So, you’ve got a broody hen. What do you do with her? Firstly, she’s not just going to “get over it”. She’s going to continue sitting even though her eggs might not be fertilized, even though you continually remove the eggs, even though you keep removing her from the nest. So you need to decide if you want her hatching eggs or not.
Do you want chicks? If the answer is yes, proceed.
Do you have some place quiet you can house your hen and her newly hatched chicks? Hens that are going to hatch chicks should be separated from the flock. A broody hen that is sitting in a nest that others may use can be chased away by other hens. Eggs can be damaged, and the nest can be added to by other hens. And sometimes the hen will move to another nest on her own. She should be allowed to sit on her eggs without being disturbed and without threat of her chicks being injured. Also, keep in mind that moving her to certain areas may break her and she may no longer sit.
Do you have a rooster or plan on buying hatching eggs? Either will do! But if she’s not a hen that has hatched eggs before, please don’t spend a lot of money on hatching eggs she may not sit on without a backup plan, ie., an incubator.
Is it the right time of year? You really don’t want a hen sitting on eggs in the heat of the summer or in the dead of winter.
This is Abra, she’s never hatched eggs for me, but has adopted many chicks for me over the last 2 years. She’s a Wyandotte
So you’ve decided to go ahead and let her hatch, so where do you start?
Let me start by saying, you can’t make a hen go broody. You just have to wait. And some breeds go broody more often than others, some not at all.
A hen should have a nice quiet place to hatch eggs. I have a hen that will sit anywhere you give her a nest, another needs to be in my smaller coop in an actual nest box, but will break immediately after putting her in a rabbit pen.
Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. Some hens will lay a clutch of eggs herself, and sometimes they steal other hens eggs to sit on. I give mine the eggs I want to hatch. Make sure there’s plenty of bedding for the eggs, so none get accidentally broken. Also, make sure you don’t give more eggs than they can cover with their bodies. Keep in mind that chicks grow very fast and she will need to be able to fit them all under her for several weeks.
Keep an eye on your hen. She should leave the nest at least once a day to eat, drink and use the bathroom. Make sure you see feces somewhere, occasionally. If you don’t, you may want to chase her off the nest. I had one hen that was so dedicated to hatching, that she was actually soiling the eggs. This is not healthy for the eggs, you want them to be as clean as possible. Note* Do not wash hatching eggs. You will wash the protective coating off, called bloom. This allows bacteria to penetrate the eggs and possibly kill the chicks developing inside. Also, a hen that is not leaving the nest, is not eating or drinking, which can lead to her dying. I must tell you that broody hen poop is large and incredibly smelly. Don’t be alarmed.
A Marans hen with her single hatchling.
Cheeck the eggs when she leaves the nest. Remove any that may be broken, and replace the nesting material. After about 10 days, you should candle the eggs with a bright flashlight or candler. This is easier to do in lighter coloured eggs. In eggs that have a developing embryo will have a dark spot in it and veins coming from it. If the egg appears clear, toss it. There’s no point in letting her sit on eggs that won’t hatch. Plus they could explode, contaminating the good eggs.
A Marans hen camouflaging herself with shavings.
The last couple days, she may not leave the nest. Do not force her. She will leave the nest and call her chicks with her when she feels they are ready for their first feeding. She will show them the feeder and waterer and how to scratch in the ground and dust bathe and maybe even roost. Make sure the feeder has low enough sides that all chicks can reach and that it has chick starter feed in it. The waterer should also be low enough that they an drink from in, but not run through it or drown in it. Depending on the type of feeder and waterer you have, you may need to clean the shavings out a few times a day.
Medicated feed or non medicated feed?
I feed medicated. Medicated feed does NOT contain antibiotics. It contain amprolium, which is a coccidiostat. It helps build up the chicks’ immunity to coccidiosis. Coccidiosis can kill a chick very quickly. So, the choice is yours.
Every hen is different. Some will keep their chicks with them for months, some will want nothing more to do with them after several weeks, some will kill chicks as they hatch. Some hens will even sit on eggs for a couple weeks and decide they are done right before they hatch. And even if a hen had done well for you before, doesn’t mean they always will. There’s always a risk.
Abra’s sister. She hatched a few chicks after soiling the nest constantly. Thankfully, these guys came out healthy. Here she is showing them to the feeder.
Ive seen people say, oh you’ve got a broody! Let her hatch eggs! And others that have said they feel bad about breaking them up because it’s natures way! I’ll just keep taking the eggs from her! I’ll just keep letting her sit there! Why on earth would you think that’s okay? She’s not just going to stop being broody on her own. And if you’re not prepared for chicks, don’t let her hatch them. Broody hens don’t eat or drink much. They can die. They can become malnourished and dehydrated. If it’s too hot, they have heat stroke. If it’s too cold, they can freeze. Chickens need to eat to generate heat. Break her up!
A Marans hen in a rabbit pen with chicks she hatched out.
To break up a broody, put her in something that is uncomfortable. I use a dog crate for most of my hens. Give them food and water and a roost. Take them away from the coop, preferable where they can’t see it. The sooner you catch them, the easier it should be to break them. I’ve also put hens in a rabbit pen on bare floor overnight and that usually seems else work. One hen I had to put her in a box and drive her out to my parents place for her to be broken.
In all, hatching with a hen is easy, you just need to give her what she needs and monitor her a bit. It sure is fun to watch a hen teach her babies what they need to know.