Letting a broody hen hatch chicks is the cheapest, most natural way to increase your flock. I always prefer to do this over ordering chicks. Although she needs no help from you, there are a few things you can do to make it easier for her. Learn what you should expect and what you can do.
It’s exciting to me to watch the hen I’ve chosen get broody and begin to set. The anticipation is almost too much for me.
How To Recognize A Broody Hen
A hen that is broody is one who wants to sit on her eggs and produce chicks. It’s the most natural thing in the world, right? It should be but most non-heritage breeds of chickens have been bred out of this instinct. This is one of the reasons we only raise heritage breeds.
Not all heritage breeds are known for broodiness, but most of them will become broody if given the chance. Many of them are serious about hatching chicks. Choosing the best breed for backyard flocks is important based on your goals.
If you’re wondering how to recognize a broody hen, here are some indicators to look for:
- She may be aggressive. If you attempt to touch the eggs or remove them, she will peck you. She will drive away other hens to safeguard her brood. You may even hear a low guttural sound that resembles a growl.
- She won’t budge from her nest except for two-three times a day to grab a quick bite, drink, and poop. Once she hard sets she will get up only once a day if that.
- The brooding hen consumes very little food and water.
- Broody hens sometimes have bigger droppings than normal. They may also smell a bit more than usual.
- She may pluck out her breast feathers and line her nest with them.
- She will sit on the nest even when there are no eggs or even sit on fake eggs. Some people use ceramic or plastic eggs to teach their young hens where to lay. I often use this method.
- Her comb and wattles will become pale pink even whiteish.
- She will flatten out on the nest. I’m amazed at how flat a hen can get when setting on her eggs. I think she does this to hide from predators. Very little food and water are consumed by the brooding hen.
How Long Does it Take Eggs to Hatch?
From the time the hen hard sets until the first egg hatches is 21 days.
The term hard set means when she no longer gets off the nest for anything other than a quick bite or drink. There will come a time when she will only get up once a day for this.
In the beginning, she will be up and down periodically throughout the day and will set at night. When she has the number of eggs she wants or feels she should have, usually between 8-12, she will begin to display broody behavior.
The only negative thing I can think of when letting hens hatch a clutch of chicks is they are more likely to be nervous around humans than those raised in an incubator. I find if I spend time with them in the breeding yard then they become quite used to me.
If the mother has been handled by me, I find her chicks are more accepting of my presence as well.
A Word of Caution Before Letting Her Set
To be on the safe side, wait a few days before you decide to let her hatch the eggs. After a few days, a hen’s hormones/instincts may return to normal. This is usually an age or breed related issue. Nothing is nastier than a nest of half-formed eggs.
What To Do When the Eggs Hatch
Really, there’s nothing to do. She will sit on the eggs for three days after the first egg hatches. This allows the other eggs more time to hatch.
The first chick can live three days on the yolk it ingests just before it hatches. This is what allows hatchery chicks to be shipped the day they’re hatched without food or water in the box.
The mother hen will get up on the third day and begin teaching her chicks to eat and drink. She will set again at night or throughout the day if her chicks need rest.
A Personal Experience
Finally, the day arrived. I heard peep peep from the nest! It’s will be three days before she gets them up for me to see. Three days! What agony!
Mammie would not let me see a thing until she got up. She had set on 19 eggs. She hatched 12, three were rotten, two were late maturing so she didn’t hatch them, and two were hatched late.
She had two chicks hatch out five days after the first chick because it’s warm here and she set on them at night. But once she has to be up feeding and caring for the oldest chicks, it’s hard for those born late to live.
We tried to save the last two, but it was not possible. I believe they were too chilled once I got to them. I brought them in and warmed them, but it just wasn’t to be.
Tips For Setting a Broody Hen
- If you see the hen is dedicated to the nest, you can add eggs from other chickens, ducks, geese, any poultry, and she will hatch them.
- Since she needs 8-12 eggs to hard-set, adding them to her instead of waiting for her to lay them will make them hatch all about the same time.
- We have special breeding yards set up where we place hens with a rooster of their breed to mate. We add eggs from the main coop to her nest to allow her to hatch other breeds as well.
- If you have a hen that is going to set, it’s important to give her a safe area to hatch out. You can use a crate, a separate chicken yard, a box, anything will do.
- If you have to move her to a private area, move her at night. Chickens are like zombies at night. You can do almost anything with them and they won’t care. This is why a secure coop is important to protect them from this vulnerability.
- If possible, don’t remove her from the sight of the main flock. This will mean you will have to reintroduce her once she is finished raising the chicks. This is usually about 5-6 weeks.
- She will begin laying eggs again when she is ready to leave her chicks. You can remove her from them at 4-5 weeks if you want to. I leave her with them as long as possible.
- She will remove any rotten eggs or any egg she doesn’t want in her nest. Trust her.
What You Can Do For Her Before and After She Hatches Her Brood
I watch my hens just because I enjoy the process so much. I often go into their yards and sit down for a chat. I watch as they carefully rotate their eggs to ensure equal warmth and coolness among their eggs.
- Deliver food and water and place them close to the nest. They may fuss at you for checking on them by chuttering and ruffling their feathers. If you get too close, they will peck at you.
- She will not be up for more than 5-10 minutes the once a day she is up. Take the opportunity to examine their nests, being careful to never handle the eggs or disturb the nest. I
- You will hear her cooing and clucking to their eggs.
- Remove the rotten eggs that are rolled from the nest.
- If you aren’t sure that it’s rotten or think it may have been an accident, mark the egg with a pencil or non-toxic pen and replace it in the nest.
- If it is rolled out again, she doesn’t want it in there and you should remove it.
- Keep fresh water and feed available and access to secure free ranging if possible so she can teach the chicks.
Old-Timey Saying About Chick Sex and Weather
My grandmother told me that if the weather is hot when the hen is setting you’ll get more roosters and if the weather is cooler, spring or fall, you’ll get more hens. I’ve never really tested this theory, but she never steered me wrong.
Watching the mother hen teach her chicks to eat, what not to eat, to drink, to catch bugs, to come to her calls, watching their little legs practice scratching for food…awww….Oh, the joy!
Letting your broody hen hatch eggs is a fun, cheap, and natural way to increase your flock.
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