Do hens lose the instinct to hatch out eggs and raise chicks?

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by glenolam, Aug 24, 2010.

  1. glenolam

    glenolam Songster

    Aug 19, 2009
    Canterbury, CT
    It seems my hens are horrible about hatching their own eggs. I've lost about 10 chicks right after they've hatched this year - some are still wet and others have dried off, but most of the time when I find them they have been pecked at. I've only had 4 hatch and live to be removed for fear they would die if left there, and 2 of those 4 lived. 1 died by accident (darn kids...) and the other that died had a red "thing" coming out it's vent. The chicks aren't dying inside the egg, although I did have 2 that died due to being shrink wrapped during a heat wave, most are able to hatch out of the egg, then just die and I can't figure out why.

    When I incubate eggs, everyone turns out fine and well, but if I leave a broody hen alone, the chicks die before I have a chance to save them - what's happening? Someone suggested to me that hens have lost the instinct after years of people incubating and not letting the hens "do their job" so to speak. I let my hens do as they wish, if they go broody, I let them have fertile eggs and wait. I mentioned that some of the chicks are pecked and have cuts or bite marks on them, but I have no way to determine if it's the broody hen or someone else. Should I separate the hens and their nests?

    Questions? Suggestions? I'm very disappointed and getting discouraged - I'd hate to not let my hens be mothers.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2010
  2. VioletandBodie

    VioletandBodie Songster

    Aug 11, 2010
    i cant help you but this is a vary courise case
  3. glenolam

    glenolam Songster

    Aug 19, 2009
    Canterbury, CT
    FWIW - it's not just the hen who's currently nesting, it's been with other ones, too.
  4. Bat Cave Silkies

    Bat Cave Silkies Songster

    Feb 11, 2010
    Bat Cave, NC
    Unfortunately, the instinct to brood/hatch/mother chicks HAS been bred out of quite a few breeds of chickens.

    Sometimes, the problem lies with it being the hens first takes practice to be a good mom.

    Since I raise Silkies~~the most broody breed on earth (IMO)~~alot of my eggs are incubated by the hens. I always put the broody hen in a separate house with their own run. Broody hens will fight amongst each other when they get off the nest to eat...they will try to steal each others eggs....worst of all, once the chicks hatch, mom has to defend/protect the chicks from ALL the other chickens, including other moms. I've learned the hard way....lost quite a few chicks before I started separating the broody hens.

    Best of luck to you
  5. Bunnylady

    Bunnylady POOF Goes the Pooka

    Nov 27, 2009
    Wilmington, NC
    There are some "non-setting" breeds that generally don't go broody, because it has been bred out of them. Since a hen doesn't produce eggs when setting, going broody is a major inconvenience to someone who is keeping hens strictly for egg production; these breeds are usually serious egg layers. Even with a non-setting breed, you can get an occasional hen who will raise chicks, and even be a good mother. At the other end of the spectrum, there are some breeds that have brooding on the brain, and will try to hatch anything that even remotely resembles an egg. Silkies are legendary for their broodiness, but even among them, there may be some with poor mothering skills.

    My free-ranging chickens are a bunch of savages. They will eat just about anything that doesn't try to eat them. New introductions have to be done in groups, a single newby would most likely get hounded to death. If I want to let a hen raise chicks, I have to remove her and her clutch from the general population, or risk losing them. If a chick were to get separated from its mother for just a few seconds, the others would kill it. My girls (mostly bantam Cochins) have all been great with their own chicks, but that benevolence isn't extended to all chicks in general. I am always amazed at stories of hens that can integrate their chickies into the flock, because it never has happened here!
  6. SallyF

    SallyF Songster

    Jul 5, 2009
    Middle Tennessee
    I have a four-year-old mutt EE hen who dependably goes broody every Spring. My other hens are black sex-links who have never shown any sign of being broody, so it just depends on the breed. Broody just hatched out two chicks this year, one pullet and one roo. My current roosters are buff rocks so I'm hoping that this pullet will replace my current broody in the future. If not, I'll be looking for some other hen who will.
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    They are living things so you can never tell what they will do. Plus they have been "domesticated" so some of their instincts have been altered over the centuries. I don't know what is going on with yours. I'm one of the lucky ones that a hen can safely raise her chicks with the flock, but them I have a lot of room.

    If it were one broody only that was having this problem, I'd think it was probably the broody. But since it sounds like it happens with several different broodies, it seems you might have an aggressive hen that attacks chicks, especially if the space is a little tight. I would suggest trying to isolate your broody while she is setting on the eggs, before they hatch.

    However, I think you may actually have a different problem. Could it be rats attacking the yong chicks? With what you describe, I think rats are a definite possibility.

    Good luck with it.
  8. glenolam

    glenolam Songster

    Aug 19, 2009
    Canterbury, CT
    Thanks for all the comments and suggestions.

    They have a lot of space - we have an 8x12 house with 9 nesting boxes for 13 laying hens and an outside run that's about 17'x24' running on the side and on the back of the hen house. To my knowledge, I don't have a 'hen pecking' problem as in addition to the large pen and coop, they are allowed to free range (at will for the moment - that's another story). None of my hens are missing feathers, with the exception of those who have molted. I have two older roosters and two younger ones who will find homes soon - they are successful incubation chicks from earlier this year. My two older roosters I got last year and the year before and are not related to any of my hens (one of my DH's theories was incest, but I'm certain that's not possible as I got all my hens and roosters from separate people).

    The rat suggestion is interesting - I never really thought of that. Our dogs constantly try to bury under the hen house, we thought it was for the skunks who took up residence there - thankfully the skunks are gone now, but rats makes a little bit of sense. I will move the hen and her eggs to another spot that we reserve for a brooder, it has nesting boxes so at least she'll feel at home while she's in seclusion.

    The chicks that had been pecked at were pecked at their heads mostly. One poor baby didn't have much of a head left by the time I found it buried under some hay in the nesting box. I check daily, but sometimes the lighter colored chicks blend right in. The latest chick I removed was a black orpington/RIR cross and nothing had pecked it that I could see - it was still wet and just dead there in a corner. The hen who's currently broody with a clutch is a black orpington and I'm wondering if she didn't just feel that chick pip, zip, then scoot it out from under her and it didn't have a chance to warm up and dry off...
  9. Tropical Chickies

    Tropical Chickies Songster

    Aug 12, 2008
    Central Florida
    I hope the hens haven't lost their instinct to be a good mom. You have to let mother nature take it's course.

    I agree with your concern though, as my broody has crushed two of my eggs so far and tomorrow is day 21. One egg never developed and the other egg still had movement, so I left it alone, but this morning when I went out to see what was happening it was dead.

    I might consider an incubator on any hatches in the future.

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