PHOTO: Liz West/Flickr
Budding chicken keepers often find themselves scrolling through descriptions of the most popular American chicken breeds, shuddering and moving along quickly once they see that an otherwise perfect breed “tends to go broody.” When I first started keeping chickens, I shied away from those breeds, too. After all, I was in it for the eggs, and when a hen goes broody for weeks at a time or even longer, she stops laying and eating and gets ornery and kind of mean. She won’t leave her nest for the duration of the spell, whether eggs are under her or not.
After a few years of keeping chickens and buying replacement chicks through hatcheries, you may want to explore allowing your hens to set a clutch of eggs, and hatch and raise their own chicks. It’s one of the most exciting things you can do as a backyard chicken keeper. Here are some of the best and broodiest domestic breeds for home hatching.
The Silkie (pictured above) is, hands down, the Broody Queen of the chicken world. As a bantam breed, it’s rather petite but incredibly docile, considered by some to be the chicken version of a lapdog. Its easygoing nature and soft, fur-like feathers makes it a perfect chicken mama. These ornamental birds are easy to find and also make a great pet chicken for kids.
The Cochin hen runs a tight race with the Silkie for the Broody Crown and comes up just short. A Chinese breed, just like the Silkie, the Cochin is known for being big, sweet, fluffy and docile. It’s available in a variety of colors and feather patterns, including Frizzled. Although it doesn’t lay as well as some of the dual-purpose breeds, it makes a fantastic mother and an all-around great pet chicken.
This English dual-purpose breed gets its name from the town of Orpington near London, where it originated. It’s incredibly cold-hardy, thanks to its fluffy, loose feathers that make it look heftier than it actually is. The Orpington is also a gentle bird with a sweet personality. Unlike Silkies and Cochins, Orpingtons are first-rate layers of light brown eggs. The breed is recognized in several color varieties, with Buff, a beautiful golden-yellow color, being the most popular. It’s a favorite of family flocks and a perfect breed for children to care for, due to its gentle nature.
The Brahma is a gentle giant and another wonderfully sweet and broody breed. Quiet, calm and even-tempered, it’s exceptionally cold hardy and the hens are great winter layers. Because of its feathered legs and shanks, it’s best not to keep this breed in excessively wet or muddy regions, as moisture can cling to the feathers, leading to frostbite on the toes. Otherwise, the Brahma is a great addition to flocks, especially in northern regions. It handles confinement very well and isn’t as active as other breeds that prefer to forage; this makes them great for smaller spaces, too.
The Sussex is a reliable layer and has a reputation for laying dependably through winter. It’s friendly and very curious by nature. The Speckled variety has a unique feather pattern that effectively camouflages the bird from most predators—a boon when free-ranging. The Sussex is listed as “Recovering” on the The Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority List, which is great reason to try this broody breed.