Incubators or broodies? Pros and cons of each choice for hatching chicks

If you are a backyard chicken owner, it is likely that at some point you will want to add new birds to your flock. You have, then, two main options: either you buy chickens or breed your own. The latter is more labor intensive, but also more self-sustainable and, I believe, very rewarding.

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If you want to hatch some of your own chicks, you may do so by using an incubator or placing eggs under a broody. But which is preferable? Well, in my opinion, both options have their pros and cons.

Read my latest Mother Earth News post to find out what works for us.

“It was in the second year of our chicken-keeping that we felt the desire to increase our flock by means of adding some new chicks. We wanted to observe the entire process, from egg to softly chirping ball of fluff to productive adult egg-layer. We also felt that a truly sustainable flock maintains itself, by addition of a new generation each year, without us having to buy new pullets to replace aging layers.”

Updated: read Part 2 here.

Exciting announcement

Just a short post: I’m very happy to say I’ve joined the Mother Earth News blogging community. Now, in addition to posting here, I will also contribute to the MEN blogs from time to time. I’ve been a newsletter subscriber for years, so you can imagine how tickled I am to have been invited to join as a blogger.

My first post is already up on Homesteading and Livestock. It was written for those who consider taking the plunge into chicken-keeping:

“Our chicken-keeping path started a little backwards: First, we dreamed and wished to start raising chickens for a long, long while. Then, my husband came home one day with a box of baby chicks in his arms; and then we figured out how to build a coop and make it safe and comfortable for our new feathered friends.”

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You can read the rest here.

Chicks, seedlings and useful reading

Here is one of our newest chicks, hatched this week. Our current resident rooster is a Black Brahma, so we get a lot of black chicks with cute-looking feathered legs. Unfortunately, we don’t have a Black Brahma hen (I’d love to get one, so we can have pure-bred chicks), but in the meantime I’m hoping to get good birds from crossing the Black Brahma with our best hen, a mixed New Hampshire (I think). She’s a nice big brown hen and gives us plenty of big brown eggs. So hopefully I can get some pullets who will be beautiful, good-sized, and good layers.

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Black Brahma cross chick held by Shira (7 years old)

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Above you can see a mixed tray of cherry tomato, pepper and melon seedlings. I realize it’s rather late in the season to have seedlings indoors, but I’m counting on the long, warm days we usually have well into October and even November. Either way, I have nothing to lose, right? The tomatoes, peppers and herbs we already have planted outside seem to be doing nicely. We’ll see how they fare and whether we get any produce by the end of the season. I can hardly wait.

In my spare time (ha ha) I’m catching up on a bit of useful reading. My current read is The Backyard Homestead, and I must say I’m greatly enjoying it. It has everything outlined in such a clear, straightforward way – gardening, raising small livestock, useful landscaping – and it really showed me that, rather than wish we had more land (which of course would be nice), we should instead work towards making the best of what we do have – and I know that, being creative, we can do much, much more.

Why I love raising chickens

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Our love affair with chickens started a few years ago, when my husband surprised me with a box of baby chicks. Those little ones all turned out to be males, but no matter – the chicken bug was already there. Ever since, we’ve had a chicken coop wherever we lived.

So what makes chickens such a popular choice for almost everyone? They are kept by big and small farmers, country dwellers and urban homesteaders alike. Here is why I personally like my chickens so much:

1. Eggs – need I say more? Fresh homegrown eggs are about the best source of high-quality animal protein out there. They are full of essential nutrients and their taste is far superior to the bland egg factory product. In winter, when our hens went off laying and we had to buy eggs from the grocery store, we were actually shocked at the contrast in taste after getting used to our superior home-grown eggs.

2. Pest and weed control – chickens love to eat all sorts of insects, bugs, worms and weeds in their young green stage. All this goes into the eggs and makes them healthier and better-tasting – and helps with yard maintenance. Of course, chickens will also go for many garden plants, so you have two choices: either keep a fence around your vegetable patch, or learn which plants you can grow without competing with your chickens. Generally we find that herbs (such as mint, sage, rosemary), certain vegetables (onions, garlic, potatoes) and fruit trees are safe with chickens.

3. Entertainment – just sit back and watch your chickens for endless hours of fun. Observe how they interact with each other and with you. I can entertained a 1-year-old for up to half an hour by making a rooster jump and snatch tricks out of the air. Keeping chickens is one of the best fun and educational experiences we’ve ever done.

4. Easy maintenance – once you get into the routine of chicken-keeping, it’s incredibly easy. Basically what chickens need is access to food, water and a sturdy sheltered coop that provides protection from the rain and wind and can be locked at night against predators. Depending on the climate in your area and the breed of your chickens, you might have to provide a source of heat during the winter. We usually don’t need to do this as we keep sturdy breeds and temperatures here don’t often fall below freezing.

You can greatly reduce the cost of chicken feed by giving your chickens your kitchen leftovers (old bread, rice, pasta, cores and peels, etc) and by allowing them to free-range and find their own food.

Raising chickens for beginners

It’s entirely possible to live a resourceful, frugal, self-reliant life without keeping chickens (or any livestock at all), but I do consider chickens to be a wonderful addition to almost any household. Chickens are useful, easy to raise, and fun. They don’t require a lot of space or much of your time. If you do it properly, your venture into chicken-keeping can provide you with wonderful-tasting fresh eggs, pest control for your yard and even valuable manure. You might even end up with extra eggs and/or birds to sell in season.

 

Not for the faint-hearted

 

A warning about raising livestock – it might take a lot of investment in time and money before these ventures begin to pay off, especially if you run into unexpected trouble. All the chicken owners we know have had their flock demolished by a fox, a mysterious disease or a stray dog at least once. Most goat owners lost does and/or kids because of a kidding that didn’t go as it should have, or else had to pay a large vet bill. These things are heart-wrenching and highly discouraging, apart from the cost. However, it is possible to minimize your chances of disappointment; more on that later.

 

Which breed should I choose?

 

It depends on what you want to get out of chicken-keeping. The most popular reason for keeping chickens is eggs, but some people raise their own meat birds, and other focus on heritage breeds and hatching chicks for sale. For eggs, I recommend sturdy reliable egg-layers such as Rhode Islands, Plymouth Rocks or Sussex.

 

If you plan on breeding your own chickens, you must, of course, have a rooster. If you’re only interested in eggs, a girls-only flock will do. I personally love roosters – they don’t just add a dashing colorful splash to your yard, but add order to a flock and protect the hens.

 

Of course, cross-bred chickens will also provide you with eggs. Currently that’s what we have, actually, but I’m on the lookout for some good-quality heritage breed chicks, and that’s what I think you should keep if you possibly can. The costs are the same (feed, housing, etc), but the birds you have are more valuable. If you have extra chicks to sell, you can get a higher price for pure-breeds.

 

There’s a wealth of information out there about various chicken breeds. Once you start researching, you’ll be hooked. Whatever you choose, only buy from a reliable breeder who will sell you healthy birds and won’t try to pass cross-breeds as pure-breeds.