When it comes to hatching chicks, which is best, broody hen or incubator? We weigh in on both options with pros and cons!
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. 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.
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Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen
The best thing about hatching chicks with a broody hen is less work for you. The mother hen does most of the work hatching and raising the chicks. Here are some pros and cons of using a broody hen to hatch chicks.
Pros of Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen
Letting a broody hen hatch chicks is natural: If you’re the type of homesteader that likes to do things the most natural way possible, there’s no question that allowing a broody chicken hatch eggs naturally is the way to go.
Chicks are accepted as part of the flock: 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 a mother hen care for chicks is fun: Observing the momma hen 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 adapt to the coop quickly: 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.
Less stress tending to baby chicks: Mother hen takes care of all the chicks needs. There is no need to worry about heat lamps and the proper temperature. The chicks will simply burrow under their momma hen when they’re cold. The mother will guide them to food and water, and you don’t have to constantly monitor their every move, because their mom is doing that for them.
No need to keep a brooder for chicks indoors: 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.
Cons of Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen
You’ll have less friendly chicks when hatched by a broody hen: Babies raised by a broody hen are more standoffish 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.
Broody hens are unpredictable: 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 abandon the nest and leave the eggs to go cold. Even worse, they can be completely freaked out by Motherhood and attack their young. Although this type of broody hen behavior is rare, it can happen.
No control over broody hen’s decisions: 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.
Can’t see what is happening under a broody hen: 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.
Unable to protect the baby chicks from danger: 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 the mom, they could fall from a high height and die, your broody or another hen could accidentally crush the eggs before they hatch, 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 a broody hen with fertile eggs is 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.
A broody hen will hatch a small number of chicks: You can’t hatch as many chicks under a broody as you can in a large incubator.
Hatching Chicks with an Incubator
Using an incubator to hatch chicks gives you more control, but on the flip side, it can be more work. Here are the pros and cons of hatching chicks with an incubator.
Pros of Hatching Chicks with an Incubator
You are the mother to the chicks: 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 friendlier and are bonded to you from the start. The promise of plenty of chicken cuddles makes this a tempting choice.
Watching chicks hatch is an unforgettable experience: 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.
You have more control using and incubator: 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.
You can hatch chicks 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!
Cons of Hatching Chicks with an Incubator
Greater chance of human error: Remember when I said having control could 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.
You have more responsibility when hatching chicks in an incubator: 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.
You are at the mercy of electricity or incubator failure: If the power goes out or if the incubator malfunctions partway through your hatch, it can kill the eggs. If one of these two things happens halfway through your hatch, what are you going to do?
You need to care for the baby chicks: 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.
About Meredith: Meredith is the founder of ImaginAcres. She lives in Western New York with her incredible husband, Michael, and their menagerie of farm critters. Join her at Backyard Chicken Project where she shares more chicken antics and tips to care for your flock.