Originally Posted by neen
That's what I do, too. My luck in having the hens stay in the new location is pretty spotty. I've even tried restraining them with a laundry basket or milk crate for 12 or 24 hours after the move and they still won't sit. Sometimes they even go back to their original choice of a nest when I finally give up on them. Guess I need broodier hens! I've certainly had successes, but not consistent enough for the hatching I'd like to do.
It can be challenging to figure out the exact set of details that determine success or failure, but I truly think the success is in the details. This can't be done on the first day, even with the most broody hen. She has to truly be full out hormonally invested in brooding, which takes 3-5 days, depending on the hen. There should ideally be a full clutch (6-8) of throw away or ceramic eggs for her to set on while developing her brood. Some hens will brood fully with less, other won't, but the full nest fully stimulates the necessary hormonal cascade. The new location needs to be BORRRRRING....... really boring. There should be absolutely no stimulation of any kind to bring her out of her brood -- low light, low noise, complete privacy, and absolutely nothing scary. You won't get good success rates moving a hen from a natural nest into a coop full of chickens -- broodies need privacy. She needs to have the smell and somewhat the feel of her natural nest, so the day of the move I wait for her to get off the nest to eat and I remove almost all the plucked breast feathers and a portion of the nest litter from her natural nest to put in the new nestbox, and I place a small amount of the shavings and grass hay from the nestbox into her natural nest. Not enough to substantially change the character of the natural nest, but enough for her to become familiar and comfortable with the feel and smell of the new nesting material. (If I anticipate that a hen will be difficult to move, I add a little nestbox material to her natural nest on a daily basis starting on day one, just to get her more familiar with the new material and to have more available to transfer on that final day.) A few hours before the move, put a heating pad or hotpack in the nestbox to warm the bedding material. When I do the actual move, I wait until it is 100% dark. The move needs to be quick, efficient, and drama-free. I talk to her as I approach the nest so she knows it's me and not a predator (all my hens are very tame). I use the lowest amount of light possible to still do the job, which for me usually means either just the moonlight, or a flashlight inside my pocket and a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness (zip the pocket or fasten the flashlight in such a way that it cannot fall out when you bend over and scare the hen -- lesson learned the hard way). If you need more light, be sure that the light NEVER shines on the hen, which can be startling to her. (Do not use a headlamp -- convenient, but way too much light.) Put the box on level ground, not on a table, just in case she panics and tries to run off blindly in the dark. In the dark or near dark, pick her up in such a way that she is facing you, and you have one palm under each breast, and each thumb to the outside of each thigh so that she is fully supported. This is important. A hen that is approached from behind and picked up facing away from you naturally wants to move forward out of your hands. A hen that is picked up facing you just lays there in your palms. Do not tilt her forward or backwards -- keep her level and she won't struggle if she's tame. She may not even come out of her broody trance. Quickly but carefully set her down in the middle of the new, warm nest box, then immediately transfer the eggs she's been setting on from the natural nest to the new nestbox. Depending on the bird and her tolerance for handling, you can either push the eggs directly under her, or put then underneath her wings, or put them up against the front of her breast and she will scoop them underneath her with her beak. Let her get the eggs arranged under her (typically takes 1-2 minutes) before picking up the nestbox and carrying it to the new location. It must be carried level and smoothly, without any jerky motions that might stimulate her or make her need to shift around. Maintain either a soft soothing voice or total silence, and the minimum amount of light possible to avoid tripping and falling. Place her in her new, totally dark location, and step back and listen for 10-15 minutes. It is very unlikely that a hen will move out of the nest when she is blind in the dark. Check on her a few times the next day (especially around dawn) to be sure that she's settled in, and trade out the ceramic eggs for fertile eggs in 2-3 days if she sticks the brood.
Other things that are important to do before the move -- have food and water set up for her in the new location that is outside of the nestbox (at first, it can be moved in later), have all bedding for the chicks in the new location set up ahead of time so you don't have to add it during the brood, and have all rodent control measures in place (must be 100% chick-safe -- I personally only use 1/2" welded wire around the entire broody apartment, and other methods outside the broody housing).
Using this method, I have only had one broody Dorking off the nest the next morning, but I was still able to save the brood. She was off the nest pacing in the broody apartment about an hour after sunrise. I gave her some of her favorite food to calm her down, then closed all the doors and turned off all the lights in the barn and shined a flashlight on her nest. The ambient light level was low enough that she had difficulty seeing anything other than her illuminated nest. After about 5-10 minutes she got back on her nest, and I turned of the flashlight and waited silently for 30-40 minutes for her to fully return to her broody trance. Then I got a bottomless wire cage that was about 4 times the size of her nestbox and put it over her, then covered it with a sheet to keep the light levels low. (The cage needed to be big enough that she had plenty of room to pace outside of the nest -- a broody that tramples her nest frantically is unlikely to return to it to brood.) After a few hours I opened the barn doors and turned on the lights (but not the lights in her room, so the ambient light level was still dim), but left her large cage covered with a sheet for another day. After I removed the sheet I left her to brood under normal conditions for another 2 days before giving her fertile eggs. She hatched out all 6 eggs (she was a first time broody, so 6 is the maximum I give them on their first brood), plus accepted several incubator chicks that I grafted onto her. She was a great mom, and with experience has become one of my best broodies.
Edited to add: Because the move has to be quick, efficient, and drama free, it is important that it also not have a full cast of participants. Ideally, just one calm person with "quiet hands" and the hen. Something as simple as a young child asking what you're doing, or a dog running around nearby, or the footsteps of a second person following behind you, etc, can make a broody nervous and potentially jeopardize the move. The kids need to stay in the house and the dog in the kennel or house for this to work in some hens. The same goes for the next few days. Only one person should check on her -- someone who is calm, quiet, and respectful of her needs.
Edited by Sydney Acres - 9/10/15 at 9:52am