Hatching and Raising Chicks Under a Hen

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by hwxeper, Jan 25, 2011.

  1. hwxeper

    hwxeper Out Of The Brooder

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    Jan 18, 2011
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    I have seen tons of posts about using an incubator to hatch out eggs, but not very many informative posts on letting nature work its magic and letting the hen be the mother. When a hen goes broody and starts setting on eggs, do you need to move her and the eggs to a seperate pen to hatch and raise the babies? Will it be ok to handle the eggs while you are moving them and the hen, and will the hen continue to sit on the eggs after she and they have been moved to a new pen? What, exactly, are the dangers of handling eggs? Is it ok if you keep many broody hens (of various breeds) together to raise chicks even if the chicks are at varying stages of development? At what age do young chicks start to pick on other chicks? