I am in my 4th Spring of backyard chicken keeping. In the beginning I had a coop bought used on Craigslist for $25 with a run built by DH. At the end of year 2 DH designed and built my perfect coop and run (see Southern New Jersey Cluckingham Palace in the coop section.)
In her second Summer my Cochin/Barnavelder cross went broody. After some thought and a lot of worry I called my mentor who offered 2 hatchlings to insert one under each wing of my broody hen while she slept. DH instantly went to work to designing a broody coop that disassembles to a “flat pack” for storage. We set up a nursery area giving the hen a stone egg while we went to get the chicks. I inserted the fragile babies under the wings of mommy hen as instructed. This worked very well. She awoke to the cheeping, accepted the babies as hers and the hen raised 2 chicks. This was a magical time for me as I watched her school the babies and listened to her hen language.
In her second Summer the hen again went broody. At that time my mentor suggested giving her some fertile eggs. I gave the hen 4 eggs. Two hatched during a horrendous storm and the babies did not survive. Two did not hatch at all. The hen left the broody coop to rejoin her flock mates.
Now in her third Spring my hen is broody once again. I set up the broody coop and retrieved eggs from the farm. This is a diary of the Great Hatch of 2016.
Day 1 - May 15. Sunny, warm day. With the hen happily nesting in some lovely, soft and fragrant grass hay in the assembled broody coop in a nursery area fenced off from the main run I put 14 eggs under her warm body. I had thought to bring home 6 eggs, however, DH went to the farm that morning with me and when my mentor advised that not all of the eggs will hatch (as she filled an egg carton with an assortment of Breda Fowl, Welsummer and Barnavelder eggs) DH just nodded. With an impish grin she added two more eggs by slipping them into DH's shirt pocket. FOURTEEN eggs! Oh, my!
As soon as the eggs were in the nest the hen settled down instantly, clucking contentedly while arranging bits of hay to her liking. It is a good thing that she is a fairly large hen or several eggs would have been left out in the cold.
Just outside the coop I set up fresh water and feed laced with dried mealworms.
Day 2 - May 16. Unseasonably cold and damp. Over night I thought about removing some of the eggs but I refrained. With my luck I would have left the roosters and eliminated the pullets. Since I can not have a rooster in my neighborhood I have pre-arranged with my mentor to adopt any roosters from the hatch.
The hen did not move off her nest all night and all day. She allowed me to take photographs without fluffing up or growling. Her comb has paled somewhat but she is quite happy. The other 4 hens are curious and they come to the fence to peer into the nursery and cluck, cluck, cluck. When they get too close to the fence mommy hen growls.
Day 3 - May 17. Rainy and unseasonably cold. The hen snuggled down in her nest. There was no sign that she had moved off the nest even for a moment. Her comb was pale but she was clucking softly and showing no indication of distress.
Day 4 - May 18. Cloudy and warm. At some point around noon the hen left the nest for a few minutes to drink some water, leave a healthy poop and spill the food (so there was no way to tell if she had taken nourishment.) The other hens were out in the yard free-ranging while I tended the gardens. They took no notice of the grand exit or the return to the nest. I completely missed the event. For the remainder of the day the hen stayed on the nest.
Day 5 - May 19. Sunny and a bit warmer. At noon thirty the hen came out of the coop to relieve herself and to get a drink of water. She walked the fence t hen returned to the nest.
Day 6 - May 20. Sunny and Summer warmth. The hen again chose the noontime to leave the nest to drink and poop. I counted only 13 eggs and saw 2 tiny shell fragments from a white Breda Fowl egg. Apparently there was something wrong with the missing egg so the hen (sensing the difference) removed the egg. It seems that she ate it. There is no sign of egg outside of the nest or in the nursery.
Day 7 - May 21. Gray and cooler with rain. A week has gone by! The hen was sitting prettily on the nest first thing in the morning. I did not check on her often during the day. The cooler temperatures kept her on the nest all day without a break.
