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How To Hatch Eggs With A Broody Hen (Tips and Advice)

Tips For Hatching Eggs With A Broody Hen

Certain varieties of hens become broody quite easily while others may take a bit of prompting to get into the broody kind of mood. Hatching your very own baby chicks is delightful and extremely rewarding, not to mention very economic. You know just what breed of chicken you are getting and that the parents were healthy and cared for properly. 

However, there can also be challenges with hatching your own eggs. Commercial egg-laying farmers don’t want their hens to brood because that means they stop laying and just sit on the eggs. For this reason, the instinct has been bred out of many hens. 

That’s why heritage chicken breeds are the best brooders. These heritage breeds have retained their natural instincts to brood. If you want to let your hen hatch her eggs, you should make sure you have a good game plan to ensure success. 

How to Tell If Your Hen Is Broody

tips for hatching eggs with a broody hen

You may be wondering how you can tell if your hen does go broody. You can read all the warning signs below or watch this YouTube video for a great visual of a hen gone broody.

Star Milling Company explains that when the sunshine gets brighter, warmer, and longer, this is the time your hen may go broody. Maternal instincts and hormones have kicked in, telling her it’s time to hatch eggs. 

Your normally docile and friendly hen can turn from Miss Jekyll into Miss Hide. And hide she will. She will burrow deep into her nesting box and emit sounds when you approach her that range from intense clucking to downright growling. 

It won’t matter that the eggs are not fertilized. She will try and hatch anything around her, even a ping pong ball. Her only concern will be sitting on the nest, gathering everything around her that resembles an egg shape, and sitting on them for 21 days until they hatch.  

Signs That Your Hen is Broody:

  • The most obvious sign is her reluctance to leave the nest.
  • Sitting in a nest when there are no eggs
  • Pecking your hand, clucking or growling at you
  • Chest feathers are missing
  • Combs and wattles will be paler
  • Leaving the nest briefly for food and water then returning
  • Broody poop is larger and more smelly than normal
  • Body becomes flatter to create a low profile in the nest
  • She will consume small amounts of water and food

Read More: How To Stop A Broody Hen (6 Tips)

How To Help Make A Hen Go Broody

hatching your own chicks with a broody hen

If spring is in full bloom and none of your hens are broody, what can you do if you want to hatch eggs? First and foremost, you do need a rooster. The rest of the process will not happen if you don’t have fertilized eggs.  

Some people feel you can’t force a chicken to brood. While others have reported that you can coax a hen to become broody if it’s a variety that has maintained their natural instinct to brood. 

Here are 3 tips to help your hen feel the mothering instinct:

Build a Brooding Box

The first step is to buy or build a brooding box. This is a small enclosed nesting box connected to the run where she can feel isolated yet still protected. 

Use Ceramic Eggs

Go to your local farm and feed store and purchase wooden or ceramic eggs. They call these “dummy eggs”. Some people have used golf balls with success as well. You can use anything that will trick your hen into thinking she has several eggs under her.

Gradually Add Eggs To Her Clutch

Encourage the hen by adding an egg to the nest until she is sitting on at least a half a dozen eggs. If you place the fake egg next to her and she rolls it under her body, you have achieved success. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests if your hen is feeling the tendency to be broody, a few fake eggs can tip the scales. 

How Many Eggs Can A Broody Hen Sit On

Depending on the breed of chicken, the number of eggs they will naturally lay and hatch will vary. Why might you be concerned with how many eggs a broody hen can sit on? Maybe you are buying fertilized eggs to put under your hen because you don’t have a rooster. Perhaps you have only one hen going broody but have a plethora of fertilized eggs.

With that said, depending on the size of the hen, you can usually put up to a dozen eggs in her care.

rhode island red chicken can be broody and hatch their own eggs

The only factor that determines the number of eggs is that they are all safely concealed under her body and not exposed to the outside air. Don’t overburden your hen to the point she is uncomfortable, but if the eggs all fit nicely, you are good to go.

If her broodiness takes you by surprise, you may want to consider moving the hen and her nest. This has to be done very carefully or it may disrupt the natural process of sitting on her “clutch” or nest of eggs.

When You Might Need To Move A Broody Hen:

  • If you find her in a hidden location and you want to be able to reintroduce her and the chicks back into the flock
  • Your hen might have chosen a vulnerable location to nest and you want to keep her safe from predators
  • She might be nesting in a place that has no access to water and food
  • As she lays, you want to mark the eggs to keep track of when they were laid and when they will hatch
  • She might be in too public of an area and need a quieter place

How To Move A Broody Hen

Moving a hen will be extremely stressful for her. The risks for moving her include crushing her eggs in panic or abandoning the nest. She has chosen the spot she feels safe for hatching her eggs. You can choose to accept she has chosen well based on her instincts or take the following precautions when moving her to a new location.

  • Set up the nesting box in advance. Whether you have chosen a nesting box in the coop or a new box in a safe and enclosed area, make sure the box, nesting material, and food and water are in place. 
  • Fill the nesting box with as close to the same material as she chose, as possible. 
  • Wait until dark to move her as she will be more lethargic and less likely to panic
  • Put on soft gloves to protect you if she pecks and to protect her un-feathered underbelly
  • First transport the eggs to the new nest
  • Carry the hen carefully with her wings against your body
  • Place her near but not on the eggs to prevent her from crushing them in panic
  • Walk away and come back a little later to see if she has accepted the new nesting area

How Long Can A Broody Hen Leave Her Eggs?

