Advice On Placing Eggs/Chicks Under A Broody Hen

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by BANTAMWYANDOTTE, May 16, 2011.


    BANTAMWYANDOTTE Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 2, 2011

    First this worked well with 2 American Gamefowl and a Dutch Bantam Hen(s). I am assuming that it will be effective for most of the genetically-broody breeds (Silkie, Cochin, any Game-Type, Marans, Wyandottees and most true Bantams) or a hen who is a repeat brooder who has tried hard to brood several times. This method may not work with your hen and is less likely to work with a breed of hen who is considered seldom (non-setters) or infrequent brooder. (Easter Egg Chickens, Plymouth Rocks, Leghorns, Sex Links and Rhode Islands or other Production Breeds) The reason is that these breeds have a less intense broodiness hormone than other hens because during the breed development these breed had the broodiness-gene nearly-removed through selective breeding..This causes them to be less dedicated to completing the process and likely to not stay on the nest long enough to hatch and/or more likely to flight from her nest at (what she considers) a threat (note that most of these breeds are considered more flighty than others). In the case that you have a hen that's breed is from an average broody breed or a hen mixed with two or more of any combination of these broody levels, then I would see how hard it was to fright her and consider the the risks.

    Here is the technique I used myself and give no guarantee that is will be successful for any hen but only that it worked for me. If it doesn't wok please do not hold hard-feelings at me. I will try to give you the most information I have about why/how this can work and reasons that explain why it may not:

    Understand that chick injury and death are possible when just attempting this, and should not be done by a stranger to the hen but the person who feeds her.

    Please understand that because this may not work you should have a temporary brooder ( with feeder, waterier and light) prepared or a home that the chicks can go to that has one if this is a failure. They need this to survive if they are rejected by the hen. At that point you are the only hope they have of living. Please read this entire post before attempting and be fully prepared for any outcome. Use only on hens that have brooded in a consistent manner for at least 17 days to ensure broodiness/desire and hens that have brooded no longer than 25 days to avoid health problems.


    Before they go to the mother the night they arrive, keep the chicks warm and dry. You don't have to feed or water them unless they are over three days old. Avoid touching or handling them with your bare hands because you will leave your scent behind and may frighten the hen. The hen will have better success and a lower mortality rate if she is in a coop when you attempt this. The coop should be built with wire that can hold the chicks in. If they get too far away and are threatened she can not get to them and protect them therefore, increasing the chances for chick death.

    The best place for her nest box to be is on the ground so the chicks can get out on their own, if she accepts them. If you have move the nest into a coop do so a week before the chicks arrive. Simply, move it at night (approaching and acting the same as advised here) cover the top with a soft thin sheet that she can't she through (dark color) and avoid letting it rest to hard or to tight on her and move her easily and be quiet. Then set her down lightly and raise the sheet. The wiring on the coop should be covered in a heavy blanket that allows little light through. This is best done on a cloudy, dark night. In the morning after the sun is up allow the front of the coop to be un-covered and each day move more and more of if back until it is free of it's covering. Always be quiet and calm around the hen and don't touch her or try to move the box. Avoid any contact with the coop that causes loud banging or strong vibrations. She needs to remain calm. If she stays on the nest and doesn't flight for more than a week then try this technique.

    1. During the day before you are placing the chicks, check to see that she is still on the nest and is very still. Then, check to make sure that you can easily and quietly enter the coop or get close to the nest (not as close as you will be when putting in the chicks but about three or four feet away). Move any objects (quietly) that are in your path that you may step on or run into in the night that will make noise and alert her to your presence. You must be quiet as possible and not make any loud sounds.

