Hatching Eggs with a Broody Hen

Hen eggs normally hatch after around 21 days, though the larger eggs sometimes take a little longer. And don't forget the "counting" starts 24 hours after the eggs are first put under, so really that is 22 anyway! The hatch sometimes is completed with 24 hours, but can take 2-3 days.

Don't disturb the broody from day 18, if she wants to get off the nest she will but will probably sit tight. which is best for the chicks

It is best if you can have your broody sit somewhere quiet and undisturbed which will be convenient when the chicks have hatched, and it causes less problems if this is away from the usual nesting boxes, as the other hens may keep trying to lay in with her which causes squabbles and often results in broken eggs. Also your broody may try to acquire any eggs laid within reach and you end up with a hen sitting on a huge and unmanageable quantity of eggs of differing ages.

You could set up a broody coop in your hen run if it is large enough, or it can be somewhere else completely as long as it is fox proof. The first custom made broody coop I purchased was nicely situated on the lawn just outside my bedroom window and I was awoken around 2am to find a fox had dug under and was pulling the broody out by her leg! A wire or wooden bottom to the coop solves this problem.

Traditionally people used to dig a "sod" of turf to make an artificial nest. It was turned over and arranged so was a dip in the centre to form a shallow cup for the eggs, but hay or straw is adequate, and the hen will arrange it to suit herself as she sits. It was also traditional to set an odd number of eggs, i.e. 7, 11, 13.

If you have to move your broody from the nesting boxes, first arrange the area you want her sit in. It is best to do the moving after dark. Have the new nest ready with a couple of the eggs she has been sitting on and which are already warm.

If she pecks you when you try to take the eggs from under her wear thick leather gardening gloves, and look away, rather than in her eye which hens find threatening and then they will often fly off squawking thereby damaging eggs.

After you have transferred a couple of eggs to her new nest, go quietly back and lift her off the nest, keeping her wings tight to her body to discourage fluttering which will stir her into action make her likely to jump straight off her new nest.

Place her quietly on the nest and cover the broody coop almost completely with an old blanket or something similar to almost exclude the light. Mostly you will find her on her new nest in the morning. If all looks well, that night remove the old eggs and gently put the eggs you want to hatch up against her breast and she should soon tuck them in. Also make sure she can easily cover all her eggs, for if not, as she moves them around in the nest each egg will get chilled and warmed in turn, resulting in a completely lost clutch. If, when using a broody you find she rejects an egg after a few days, bow to her superior knowledge and take it away. She knows it has stopped developing and doen't want it to break and affect the other eggs.

Don't put her food and water within reach, but at the other end of the run if there is one attached. If she is sitting very tight and you think she isn't eating or drinking, after 2 or 3 days you may have to take her off the nest so she can have something to eat and drink, and defecate.

If you put her food and water within reach she may not get off the nest at all and will have to "poo" on the eggs. The bacteria in the poo after a couple of weeks at body temperature can result in the death of the chicks.

If you do need to lift her off the nest do so gently, and make sure she is not holding any eggs under her wings. If there has been an "accident" and she has broken an egg or messed in the nest try cleaning the eggs gently with wire wool or very fine sandpaper rather than washing them, as once an egg has had its protective bloom washed off bacteria can gain access, and may result in dead embryos. If you really must wash them make sure the water is slightly warmer than the eggs, as if it is cooler the pores in the egg will close drawing any bacteria inwards. And if you can get hold of any proper egg washing disinfectant so much the better.

Often, if I have taken a broody from the nest for food and exercise I throw her (obviously very lightly and gently) up into the air a little so she flutters down to land. The fluttering seems to encourage her to poo, and sitting hens do enormous and very smelly poos. She should then run around a bit, have something to eat and drink, perhaps a dust bath and then go back to the nest herself. By the way, do make sure your broody has no mites or lice before she begins to sit, as this can prove so distressing to the broody she may give up.

If you have moved her from her chosen nesting spot, and she has the freedom to return don't be surprised if she returns to that empty nest and sits on nothing at all rather than returning to your beautifully prepared spot complete with its rapidly cooling clutch of beautiful eggs. I knew an old farm worker who kept quite a few broodies each year, and their coops were in a row. Each hen had a curtain ring round its leg and they were tied with string to the coop to prevent them from fighting with each other and make sure they went back to the correct nest. The eggs can survive quite a while without heat, but it is much better if they do not have to.

Newly hatched chicks can easily live for 24 hours on the absorbed egg sac, but when they are due to hatch make sure within easy reach of the broody are chick crumbs, special small chick grit, and clean water in a container they cannot jump in and get wet, or even worst stuck. A shallow tray such as fits under a flower pot with a few pebbles in will do. Don't forget to allow enough for the broody to eat as well, she will show them how to eat, and will eat the chick food with them. If they are to be confined with no green food available then chickweed or salad leaves should be offered.

Good luck with your eggs. Watching a broody care for her chicks is one of the pleasures in life.

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Purchasers Comments....

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