Broody hens are incredibly useful for hatching and raising chicks.
They do far better than any incubator and you do not have to fuss around with temperature or humidity settings. Your broody will do all of this for you without a science degree!
She will happily take on the work of incubating, hatching and raising those chicks for you.
Not only that but she will also integrate the chicks into your existing flock.
In this article we will explain exactly how to hatch chicks using a broody hen. We will also share some tips and tricks to make sure everything goes smoothly for you…
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Broody Hens 101
A broody hen is a hen that wants to hatch her own chicks.
When she goes broody her hormones are telling her that she needs to sit and hatch some eggs and raise chicks.
Sadly, this trait is almost looked upon as a defect in the modern world. When a hen goes broody and sits, she stops laying eggs. In our production-oriented society this means she is not being productive because she is not laying eggs.
Many of the breeds that are popular today have had broodiness almost bred out of them and this has ultimately been to the benefit of the egg industry. Fortunately though there are some breeds that just love to be mothers still!
These are the hens that will diligently sit on their eggs until they hatch.
How do you know when your hen has gone broody?
Broody hens are not difficult to spot. She will spend all of her time in the nesting area. Your once docile and loving hen will now try to peck you if you dare to put your hand in her nest. Broodies will also fluff out her feathers to make herself look bigger and more intimidating. She may even mutter and growl at the other hens.
This will usually happen during spring.
If you watch closely you may even see her stealing other eggs to put in her nest until she feels that she has enough.
During the next 21 days she will rarely leave the nest, only to eat, drink, poop and maybe a quick dust bath.
You can read Broody Hen Everything You Need To Know for more information.
Using Hatching Eggs Or A Rooster?
So, you have a broody hen that is ready to sit but you have no fertilized eggs.
What do you do?
There are a couple of ways to deal with this. You can either buy some hatching eggs or bring a rooster in to mate with your hens.
If you choose to buy fertilized (hatching) eggs then make sure you use a reputable source.
You can buy specific breed hatching eggs from several online sources for a reasonable price. Do not worry that you have a Silkie broody but you want to hatch some Wyandottes – your hen will not care one way or another because all she wants is babies!
If you choose this option, be sure to give her some fake eggs to keep her sitting while the eggs make their way to you.
Something to note with hatching eggs.
When they travel a distance in the mail system they run a high risk of being damaged, so never expect a 100% hatch rate.
Once your eggs arrive you need to open the package and see if they all arrived in one piece. You can candle them to check for cracks in the shell. Now you need to let them rest for 24 hours (pointed end down) in a cool (not cold) area.
This resting period lets the contents of the egg settle back into place, especially the air cell which is vital for the viability of the chick.
After 24 hours you can start to slip the eggs gently under your broody and remove the fake eggs.
This is a critical phase as she may decide not to accept the eggs.
If she accepts the eggs then all is good, you just need to wait now.
Your second option is to use a rooster.
You can introduce a rooster to your flock and hope that he will get down to business and fertilize the eggs.
Typically you will either hire him for a few days, or you can take a few hens to him.
Roosters are always happy to mate with your hens but your girls may feel otherwise. If they really dislike him, they may refuse to mate or simply mate but eject his sperm. It is best to make sure the rooster you hire for the job is a gentleman and careful with your hens.
Ideally the rooster will stay with your hens for about a week or so to make sure he is accepted and can do his job.
Just remember though it will take several days before the eggs become fertile.
The easiest way to check is to break one of the eggs and see if it is fertile or not.
How To Care For A Broody Hen
Once your broody is sitting on fertilized eggs all you have to do is wait.
Broodies tend to hate any interference, no matter how well intentioned it is!
This can make caring for her a challenge.
Probably the most important thing to watch for is that she is eating and drinking.
Some first time broodies are so focused on hatching that they forget to eat and drink, so they can need encouragement.
If she is not then you need to intervene. Since you cannot drag her off the nest, the next best thing is to feed her on the nest. Mix her a small bowl of wet mash (chicken feed and water) and place it within her reach. I have had good success with this method and the hen in question thought it was wonderful.
By feeding her on the nest you are helping to remind her she needs to take care of herself.
Once you have fertilized eggs and your broody is sitting you will need to keep track of her progress.
Sometimes a broody will continue to collect eggs even after she has started sitting. These eggs will need to removed otherwise the hatch is going to drag on.
How do you know which eggs are which though?
You will need to mark the eggs.
Use a regular pencil and simply place an X on the eggs under her.