    She will smell you and know of your presence but she also knows that humans have been close the entire time she has been broody and have not threatened her so your moving in the night is not threatening enough to run from and risk the death of her chicks this close to hatch. If ,at first, you attempted to move her from the nest and she refused, this may still work assuming you have not done this many times throughout the hatch. If you have then she may flight because she associates you (humans in general) with a predator that knows where her nest is and keeps returning. This makes you a threat, if this is the case don't attempt this. because she is more likely to flight when she thinks that her nest is un-safe for raising young. This is not always the case but I wouldn't risk it, personally. Broody hens are more determined to not move during the last three days of hatch, by a common rule. However, this is because she can feel the chicks hatching and this prompts her maternal instinct to kick in and she goes into "protection mode". A hen without the sensation of chicks hatching is like in the same "mode" as any other time during the hatch. Contrary to popular believe, a hen has no actual concept of the time it takes to hatch her young. She only knows that some time has passed, so she will flight on the twentieth day the same as the fourth, from what I understand. This is why they will set on bad eggs until they starve, if they knew the time period they would quit around twenty one days. Some hens are different and gain determination each day of broodiness but only in the frequent broody breeds have I seen this and is not common in most heavy breeds.

    2. Check that she is in her nest and when you approach her see how she reacts to you. What I consider a "good-mommy hen" would growl at you when you are too getting close and puff up but not move her head from side to side when she first sees you but only when you are close to her. She should not be able to see well up close while broody and needs to move her head to re-focus her sight.

    This is because even though chickens have the ability to move there eyes, they use head movements to see closer objects (like most birds) and get a good view of there surroundings (or find an escape route if needed). Contrary to what I was told as a child, they can move their eyes, they prefer head movements when looking at objects within ten or twelve feet of them. This is because when they move there eyes, they move out of focus helping her see far away to watch for approaching predators, and it takes a few seconds to re-gain their (very good) eyesight after eye movement and is harder to re-gain after long periods of eye movement.. However, they will move there eyes if they are in a comfortable environment and are calm and are watching for approaching predators in the distance. She has been moving her eyes instead of her head to remain still and not attract attention. When a hen goes broody, she is usually somewhat calm and secure because they tend to lay eggs in a nest they consider either safe or hidden from most predators. Because of this, she moves her eyes rather than move her head frequently and causing motion and attracting un-wanted attention. This has caused her eyes to be very out of focus and makes it harder for her to see up close. She should move her head in a very slight manner to re-focus her vision so see can see you better, likely not jerking her head or moving all the way to on side. This a good sign that she is not going to run at your company without a good cause but wants only too see you better. She honestly doesn't quite trust you (and never will completely) and still has a natural fear of humans but over time has she has been de-sensitized to you and is less-afraid of you than her other predators. She knows that if you were a serious threat to her or the chicks you would have attacked a long time ago. She knows you and has a simple (not total) trust for you.

    If she is on the nest and has been broody for more than 16 or so days and you approach beware of her jerking her head very quickly, lowering her neck feathers, and clucking quickly and in a higher pitch than normal in an alerting manner (bawk-bawk-bawk-becack!). These are signs that she is ready to flight and do not proceed. In this case, I would give up on trying because she will most flight. In most cases *if she runs away from a nest of eggs, the hormone that causes broodiness stops being delivered and the maternal instinct does not occur*. She will not return to the nest because of the "predator" or because she knows how delicate the incubation process is and how unlikely it is that they will hatch after the loss of a heat source.(*not a confirmed fact but an opinion from my veterinarian of twelve years) Some hens differ and may go broody again but I have never witnessed a hen return to the same nest in 15 years, 10 of them breeding American Gamefowl which are among the broodiest breeds. Should you try this technique on her and she flights (at night when they are the most fearful) you are now going to be responsible for the care of chicks that need to be brooded in a brooder. So I beware that this can happen and have a back-up plan.

    3. Move away from her and look back and see how long it takes her to stop clucking. A "good-mommy hen" will stop when she thinks you are far enough away from her to be a threat, at the moment, and goes quiet to avoid drawing you or another predator back to the nest in the same way she has done the entire time on the nest. This is good, if she goes quiet when you are away from her (length differs with all hens) then she is not likely to flight and is dedicated to not leaving the eggs.

    If you go thirty, forty or fifty yards and she still is clucking loudly, then consider her a "flight-risk" (lol never knew I had a sense of humor) and proceed with caution when placing chicks. A hen that clucks loudly (bawk-bawk-bawk-becack) is making the same sound(s) she would if she were in a flock. They do this to warn each other of predators while foraging. Broody hens are not with the flock when on the nest and should remain quiet never making that kind of noise. This hen is warning a flock and is not focused on attracting attention and is more likely to flight. Proceed with caution.

