Monday, 11 June 2007

Hatching Eggs Naturally

From time to time one or more of your hens may go broody (most likely during the spring and summer months). You may wish to take advantage of their broodiness and put some fertilized eggs under them to hatch out naturally (the broody hen does not have to be the natural mother, so you can buy some ready to hatch eggs if you do not have a rooster yourself). Generally, it is best to choose a medium sized hen for the job (i.e one that is not too fat and clumsy) – she should also preferably have a gentle temperament and not be too much of a fidget.

To hatch her eggs the hen will need a comfortable nest box which is big enough for her turn around in and adjust herself as necessary. It should be positioned so that the other hens cannot interfere with her. Generally, a good size for a nest box is around 12x12. A large soap box (or anything similar) with two-thirds of the top removed, and turned on its side would make a suitable nestbox (see illustration below).

Set on the floor of the laying room or on a shelf with the open side toward the wall but a few feet away from it, a box of this kind can make a nice secluded nesting place when needed - when a hen becomes broody, simply move the box a bit nearer to the wall to keep the other hens out (alternatively you can partition the broody hen and nest in her own area).

The nest should be made of some soft material, broken oat straw or hay, carefully spread out and pressed down, lightly hollowed and with the edges raised a little to prevent the eggs from rolling out. If the bottom is made too flat the eggs roll away from the hen and she cannot cover them; if too convex, they will roll close together, and when the hen enters the nest and steps on them or among them they do not separate or roll away and a fouled nest is the result. It also helps to put some feed and water in reach of the sitting hen as ocassionally you can get a hen that is so intent on hatching she forgets to leave the nest to eat and drink (most will get off the
nest at least once a day).

If you need to replace non-fertile eggs with fertile eggs (for instance if you do not have a rooster and have bought in some fertile eggs), it is easiest to make the switch after dark – just reach under your broody hen (or lift her up), and swap them in. Don’t worry if she growls or tries to peck you, it is perfectly normal (hence the reason why it is easiest to do it at night when she is sleepy!).

The above photo has been sent in by Susan Taylor of her recent successful Broody hatch : 2 Columbian Pekins and 3 Belgian D'Anvers chicks - congratulations Susan!


Anonymous said...

We had two hens that hatched out one nest of chicks. They would both set on the nest at the same time. No one that I have asked has ever heard of this.

The biggest part of the flock are Domineckers, but the two hens were mixed, possibly with some type of game chicken - and one was more brown, the other more black.

Anyone ever heard of this?

Anonymous said...

I also have 2 hens sharing a nest together right now,their mother was a game hen and father is a rhode island red.Weird to watch them share the nest though

Anonymous said...

I have several hens that are sharing a broody loft and setting on the same clutch at the same time.One is a Barred Rock,one a Buff Orf,one Ameraucana and last a Blk Astrolorpe.They just took over a corner and they all sit on the clutch at the same time.

Anonymous said...

the part about 2 hens in one box is right..
our pekin bantam hens do exactly the same
as we got 6 hens, 1 lays in 1 nest box, 2 lay in another nest box together and then 3 seem to like to lay in 1 nest box together while the rooster perches lol :)

SHART said...

i have a hen which i think is broody.
so i kept some eggs for it to sit on it.after a few days.the eggs were covered with there a problem or is it just fine.

Unknown said...

Egg shells have a 'bloom' which protects them so although it is not ideal to have poop on the eggs, it is also not usually recommended to wash them as that will remove the 'bloom'. If there is a lot of poop perhaps the worst could be gently chipped off with your thumbnail or very gently with fine sand paper.

StuScrumpnBump said...

We have one hen who naturally hatched 3 beautiful chicks 3 weeks ago. we have read that they need to be separated after a certain amount of time but as we have a small garden and only one grown hen (the Mother) would they be ok to be left together. we haven't determined the sex yet but we wont be keeping any cockerels. Any advice would be much appreciated! thank you x

Unknown said...

Often the mother hen will continue to look after her chicks until around 6-8 weeks old and then she might start to shoo them away to fend for themselves more. When roosters get to their 'teenage' period there may possibly be the beginnings of trouble if there are multiple roosters and they decide to fight over who gets the girl(s) but if that happens it probably would not be until they are laying eggs/crowing which is likely to be at least 5-7 months old.

Lilace Guignard said...

Help! After reading around I decided to move my broody hen who has been sitting on (and collecting) eggs for a while. She now had 13 so I figured it was a good time for me to move her somewhere quiet and low--her laying box is very high. We had a small portable coop with 2 laying boxes. But either the box was too small or she was confused because there was a roost (she ignored the roost in the main coop), or she just wanted her fav spot back. This morning she was on the roost and some of the eggs had been pulled out of the laying box. Because of the heat wave even the nights have been warm here in PA. Do you think the eggs could be still viable? Should I move her and them back to her fav box in the main coop and stop interfering? Or maybe another box so that the others can lay in the favorite box and she'll stop collecting? I'm not sure what to try now. Thanks!

Unknown said...

I have known hatches still be successful even after a hen has gone awol for a few hours. If she is still broody and wants to pick up where she left off there is still a chance they will hatch. You might be able to tell if the chicks are still growing by candling a few eggs when she next leaves to get food etc.