Every couple of days you should check the clutch and make sure there are no additional eggs!
I have found from experience the best time to check those eggs is when she has hopped off the nest to go eat. You have to be quick but it saves her getting stressed and cranky.
Lice and Pests
Lice can be a real problem for broody hens.
With severe infestations a broody may abandon her nest.
They sit on the nest being bitten constantly. If you find the nest crawling with lice then you will need to remove all the bedding and clean the area well (put down a good amount of poultry dust), remake the nest and replace the eggs.
Even if you do not find any lice, it is a good idea to sprinkle the nest liberally with poultry dust.
If your hen will allow it then dust her too and pay special attention to her abdomen area which can become very irritated.
Private Nesting Area
Lots of people like to move their broody to a safe and private nesting area once she has started sitting.
This is optional and depends on a few things.
If she has chosen to sit out under the rose bush, then yes, she does need to be moved somewhere safe and away from predators.
Whereas if she has taken over one of the nesting boxes in the coop, then no, she does not have to be moved. She chose that spot because it is safe and private enough for her.
Moving a broody is incredibly stressful to her and a stressed broody may decide to no longer sit or break eggs. My preference is to leave her be if at all possible.
Also remember then if you remove her from the flock then at some point she will have to re-introduce herself (another stressor for her). Whereas if you leave her in full view of the flock, she can still interact with them if she wants. I have found that chicks raised in the coop rather than separate, integrate much better.
If you have to move her then use a chicken crate.
Some people like to candle the eggs to check for viability.
If your broody is mellow and does not mind you handling the eggs, by all means you can candle. But if she gets stressed out and attacks you each time then it may be best just to leave them alone.
Mama will know which eggs are going to hatch and will often exclude eggs from the nest if she thinks there is something wrong with it.
You will need to have your incubator ready on standby just in case something goes wrong.
First time broodies may decide to give up before the 21 days so you need to be ready to take over the hatching process.
However most broodies see it through though and hatch out those little peepers without any problems.
What To Do Once The Chicks Have Hatched?
After 21 days your chicks will hatch!
Once they have hatched there really is not much for you to do.
Mama will do most of the work.
You will need to provide suitable chick feed and a shallow waterer for them. You should also keep an eye on the nest area as it can get pretty dirty – change out the bedding once every couple of days.
Ideally you will have a covered pen area where mama and the chicks can hang out, but if not then do not worry. Mama usually manages to keep them out of danger and trouble.
At first she will not be ok with you handling her chicks. However as they get a bit older, she will be more inclined to allow you to handle them. See how she goes but do not stress her by insisting.
Chicks hatched under a broody will not be as friendly as those hatched in an incubator because they have not imprinted on you as their mother. If you can handle them as chicks they will become familiar and comfortable with you.
Read What To Expect Bringing Baby Chicks Home For The First Time for more help.
Common Problems Hatching Eggs With A Broody
Amazingly there are only a few problems that can happen when using a broody to hatch eggs.
The most common problem is your broody abandons the nest.
This can happen because you moved the nest, or because there was some other type of disruption in the nesting area. Some broodies are fanatical and will not tolerate any disturbance to the nest area.
If she does leave the nest then there is not much you can do to change her mind. You will need to incubate those eggs in your incubator.
The other problem that can happen is that sadly your broody dies. This is extremely rare and unusual but it does happen. You will usually find this is because of a predator or because your broody refused to leave the nest and starves to death.
If the eggs are still warm you can incubate them using your incubator.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take for chicken eggs to hatch under a hen?
It will take around 21 days for the eggs to hatch.
How long can a broody hen leave her eggs?
Around 20-30 minutes.
Any longer than this and the eggs can cool down too much.
How many eggs can a broody hen sit on?
A broody can cover 12-15 regular sized eggs.
If your hen is a bantam hen she can cover 12 bantam eggs or around 6 regular sized eggs.
You should not be able to see eggs peeping out from under her.
If you do not have the time and energy to fuss around with incubators, but want some chicks then a broody hen is the ideal choice!
Some breeds like Silkies, Cochins and Orpingtons are born to be broodies.
Your job as flock keeper is to keep her safe and healthy. During this time you will need to make sure predators cannot get to her as she is literally a sitting target.
Fanatical broodies (usually first timers) may need to be treated specially. If they won’t get off the nest to eat or drink, then you must supply wet mash to keep her going.
Once the chicks have hatched she will also do a fine job of teaching her offspring all they need to know and integrate them into the flock
Have you used a broody to hatch chicks? Let us know in the comments section below…