Day 8 - May 22. Wet and cool. I did not disturb the hen but I did check to see if she had been out. No signs that she had been off the nest at all through the night or into the morning. Meanwhile, I was reassured by my mentor that if the hen inadvertently broke the egg while turning it she would indeed eat it. Perfectly normal.
Day 9 - May 23. Sunny and warm. DH locked the hen into the coop overnight. I have been leaving the ramp down. Either way the hen seems satisfied to sit on the clutch and cluck softly unless she is disturbed. Took an egg picture. STILL ARE 13 EGGS!
Day 10 - May 24. Sunny, warm and humid. The coop ramp was open before 7 AM and the hen seemed undisturbed. Daily chores are to refresh the water supply and food (meal worms, feed and a few pieces of Blue Buffalo cat food) in case she wants either. Yesterday the bedding in the run was renewed for comfort.
Day 11 - May 25. Humid, sunny and summery. There were signs that the hen had left the nest long enough to drink some water, poop, stretch her legs/wings and spill the food. It was unclear if she had eaten anything. Peering into the coop at 7 AM I saw the edge of a white (Breda Fowl) egg poking out from under the breast feathers. I gently pushed it back under the hen. At 2 PM the hen came off the nest for a drink of water and again around 3 PM for a drink and some turnip greens (fed through the fence by Don.) She stayed off the nest for a considerable time but eventually went back. Hot weather allowed her to take a break.
Day 12 - May 26. Sunny, humid and very warm. The hen was grumpy as she was spread out in the nest to cover all of the eggs. The hen came out early in the morning for a drink of water and a poop then she quickly returned to the nest. About 2 PM we lifted the hen out of the coop and took egg pictures. There are 13 eggs. Refreshed the water due to the unusual summer-like heat and humidity.
Day 13 - May 27. Another sunny, hot and humid day. Gave the hen fresh food, lettuce and water. She was clucking softly. Maybe a chicken lullaby? Due to the heat I did not shut the main coop overnight. The hens were up early and one hen started a continuous loud squawking. She stood at the fence squawking loudly into the nursery until I finally locked the loud hen in the main coop for some quiet time until 8 AM. I put a cloth barrier over the netting fence and released the hen, but the loud hen kept up her noise. After an hour I ended up locking all 4 hens into the main coop. (In a suburban neighborhood the noise will not be tolerated.)
Noon fifteen the hen came out for a long drink. She ate the rolled oats and lettuce out of the bowl. Left the mealworms and feed. So hot that she is sitting on the nest panting. Still in the shade and there is a nice breeze. Took down the cloth barrier since it seems to make no difference.
Day 14 - May 28. Sunny, hot and humid. Renewed the food and lettuce for the hen. She is sitting on the nest and I wonder if she can feel any movement in the eggs. Fresh water.
One of the other hens has been squawking almost the entire time she is in the run but not when she is out in the yard. This particular hen is the “sister” of the setting hen (we adopted them together from the farm as pullets nearky 4 years ago,)
Day 15 - May 29. Sunny but a bit cooler. The sister hen was squawking in the coop early. I did not see the hen come out all day but I was able to tell that she had been out to drink and eat. The neighbor had a loud party that lasted until after 10 PM when rain forced an end. Lights and shouting, generator and music up until then. I did see 2 eggs “peeking” out from under the hen's breast feathers.
Day 16 - May 30. Overnight rain and cooler temperatures. Cloudy, humid and 71 at 7 AM. The hen did come out for food and water but I did not see her. Her comb has gotten quite a bit more red as she sits on the eggs.
Day 17 - May 31. Hot and humid. Before 9 AM the hen came out for food and water. She clucked at the other hens through the nursery fence. She was out for about 5 minutes. I did not rush out to check the egg count because I did not want to upset her as the hatching time approaches. Cleaned up the poop and refreshed food and water.
