Originally Posted by Flock Leader
Thank you for sharing your observations - I knew there was a connection between laying a clutch and setting, but I didn't know exactly what goes on there.
I do have to say, though, that we don't let our chickens keep a clutch of eggs anymore before they set. We had tried to do this before, and it resulted in a lot of spoiled/wasted eggs, eggs thrown out of the nesting box by other hens (before the prospective broody has set), confusion and general mess. So this is what we do now:
1. Collect all the eggs, every day.
2. Always keep about a dozen of the freshest eggs out and turn them every day - in case we get a broody or two and need some eggs for them. Older eggs go into refrigerator.
3. Keep some fake eggs in the nesting boxes.
4. Once a hen goes broody, put 6 to 10 eggs under her (depending on her size and size of the eggs) - eggs marked with felt-tip pen, the kind you use to write on CDs. This way it's easy to keep track if any fresh eggs are laid, or any are broken, and there's no confusion. Also we get to decide eggs from which hens to hatch.
We always get more than enough broodies each season - indeed sometimes more than we'd like, as egg production drops to a halt at some points. They go broody sitting on nothing at all or on a fake egg or two, or on stones. We keep some mixed breeds - Polish, mixed RIR and some mutts.
You have laid out an excellent setting plan to avoid the problems when hens gather their own clutch.
I totally agree that letting a hen collect eggs herself can create problems with setting times as well as general egg loss. (My intention was not to champion hen egg collecting for actual hatching but to explain the science behind the brooding process....a fascinating process.)
I too like to duplicate this process by fabricating the clutch gathering phase with golf balls or ping pong balls or sacrificial eggs which are marked as such. This does a good job of creating the clutch size necessary for the hormonal release and settling phase while yet preventing the problems caused by a hen gathering them at will.
I then follow a process very similar of actual fertile egg collection, storage, and setting for better results in hatching. After I know the hen is appropriately settled, I then place the "real" eggs I want hatched.
To further avoid transfer and interference problems, we built a designated broody hutch where I keep a stable of broodies with an attached grow out pen. I found it kept things more orderly, avoided the clog in the main nesting boxes, provided better protection for the growing chicks (from nosy hens as well as adult pathogens), and is reinforced better for the predators that inevitably are drawn to the peeps of little chicken nuggets.
I keep bantams for my main brooding needs (bantam Cochin and Silkies) using the occasional seasonal large fowl hen if opportunity arises. From that I've had a mix of volunteers from Black Sexlinks to Wyandottes to Welsummers to Marans to Rhodebars. Typically my large fowl will brood once, maybe twice, but as they age almost all of them have ceased to go broody. I suspicion as their hormone levels drop. However, my Silkies have been the queens of brooding. I can almost time my clutches to their regularity. Gotta love a Silkie for that!
Right now, I've got my 2 bantam Cochins co-brooding due to hatch today or tomorrow. This will be my first attempt at letting hens co-brood as I generally separate, but these sisters were raised together and are pretty bonded, so I thought I'd give it a try and see how it went (on a clutch that is general utility rather than anything crucial).
I love letting broodies do the work. No more messing around with heat lamps, brooding boxes, acclimating to environment or flock...momma does all the work!