Hens will typically leave their eggs twice a day when nesting. It’s important that you don’t lock them in the nest and not allow them to leave. They need the exercise and will lose the strength in their legs if they don’t leave the nest.

In nature, a hen will lay several eggs before beginning to sit on them. She will not begin to incubate them until she has laid a full clutch. The clutch might be days old before she begins to nest. A hen knows instinctively that the embryos won’t start to develop until the eggs reach a certain temperature. 

how many eggs can a broody hen sit on

Once committed to incubation, a chicken will keep her eggs between 95 degrees and 104 degrees F. How long she is away from her nest will depend on air temperature. Hens have little internal clocks that tell them how long it’s okay to be away from the nest. 

Also, when the hens exit the nest, this is the best time for then to relieve themselves. You don’t want them pooping in the nest as it will lead to sanitation problems for the chicks when they hatch.

A hen will usually return to the nest in about an hour. This will be longer or shorter depending on the breed and personality of the hen. The eggs can be left for a while but the egg temperature can’t drop below  80 degrees F before problems will begin to occur with chick development. 

Broody Hens Do’s and Don’ts

Depending on whether your want your chickens to brood over their eggs and hatch them or if you don’t want a broody hen, there is a great YouTube video that explains what to do and what not do to with your broody hen.

FAQ on Hatching Eggs With Broody Hens

What are the broodiest varieties of chickens?

When it comes to standard-sized hen, here is a list of those most likely to brood easily.

  • Buff Orpington
  • Cochins
  • Light Brahmas
  • Australorp
  • Buff and Partridge Rocks
  • Dark Cornish

How long does it take the eggs to hatch?

After incubation begins, chickens will hatch their eggs in 21 days. 

How do you mark your eggs when trying to hatch them?

Since a hen will continue to lay eggs until she has a full clutch (8 to 12 eggs), it is advisable to mark the eggs with the date 21 days after they were laid. 

You can use a sharpie with no ill effects. A pencil will rub off. This will help you keep track of eggs should begin hatching. The incubation period will start on the same day so the hatching should be done within a few hours of each other. 

Should I help with the hatching process?

You may be tempted to help the chicks out of their shells. They seem to struggle. It is best to let them do this process alone. You will upset the hen if you are too close. You can take a quick peek to see how things are progressing. 

On very rare occasions, a new mom may get confused and peck her chick to death. You might want to intervene in a rare case like this. Otherwise, once a couple of chicks have hatched, leave them to their own devices. If one doesn’t survive, it most likely had health issues. 

Can You Place Other Chickens Eggs Under a Broody Hen?

Yes. You can put eggs under a hen that don’t belong to her. She will not know the difference nor will she care..

A Story of a Free Range Broody Hen

Broody hens will go to great pains to hide their nests. If you want your free-range bird to hatch her eggs you can let her find a place of her own choosing and let nature take its course. Nature may also take its course and all the babies may be eaten before they make it back to the coop. 

Hens can be very inventive in finding a safe place to hatch their chicks. For example, there was a broody hen that hid in the barn loft, behind the hay, close to the eves between the roof and the loft floor. This broody hen laid her eggs and patiently waited for 21 days.

chicks hatched by a broody hen

Her waiting paid off. 11 healthy baby chicks shed their shells and fluffed their down, ready to make their entrance into the world. Miss broody had effectively stayed hidden and protected her unhatched babies. Success!

The problem with the broody hen’s plan was how she was going to get her chicks out of the barn loft. As the chicks started to wander around, they discovered the gap between the roof and the loft floor. The first brave soul launched like a little yellow paratrooper using a deflated parachute. She didn’t fly so much as plummet.

Far below the frantic hen, the hen’s owners witnessed the first baby falling from above. They didn’t arrive in time to catch her, but fortunately she landed unharmed in the soft shavings of the horse stall.

rhode island red making a nest in the hay in a barn

Just as they looked up to solve the mystery, the rest of the fleet made their jump. One after another they made the leap. The hen owners dashed like maniacs trying to catch the babies as they rained from the sky. Only one didn’t successfully make the landing. Soon after, mom and 10 of her chicks were reunited at ground zero. 

What’s the point of sharing this story with you? If you want all your free-range hen’s eggs to safely hatch, you may want to consider confining her to the coop. Free range chickens can make excellent mothers, but by allowing her to choose her nesting location

Final Thoughts

Hatching eggs with a broody hen is fun, exciting and rewarding. The basics of doing it really are pretty simple. All you need is a hen who’s broody, fertilized eggs and a safe location for her to keep her eggs warm.

If you’ve never done it before, I highly recommend it! Even if you don’t have a rooster on hand, you can still get a hold of fertilized eggs for your broody hen. Cackle Hatchery provides fertilized eggs for a variety of different chicken breeds. I recommend you check them out if you wan to try hatching eggs with your own hen.

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