Day 18 - June 1. Hot and humid but with a breeze. Temperatures in the mid-80s. Gave lettuce in addition to food. I did not see the hen out but I could tell that she had been to the food and water, and had eaten the lettuce. During the heat of the day I can see eggs peeking out from her breast feathers.
Day 19 - June 2. Much cooler and overcast morning with 95% humidity. Set out more lettuce for the hen. During the day she ate the lettuce and scratched around the food and the grit bowls. No sign of movement or chicks. DH fed the hen a favorite treat: turnip greens. She took two leaves. He left 2 more in the bowl.
Day 20 - June 3. Cooler and showery. Humid. Put out more lettuce and oatmeal. No observations because it was necessary to be away from home all day.
Day 21 - June 4. Cloudy and humid with comfortable temperatures. IT BEGINS! 7 AM. The hen is agitated and restless. The eggs are pipping. Life is about to change radically. I put chick feed and water into the coop. The hen ate ravenously and snapped up any greens we offered her during the course of the day. When I was alone in the nursery I could hear the eggs cracking. The hen clucked constantly. Two of the chicks are quite bold. By evening there were 5 chicks that I could recognize and identify. Two are Welsummer and three are Breda Fowl. The hen is very protective.
Day 22 - June 5. Showery, cooler. I went out with lettuce and gave the hen pieces which she greedily ate from my fingers. The two “front chicks” came out from under her breast feathers to try the treat. Unafraid of my hand they allowed touch and the hen was fine with that. I counted 2 Welsummer, 2 Breda and 2 Barnevelder but could hear quite a lot of cheeping from under the hen. The chicks at the back and at the front showed no fear. The hen showed no agitation or aggression.
About 9:30 we went out to the nursery where I fed the hen some lettuce. Don counted 8 babies, three eggs and I took out one egg that had rolled into another shell. The hen had discarded this egg from under herself and was sitting only on 3 other eggs. I pipped the discarded egg and found that baby was dead and smelled rotten. The hen was sitting on 3 eggs. Another had just hatched. The chicks crowded around my hand and one climbed onto me! They show no fear as long as the hen shows no aggression.
Next trip to the nursery the hen was out of the coop with the 4 eldest chicks. I took the remaining 3 eggs and pipped them to find 2 unfertilized eggs and one dead chick half developed. In the end we have 9 chicks and 5 unhatched eggs. Settled the hen back in the coop with all 9 chicks.
I think we have 4 Breda Fowl (2 male and 2 female), 2 WelsummerxFaverolle, 1 Welsummer, 2 Barnevelder.
Removed and buried the bad eggs, hen poop and the hay from the nest area. Disinfected bucket, trowel and scoop.
The late Barnevelder hatched this morning and seems fine though tiny. The hen has left it in the nest and taken the other 8 out to the run. I gave it a drink and settled it in clean hay in the coop. Maybe with fluids and a rest it can catch up?
The late baby called for the hen and she went into the coop twice to try to get it to follow her out. No luck.
The baby Breda will crawl onto my palm and fall asleep. The hen does not get upset.
Huge storm. Hen hunkered down outside the coop perhaps because the chicks could not negotiate the ramp. I placed them into the coop and the hen followed. The smallest baby can now be under the hen.
Day 23 June 6. Sunny and pleasant. Heard the hen clucking before 5 AM. The little one was standing up in the coop while the others were already out with the hen. I put the baby with the others and it started to act normally with food and with the hen. As the hen got up to walk she bowled the baby over but it recovered and scampered off with the group. Put out extra lettuce and oatmeal.
All day it was a matter of keeping up with food and fresh water. The hen is fine with my presence iin the nursery and with my handling the chicks. She has been scratching around using her good-to-eat voice.
The “tail end Charlotte” is one day behind the others.
2 dark brown Barnevelder 1 gold w/dark cap Welsummer 2 gold w/ fat cheeks Faverolle 4 dark gray back (2 cream face & 2 dark face) Breda Fowl.