Broody hen questions!

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by irisshiller, Dec 11, 2014.

  1. irisshiller

    irisshiller Chirping

    May 20, 2014
    Hi everyone, I need help again with another unforeseen poulty situation :)

    I have a small, mismatched flock of rescued and adopted chickens. I started out with three ex-battery hens, who were very good at laying eggs every day. After a while, someone brought me a small, rescued rooster. I thought my production hens would never go broody and kept removing eggs every day. But one of them started hiding her eggs and eventually hatched out 3 chicks [​IMG]

    I thought that was extremely entertaining and probably a one-off. This hen hasn't gone back to laying yet, and all my other hens(Brahma crosses and pullets of undetermined breed) are either too young or on their winter break. Only one of my production chickens kept laying every day through the fall and winter. Admittedly the winters here are extremely mild and the weather is actually some days the same as summer in Holland (where I'm originally from). But now she's decided to go broody as well! I realised this when she didn't go to roost with the others but stayed in the nest box for the night. Since then, I haven't seen her get up or even move.

    I had been taking her eggs every day, so she was sitting only on a couple of plastic eggs - and one of her own eggs. I wasn't sure what to do - whether to stop her, just leave her to try and hatch out that one egg, or to get more fertile eggs for her. I tried to find more eggs, but there were none to be found, everyone's hens seem to have stopped laying for the winter. In the end, I decided to pull the three eggs I still had out of the fridge and put them under her :) I did research and found a lot of threads on here of people saying that they hatched eggs that had been in the fridge. I realise the chance of them hatching is lower, but at least it's higher than the chance of plastic eggs hatching [​IMG]

    I'm just wondering... will there be a problem with the age difference between the egg she already had and the eggs I put under her? I think there is a 1 or possibly 2 day difference, so they won't all hatch on the same day (if they hatch). If she has one chick and the others show no sign of hatching yet, will she abandon them? If so, what should I do with them if they did develop? Just keep them warm until they hatch or should they be put into an incubator? Also, if they hatch later, can I just put the chicks back under her or would I have to raise them myself?

    I also find myself wondering if she's really OK... I have had a broody duck hatch 11 ducklings just a week ago, but she behaves differently. The duck left the nest pretty regularly to swim and eat, and she reacted when someone came close. This hen just sits as still as a statue, at first I was actually afraid she was dead! She doesn't even move her head when I put my hand in, only when I tried to take the plastic eggs did she react. I haven't seen her get up and go to the food or water at all. It is pretty far away. Would it be a good idea to put food and water close to her?

    This is her:


    Thanks and merry christmas/ happy hanuka! :)
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    Iris, “can” is a very important word for you right now. There are a lot of different things that can happen. I don’t see much of anything in your post that I can give you any guarantees on. Some people have the “ideal” situations most of the recommendations are based on. A lot of times I have situations “I deal” with. I think that’s where you are.

    You are correct about the refrigerated eggs. It’s best to not try to hatch refrigerated eggs if that is your option. Hatchability can drop. But it is also very possible some or all will hatch. I don’t store my hatching eggs at the ideal temperature of 55 degrees either. Mine are stored at room temperature which is quite a bit warmer. I normally get pretty good hatches.

    Will there be a problem with the age difference. Possibly. I’d kind of expect that to happen. The chick absorbs the yolk before it hatches so the chick can go three days or more without eating or drinking. Not all eggs hatch at exactly the same time, so this gives Mama a chance to wait on the later eggs. The question is if the first egg hatches (it might not) will the other eggs hatch in time? There is only one way to find out and that is to wait and see.

    After the chick internal pips the chick inside the shell starts talking to Mama and she talks back. That’s nature’s way of letting the hen know she has not finished hatching and it helps with bonding. But if the first hatched chicks start telling Mama they are hungry or thirsty, she will probably abandon the later eggs to take care of the living chicks. That’s the problem with these staggered hatches. I’ve had some hens take their chicks off the nest within 24 hours of the first one hatching. I’ve had some wait three days. I always open the unhatched eggs to see what was going on. I’ve never found a living chick in those unhatched eggs.