    4. Weigh the possible outcomes of trying this and make an informed decision. These outcomes can happen with hens that have been given chicks that were not her own young .

    For a hen that gives signs of flight (any, all or even just one):
    The hen could flight and leave the chicks in your care
    The hen could reject the chicks and hurt/kill all or some of them
    The hen could abandon them after on a little while
    The hen could leave and go broody again somewhere else and your back where you started

    For hens that show no signs of flight (not one):
    The hen is more likely to keep and attempt to raise the chicks
    The hen may lose some chicks during their childhood
    The hen can lose all of them to a predator
    The hen can be successful at raising alot more or less of them than you could expect so be prepared


    Do this at night only, this is when she is less likely to run and have a glove on both hands and a dim flashlight that is only bright enough to light your path. Use only day-old chicks or chicks less than three days old. (I used two and three day old chicks and it worked) Some people claim you can use more and that may be true. The oldest chick I've ever seen a hen accept on my farm were three days old. Not experienced with older chicks and can offer no opinion if they do or not worj. I don't recommend trying this with chicks over a week because the hen may notice that they are too big for chicks that just hatched or get confused about their behaviour and reject them.

    1. Put the chicks in a box and cover the lid. This will keep them from calling or crying loudly in distress and alerting the hen that they came from somewhere else. This will can potentially cause her to reject them. Rejecting will cause her to try and remove them from her nest because she knows they are not her chicks. She will peck them causing them to bleed and even die from their injuries and she may remain broody after they are gone. If the chicks cry while in the box while you're outside take them in and start over. They will cry if they are cold and some more flighty chicks may cry with the lid over their head in fear. If they cry with it on (more than half of them crying) try removing it and see if that calms them. After they are calm, try again.

    2. Approach downwind of the nesting sight if possible, if not approach more slowly and quietly than normally. Use the flashlight only pointed toward the ground and move it from side to side rather than pointing it to one place. Moving it rapidly will alert her quicker than more slow movement because she will hear you and be able to see you coming. Under no circumstances shine the beam in her eyes . The eyes are very sensitive at night and this frightens her. Watch and listen for signs of flight but don't aim your light at her nest directly, aim only near the box. If you can't find any flight signs continue approaching as quietly and slowly as you can.

    3. Once you reach the nest, SLOWLY reach under her and take out two eggs at a time and replace with two chicks (one chick if you have small hands) but be careful she does not see them. This can cause rejection and/or flight. She will feel them under her and become excited and may puff up or growl. She may even peck you as you because she is protecting them (good signs). The one thing a "good-mommy hen" won't do is make any loud noises (clucking or squawking) because she knows she has chicks now and wants to stay as well hidden as possible. Continue very slowly and carefully not allowing the hen to lift too high until you are finished. IF THERE ARE MORE EGGS THAN CHICKS THEN YOU WILL HAVE TO REMOVE THEM LATER. Chicks can survive three days after hatch under the mother with out food or water so do not worry if you have to leave them there a few extra hours.

    4. When you have all the chicks in, back away very slowly. The mother should sit down on the and adjust herself from side to side while covering them if she is not going to flight. Most hens that would have ran away would have done so at about four chicks, but always assume that anything can happen and don't get your hopes up.

    5. The next morning go check the nest, if the hen has accepted them, she will have them with her either in the nest or under her. Watch for her to act like a mommy and make threatening signals to you like puffing up and clucking loudly. When she eats she should cluck to them in a high pitch and signal them to get under her by clucking more quickly in a lower tone. She should also spend alot of time on them to keep them warm. These are signs of success and you have done a good job. The hen should keep them as her own until she leaves them when they are old enough. If you have made it this far without failure then I would be proud.

    Keep an eye on her for two or three days to ensure that she still acts the in the same protective manner, and always have fresh water for the chicks in a waterier or a low rimmed dish. Water is more essential than food to chicks that are just hatched. You should offer a chick starter to them and also a scratch mix for the mother because she is likely a bit lighter than normal from brooding.


    Best of luck, I know you'll make the best choice now that you have the all the information I have!

    Timothy in KY
    Last edited: May 17, 2011

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