worry about temperature, the babies will burrow under their momma when they’re cold. As long as it’s provided, she will guide them to food and water. You don’t need to constantly monitor their every move, because their mom is doing that for them.
No need for a brooder
Raising chicks in a brooder is a pain, a dirty, dirty pain, and it can be dangerous if you’re using a heat lamp. We’re saving up to get a Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder for our future brooder chicks, but until we get one, we have to deal with the daily stress and worry of a heat lamp setting our house on fire.
Broody Hen Cons:
Less Friendly Birds
Babies raised via broody hen are more stand-offish and skittish, and less likely to bond with you. In fact, they will likely run away screaming any time you come near them, and you’ll have an angry Mother Hen to contend with.
The unpredictability of the Broody hen’s abilities is stressful. Broody hens occasionally decide halfway through incubation that they don’t want babies as much as they thought they did. They can desert the nest and leave the eggs to go cold. Even worse, they can be completely freaked out by Motherhood and attack their young. Take note this type of behavior is rare, but it has happened.
You have no control
Broody hens will occasionally push an egg out of the nest (they usually have good reason) or desert the nest after a few chicks have hatched. This is usually because those eggs aren’t viable, but if you’re a helicopter mom type and don’t trust others to do a good job, this method might not be right for you.
It’s harder to keep track of the action
When the hatch date gets close and your eggs are buried under your hen’s fluffy butt, it’s very hard to tell what’s going on. You can’t pick her up or move the eggs without risking the hatch, so you just have to patiently wait for peeping, fluffy chicks to emerge. This is very difficult for impatient people.
Possibility of dangers out of your control
You could have a predator enter the coop and attack the baby chicks, other members of the flock could harm them, they could fall from the nest and not be able to get back to their mom, they could fall from a high height and die, your broody or another hen could accidentally crush the eggs before they hatch, etc. etc. If you’re a worrier, all of these what-ifs could drive you to insanity. It’s hard not being in control. These dangers are all unlikely to actually happen, but the possibility might drive you nuts.
Timing may be tricky
Your hen may not go broody when you need her to, or you may not have fertile eggs when your hen goes broody. Everything has to work out just right and it’s mostly out of your control. A hen can’t be forced to go broody, so if you’re in a hurry, you may want to buy incubator.
You can’t hatch as many chicks under a broody as you can in a large incubator.
You’re the momma
This can be a wonderful thing and it can be a difficult thing. Since this is in the pros section, we’ll focus on the positive. As their adoptive mother, your chicks will rely on your for their every need and they will adore you for all that you do for them. Chicks raised by people tend to be more friendly and are bonded to you from the start. The promise of plenty of chicken cuddles makes this a tempting choice.
When chicks are hatched in an incubator you get to watch the entire process, and let me tell you, it’s incredible. This is the biggest pro in my opinion, and it’s the reason we’ve hatched in an incubator for the past two years. Your jaw will drop to the floor when the first chick emerges out of her egg after hours of struggling. It’s incredible.
Better opportunity for photographs and videos
Speaking of being able to see every detail, you can take some amazing photos and videos of every moment of the hatch to cherish forever. From the first peep to the final breakout, you can document everything.
Having complete control
This can be a blessing and a curse. We humans love to have control over things, and when you control the incubator, you can make sure everything is as it should be.
Ability to hatch a lot of chicks at once
Large incubators can hold plenty of eggs, giving you an abundance of baby chicks.
Can hatch any time of year
When you’re dealing with a broody hen, you have to go by her cycle. Most hens go broody in the spring or summer, so that’s when you would hatch. With an incubator you can hatch chicks whenever you feel like it!
Remember when I said having control can be a curse? It’s very easy to ruin your hatch by making a few simple mistakes. Mistakes a broody hen would never make. Which leads us to responsibility.
The hatch is in your hands and if something goes wrong, you’re the only one to blame. You have to monitor temperature and humidity constantly. The eggs need to be turned at least three times a day. You must make sure no bacteria gets inside the incubator. You need to figure out which eggs are viable and which aren’t, something that can be difficult for a human but is instinct for a bird. There are so many rules and not following them can lead to lives lost.
Risk of power outages or incubator failure
If one of these two things happens halfway through your hatch, what are you going to do?
Caring for Babies
Chicks hatched in an incubator and raised by humans in a brooder require a lot of care. You’ll have to keep them warm with a heat lamp at just the right height, you’ll need to feed and water them several times a day. You’ll need to clean up their poop several times a day. You’ll need to constantly dust whatever room they’re in. You’ll need to show day old chicks how to drink water, and constantly check their little bums to make sure they’re not pasted up. You’ll need to use special bedding that they can’t eat for the first week so they understand what food is. Chicks are needy little creatures, and they rely on you to take care of those needs.
And there you have it, Incubator versus broody hen, the whole run-down. I hope this list will help those of you that are on the fence, or simply educate those of you who are interested in hatching chicks. Hatching chicks is wonderful fun and no matter which choice you make, you’re going to love it!
So… now that you know the pros and cons to hatching chicks, which route are you going to go? Have you hatched chicks before? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! I read and adore every single one.