    So what can you do, other than nothing and hope for the best? That would be my first option, by the way. You could try candling the eggs fairly late in the incubation to see if you see development in the eggs. That will give you a base to work with. Let’s assume all eggs are developing, or at least the first and one of the later.

    You can take the first chick from her when it has dried off and see if she stays with the rest of the eggs. She may abandon the nest at this point and break from being broody, but if chicks are talking to her in the other eggs, she will probably sit tight.

    If she abandons the nest with the first chick, you can take the eggs left and put them in the incubator or somehow try to hatch them yourself. Even after the hen abandons the nest those unhatched chicks will be OK for a while. Obviously the sooner you can move them to the incubator the better, but those chicks take a while to cool off. Since they are living animals they are even generating some heat themselves. It’s not enough heat to keep them alive indefinitely but if your weather isn’t too cold they can last a surprisingly long time.

    In either case, I’d try giving the chicks back to her if she has one living chick with her. Some hens will take any chick offered, some will reject chicks if offered like this. You could put the chicks with her during the day after she has abandoned the nest and see how she reacts. There is a fair chance she would accept them. A more common tactic would be to put them under her at night so she wakes up with them. You’d need to be there shortly after she wakes up to see how she is treating them. She may accept them, she may reject them and try to drive them away, or she may try to kill them. Most of the time this will be successful but they are living animals. I sure can’t give you any guarantees about this. You may need to brood them yourself.

    Before a hen goes broody, she stores up excess fat, mostly around the vent area but really throughout her body. This excess fat is what she mostly lives on when broody. A hen will lose a lot of weight while hatching eggs but it is mostly fat stored for that purpose. This way they don’t need to be off the nest much to eat and drink.

    Practically all broodies leave the nest once or twice a day to eat drink, poop, and maybe take a dust bath. In really hot weather I’ve seen a broody take two of these breaks a day and stay off for an hour or more each time. In colder weather I’ve seen a broody take one fifteen minute break a day. Often I don’t see the hen off the nest at all but she is still getting off the nest when I’m not looking.

    A broody hen will hold her poop until she is off the nest. That’s why you often see some huge poops when you have a broody. She has been holding it all day. If the broody is not pooping in the nest, she is getting off the nest at some time to eat, drink, and poop. You’re just not seeing her.

    You can move the food and water to where she can reach it from the nest. Some people do that. Just don’t get the eggs or nest wet or dirty. But she still needs to get off to poop. I personally don’t move food or water close to her.

    You can physically take her off the nest once a day and put her on the ground. She will probably stay hunched and fluffed up down there for a bit, then she will do one of two things. She might go eat, drink, and poop. She might run back to the nest. I’ve never had a problem with a broody doing this as long as she has been broody a couple of days. By that time, she is committed.

    Good luck!
  3. irisshiller

    irisshiller Chirping

    May 20, 2014
    Wow! That was a great answer, with so much information. Thanks so much!
    Yeah you're right about there being no guarantees with living animals... that's why it's so much fun and so fascinating to deal with them, isn't it?

    I didn't know that chicks could go for 2 or 3 days without food after hatching. If the first egg is a bit late and the last are a bit early, then it could be perfectly fine, I suppose. But if not, well, I will have to keep a close eye on it and see what to do. I have a small incubator, I never used it, but nearer to the hatch date I will have it on standby then. I will also try candling the eggs at some point to see if anything is developing in there. Never done that before too, but I suppose it isn't too difficult.

    I suppose she is going off the nest to eat every now and then, I just haven't caught her doing it. It's just so weird that she's so very still when she's usually very lively and comes running for treats. But maybe that's what broody chickens are like.

    Would it help if I put food and water closeby when/if the first chick hatches, so the food is easier to reach and she could go back to the other eggs?

    So it will just be a waiting game... just wanted to make sure I was doing everything I can to give her a chance to hatch some babies. I feel like it's something of a small miracle, those ex-battery hens having a second chance at life and doing everything that backyard chickens do, running around and foraging and even hatching chicks. [​IMG]

    I will be back in 3 weeks hopefully with pictures :)

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: