Some chicken breeds make great broody hens. Others are iffy. Still others are completely unreliable. And some never go broody at all.
What does broody mean and why does it matter? Broodiness, in a nutshell, is maternal instinct. After a hen has accumulated a nestful of eggs, maternal instinct tells her to keep the eggs warm and they will eventually hatch into chicks. In a word, she “goes broody.”
Because laying stops when broodiness starts, throughout the ages people who kept chickens primarily for eggs removed persistently broody hens from their breeder flocks. As a result, the chicken breeds best known for superior laying ability — especially those developed for commercial production — are less apt to brood than other breeds. If you want your hens to raise their own chicks, you need a chicken breed known to go broody.
Even among chicken breeds that make the best broody hens, you can’t tell for sure if a particular hen will be a good mother until she proves it. But you can get a pretty good idea based on the past records for the breed as a whole. Hens of some breeds are especially well known for readily going broody and having the tenacity to see it through to a successful completion.
Here are 8 chicken breeds that are most likely to go broody:
- Aseel — These hens are not especially good layers, but they have a strong maternal instinct and make terrific mothers.
- Cochin — When it comes to broodiness, Cochin hens are among the best of the best.
- Dorking — These hens are known for persistent broodiness and excellent mothering ability.
- Java — The critically endangered Java is a calm chicken breed with an excellent brooding instinct.
- Modern Game — Although these hens don’t lay well, they are strongly broody and make intensely protective mothers.
- Nankin bantam — One of the oldest chicken breeds, the diminutive Nankin bantam has extraordinary maternal instincts.
- Old English Game — These hens not only lay well, but make reliable broody hens and devoted mothers.
- Silkie bantam — Without doubt the most consistently dependable broody hens, Silkies will attempt to hatch anything that remotely resembles an egg.
Some chicken breeds rarely become broody within their first year but may brood successfully during subsequent laying cycles. This trait, called deferred broodiness, is notable among Chanteclers and Fayoumis. Individual hens of other breeds may defer broodiness, as may hens resulting from a cross between a hen from a chicken breed that typically broods and a rooster from a less maternal breed.
Even among breeds that do not typically brood, some strains have stronger brooding instincts than others, and among those with the least brooding instinct, the occasional hen becomes fiercely broody. Just as broodiness has been bred out of certain strains, the trait may be improved in your flock by keeping as your future breeders only chickens that were naturally hatched under a broody hen.
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow is the author of Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks