Oh, broody hens. Those moody, squawking, biting little balls of joy sitting in the corner of your coop, refusing to move off that clutch of eggs. All your broody hen wants is to hatch chicks, would it be so bad if you let her?
Broody hens can be the bane of your chicken-keeping existence, but they don’t have to be. Sure, they refuse to provide you with farm fresh eggs for a month. Sure, they do nothing all day but sit on a nest, but they can also magically nurture that nest of eggs and turn them from breakfast to baby chicks! And they’ll raise them for you too!
If you’re still not sure which way to go incubator or broody hen, check out the pros and cons of each in Hatching Eggs: Broody Hen or Incubator Which is Best?
Learn more on how to identify a broody hen, preparations needed for a successful hatch, and tips on raising baby chicks.
Broody Hen and Eggs
Hatching with a broody hen requires some planning on your part.
Although many breeds will have a hen or two that go broody, if you plan on hatching eggs with this method, you may want to guarantee yourself not one but several broody hens by picking breeds that are more broody than others.
In the chicken world, there are five breeds that most flock owners count on to hatch eggs: Silkies, Cochins, Brahmas, Orpingtons, and Old English Games.
Two other factors to consider besides the broodiness is if they will be good mamas to the chicks. A young hen may struggle with their first clutch where an older mama will not. Also, you want to have several broody hens, at least 3 per clutch in case the first mama decides to walk off the job. Then you can slip the eggs under one or both of your stand-bys with no loss of life.
Hanging out in your coop a bit each day will help you to notice a hen that has gone broody. Many hens will sit in a nest, but a broody hen takes sitting to a whole new level. Here are a few identifiers:
- She only comes out of the nest two times per day
- When she does come out her excrement is very large from waiting
- When you go to reach for an egg, the hen will puff up and growl at you, which may turn into pecking or biting you.
- She is more aggressive towards her flock mates.
- She has missing feathers on her breast and belly, many times till she is bare.
If your sweet hen is exhibiting these signs, Yep, you have a broody hen.
However, when you’re purchasing eggs to hatch, you may want to go one step further by putting unfertilized eggs or golf balls under the hen for a week as a trial.
That’s one piece of the hatching puzzle. Let’s take a look at the egg side of this hatching.
Whether you order eggs or use the ones from your flock, check them over for abnormalities, correct size, shape, and any cracking. If you start with the best egg helps, this helps increase the viability of a chick.
If you take the time to prepare several factors of the hatching process, you will have a more successful outcome. Things like location and security of the nesting area, marking eggs, and recording on a calendar.
Nesting Box Location
A nesting box is where the magic happens. There are two schools of thought on the best location of a nesting box. Some flock owners have more success with a brooding area outside of the coop and some inside of the coop.
If you decide to let your hen hatch her clutch in the standard coop nesting boxes, there is a benefit of the chicks being assimilated into the flock easier because they were born and raised there. However, another hen may take the opportunity to hop in the nest while mom is away. They can cause damage to the eggs by being too rough or pecking them.
Relocating them to a different area increases their survival rate but may cause the chicks to be picked on more severely when they come back into the flock. It also can be a hardship on the hen spending three weeks alone. Remember, chickens are social animals, and they need to be with each other.
The decision is yours because you know your flock best.
If you decide to move your hen, always do it at night, carefully removing the eggs from under the hen first. Make sure you are wearing gloves as she may be feisty. Then move the eggs to the new nest and then move the hen. Set the hen next to the nest, giving her a chance to get used to the idea. This prevents any eggs from getting broken or damaged.
Moving a hen this way comes with risks like she may refuse to sit on them to the point of coming out of being broody at all.
Preparing the Nest and Eggs
Some standard recommendations for the nest are to make sure it is clean and has plenty of fresh straw or bedding. You’ll want a lip of at least five to six-inch so the chicks cannot fall out and label it if you have other family members helping you gather eggs. That way, someone doesn’t mistake her eggs for ones to be collected.
When you place the eggs in the nest, mark them with an X very gently with a pencil. This way, you know which eggs were in the clutch and can remove any eggs that other hens decide to add.
One last thing to prepare, and that’s keeping a record of how many eggs, the date the hen started sitting, and mark with a red circle day ten of the process, so you know when to candle the eggs.
Keeping a record is especially crucial if you have more than one clutch going at a time, which happens in spring and early summer.
The wait begins. Cross off the dates on your calendar as the days goes by creeping ever closer to hatching day.
Now is an excellent time to keep an eye on your little mama. Make sure she is eating and drinking. You may have a dedicated hen and have to remove her from the nest to eat and drink. While she is out of the nest also check her for any health concerns
It is impressive to see how a hen will turn the eggs many times a day, keep the humidity at the correct temperature by plucking feathers from her chest and even remove rotten eggs from the nest.
Daily, check the eggs to make sure there are no extras in the nest and for any cracked or rotten eggs.
Once you’re hen and eggs are taken care of, its time to prepare your brooding area. Each brooding area needs security, feed, water, and the ability of the hen to see the rest of the flock.
Many flock owners establish a corner of the coop for a brooding area. This area enables the hen to stay in the coop and protect the chicks from an aggressive rooster or hens.
You are almost to the halfway point, and this is an excellent time to candle the eggs to make sure you have a viable chick growing. To find out more information about candling, go to Candling Chicken Eggs Day by Day.
A few tips about candling when you have a broody hen are to do it at night because the hen is more at rest during that time. To alleviate her stress, put fake eggs underneath her as you candle the eggs in a nearby shed or your home.
Candling prevents the worst-case scenario of having an egg explode under your hen and all over the other eggs. Gently wash the eggs and the hen; however, this may not be enough to save all your chicks due to the porous shell of the egg.
It’s hatching day! Around Day 21 or so, you will hear the cheeping of new chicks. Today you will want to check your hen and chicks often, especially if you have a first-time mama.
However, do not help the chicks in the hatching process in any way as it can be fatally harmful to them. The mama hen will know what to do.
Your job is if your hen’s nest is in the coop to make sure no other hens are bothering her or the chicks that the hen doesn’t leave once they start to hatch.
If that happens, place the remaining eggs under your backup broody hen to finish the hatching process.
Once the chicks are all hatched and dry, you can move them to the brooding area you have prepared.
If you have them separated in the coop, you will want to keep an eye on the integrity of your enclosure to make sure none of the rest of the flock can enter.
Some flock owners allow the hen to brood in the open coop without an enclosure, and maybe your flock is gentle enough to do this. Unfortunately, you may lose a few chicks to aggression from the rest of the flock if you choose this method.
In the brooding area, the mother hen will teach the chicks how to eat, drink, and scratch. She will keep them warm and do all the work raising them.
If you separate them from the flock when you’re ready to rejoin them in, try a few days of only putting them with the flock during the day and separated at night. This routine gives your mama hen a chance to get them acclimated to the flock and still get some rest at night.
Eventually, the chicks will integrate to sleeping on the roost with the rest of the flock at night. Then the mama hen will feel her job is done!
Aren’t broody hens amazing? Hatching chicks with them is much easier for the flock owner as long as you do a little preparation beforehand.
If you used the broody hen method for hatching, we’d love to see pictures and hear all about it.
If you haven’t, we hope these tips will help you out to hatch some chicks real soon.
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