Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chicken Questions: Isa Brown Hens

The one breed of chicken I receive the most questions about is the Isa Brown. They are the most family friendly of the all the chicken breeds and one of the most common throughout Australian suburban backyards.

Most suburban stock and fodder stores that sell hens usually sell Isa Browns, so if you have been to places here in Adelaide like Oliver's Pets and Plants (formerly Oliver's Grains) on Morphett Rd, Glengowrie (adjacent Morphettville racecourse), you most probably have an Isa Brown or black Australop.

Isa Browns are ideal for small backyards and for daily eggs. If you want chickens as pets then these are perfect for you. The kids will absolutely love them! They don't get broody and they want to be involved with you while you are gardening. Isa Browns are the most socialable mid sized chicken.

But I say 'pets' because after only 2 years they tend to stop laying. That is the unfortunate fact about Isa Browns. Their prolific daily egg laying means that they have a significantly shortened lifespan. If you are not prepared to put up with them as just a pet in their later years then I encourage you to explore a different breed.

Egg laying does naturally slow down during the cool months of the year as there is less sunlight for sitting. So always be prepared to expect that egg laying may resume later in the year as it warms up again.

Isa Brown hens suffer a range of problems due to their high egg output, mostly with kidney issues which can mean a slow painful death. Antibiotics can assist their recovery but in many cases it only holds off the inevitable.

Some hens are more prone than others to go down hill fast after ending their laying, while others see out their days as head chook of the garden, able to forage around for any pests in their very helpful manner.

You may find that your Isa Brown will even lay the occasional surprise egg after 2 years.

To encourage a little more extra egg laying you can try increasing their calcium and protein.
How I do this is by giving a small amount of live culture yoghurt once or twice a week, and a small amount of meal worms (if they came live in bran, the chickens will eat the bran too) once or twice a week.

Its not guaranteed to get your girls back into full egg laying, but you may manage to get a few extra ones. The quality will not be as good as when they were younger, but they are still usable. I recommend cracking each egg into a bowl prior to use to inspect it. You may find a little extra lump connecting the white to the yolk. This can be easily removed by spoon before use.

There is a movement against Isa Browns being sold as the common backyard chicken as many people believe that they have been bred with too many health issues that are not usually as prevalent in other breeds.

Isa Browns are strictly egg layers, there is not enough meat on them to ever have them as a Sunday roast. And once you've named your girls, they most probably won't ever be destined for the pot at any measure.

Originally, when chickens were in the wild they would only have laid an egg every 20 days or so. That is a far cry from our expectations of daily eggs. So over time man has cross bred selected hens until they have many of our daily laying breeds with a limited lifespan today such as the Isa Brown, Australop, Leghorn, and Rhode Island Red.


A question I have recently been receiving from a few of my clients has been about breeding from their ISA Browns.

My advice is please DON'T.

The reason is that ISA Browns are a hybrid bird which means that they are specifically bred for one purpose, in this case egg laying. They are a cross breed from two pure breeds, usually Rhode Island Red/White with New Hampshire Red.

To make ISA Brown chicks they need to be bred from the pure bred rooster and hen.

Because ISA Browns are a hybrid they usually lose all the good things that make a good all-round hen such as broodiness for the sake of being excellent daily layers. Most people would agree that a non-broody hen is a great thing, no-one likes a moody hen, but if the hen does not become broody and willing to sit on her eggs she will not be a good mother, and therefore the eggs will not hatch.

The second point is that Hybrids then pass on their genetic faults to their chicks, so anything that may not have been very noticeable in your first batch of hens will be very noticeable in their offspring. This usually comes at the expense of their health. ISA Brown's are well known for the kidney issues.

The third point is that ISA Browns have such a short egg laying career that picking a time to breed with them practically takes up their peak laying. If bred with early on, their shells are too dense for the developing chick to breath through, if bred with too late their shells become quite thin and brittle and will not produce viable chicks. So I revert to my first plea here again, please don't breed from an ISA Brown hen. Its just not worth it. It is always better to buy new stock when the time comes.

Veterinarian Care

Finding a vet within the city that is able to see to chickens can be a little hard to find as most specialise in basic domestic animals. But there are the rare finds. My best advice to you is to find a MOBILE VET to come to you. Moving an entire flock can be a nightmare, but inviting a vet to your backyard will also give them a much better picture as to their environment which will assist in their diagnosis. From my personal experience, a mobile vet costs the same as a standard bricks-and-mortar practice.

Good luck backyardigan chicken owners.
If there are any more questions about chickens that I can answer for you, please drop me a line!

Backyard Chickens website has a great article to explain it further. ISA Browns come under the title of sex-links (hybrids). Explains how to determine the sexes as well as why they should not be mated together.

Click here for the page: http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/261208/sex-linked-information


  1. I don't want to sound snobby or anything, but our Isa Brown hen went broody, and was a wonderful mother! We didn't use Isa eggs for her to sit on, though, as we didn't have a rooster at the time. A friend gave us some eggs, and she hatched and mothered the 3 chicks beautifully. Though it very well may be a "rare" case, I guess, as, it's true, Isa Browns don't usually go broody.

    1. I've just lost Henny Hen 6 year old, still laying and all the "youngsters" 2 year olds, used to snuggle underneath her at night. Miss her terrible, but she had good retirement from laying farm. Will take in more now. So sad. (Hello from Scotland!)

    2. Yes, I've also had an ISA Brown hen go broody. We don't have a rooster, so it wasn't a question of her actually breeding, but we gave her a single fertilised bantam egg from my mum's flock, and she was the most devoted mum imaginable.

  2. Love the ISAs, they just don't live long enough :(

  3. I have 6 at 11 wks old,How in the world to I tell the hens an boosters apart

    1. Hens are red. Roosters are white.

    2. I have 6 pullets that are red with some white laced feathers and maybe 1 or 2 white tail feathers, but not any that are predominantly white. I was concerned that some of them were roosters because their waddles and combs were a little larger than the others. Does this breed have bigger combs than normal?

    3. I have 6 pullets that are red with some white laced feathers and maybe 1 or 2 white tail feathers, but not any that are predominantly white. I was concerned that some of them were roosters because their waddles and combs were a little larger than the others. Does this breed have bigger combs than normal?

    4. Hi I have an Is a Brown hen who went broody, wound up with 3 white chicks and thought they were all going to be roosters but 2 turned out as white hens. They lay eggs and seem fine. The roosters comb became bigger as time went so I could tell he was different

  4. We have yellow/orange chicks (HENS??), white chicks( ROOSTERS ??) , black chicks with black legs and black chicks with skin coloured legs. They are all supposed to be Isa Browns. No one has mentioned black ones. What do you think they are? Thankyou

  5. can you clerify me something does the contains that chickens eat on them contribute to their growth

  6. Complete newbie here, did a lot of reading and thought all would go well. After spending I don't know how much money on having a really cute and good size chook house built, and a really good size run built around it, we went off to what I thought was a good store and bought 4 Isa Brown chickens. Not long after getting them home I noticed their beaks have been partly removed (debeaked as it's known apparently) I am very angry that this practice is used and that I have now supported this cruel practice. I am worried about my chickens and what extra things I may need to do for them in terms of their ability to eat like chickens with full beaks. You live and learn as the saying goes.

  7. I have over 50 Isa Browns that roam our farm. Im shocked to find our girls are broodie and are sitting on the eggs.

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