Susan Chege at her farm in Nakuru County. PHOTO | KIPLANGAT SILA | NATION

BY TONY KIRAGU

Most farmers are tempted to continuously have their broody hens sit on eggs to increase their flock size.

Although some may do it successfully, as a veterinarian I would advise against it for the following reason.

Broody hens usually put the health of their eggs before their own needs. They spend most of their time sitting on eggs and will usually leave the eggs when they go to eat, drink water or relieve themselves.

Health of the bird

This may happen once or twice in a day. They therefore end up consuming close to 80 per cent less food than when in their normal state. They are therefore at a high risk of malnutrition and starvation.

The hen loses a lot of weight during the incubation period. Chicken incubation takes 21 days and the hen should be allowed a break to regain lost weight.

Chicks can be taken away from the mother immediately to a brooder. Some breeds of chicken are genetically more broody than others — but this does not mean they should sit on eggs continuously without taking a break.

A break is necessary to ensure the bird regains its weight, health and has enough nutrient reserves in the body to last them through another incubation cycle of 21 days.

Making sure that your broody hen is happy and comfortable is important in determining if she will bring healthy chicks into the world. Feed and water should be accessible to the broody hen.

Provide a private feeder and waterer as it minimises her chances of straying away too far from her eggs. Water should always be fresh and clean. A hen does not need layers mash during the brooding period.

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This is because layers mash is high in calcium for eggshell production but during this period the hen does not lay eggs- therefore chick mash can be offered especially because this is the food that the newly hatched chicks will feed on.

Broody hens need a safe predator-proof environment where they can sit on the fertile eggs with minimum amount of interference.

Provide a private coop for her away from the other birds. A broody hen is likely to quit sitting on her eggs if she is constantly interrupted. Peace of mind and privacy is important during this period.

Her private coop is also important in keeping away other pushy hens that would bully her while she is taking care of her precious cargo. Dedicated coops or pens should be constructed specifically for broody hens.

The bedding should be kept clean – poop and removed regularly as well as any broken or fowl smelling eggs.

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