Chickens on Allotments - Natural Incubation
Availability of electricity for an incubator is unlikely at allotments. Natural incubation - using a hen to hatch a clutch of eggs - is very rewarding for the small poultry keeper. Many breeders rely on broodies to hatch valuable and often rare stock.
Why bother with fancy incubators when you can rely on nature? Natural incubation overcomes all the humidity problems associated with the use of modern incubators and there are important maternal benefits too. The hen will teach the chicks or ducklings how to eat and will keep them warm.
Modern hybrids have had the broody trait selected out, so any that might happen to go broody may not be reliable. Some of the best-known broody pure breeds include Silkies, Sumatra Game, Yokohamas, Scots Grey and Old English Game. Silkie crosses are very popular and make perfect broodies.
A broody hen should be healthy and free from lice, mite and scaly leg. Curing the mite and lice can be done at the beginning of incubation. Scaly leg is very infectious and should be cleared so that it is not transferred to the chicks.
The broody will need a sitting box where she can incubate the eggs. This should not be the normal nest box and not be accessible by other hens. Other hens can disturb the broody and may lay more eggs in the nest box. A broody coop and an enclosed run will be required for the hen and chicks to use after hatching.
Once a broody hen is settled fertile egss can be put under her replacing any dummy eggs (e.g. golf balls). It is vital that the eggs are at least 24 hours old. The germ cell inside each egg must be dormant before sitting begins. If this is not the case then the likely result will be a batch of eggs that hatch at different times. Ideally all the hatching should take place at roughly the same time to avoid the hen leaving the nest after the first few chicks have hatched.
Care should be taken to make sure that breeding is from the best hens and that the resulting chicks are going to be of a breed or cross-breed that is suited to the intended purpose. Natural incubation with a broody hen can be a succesful way of breeding replacement pullets for your flock.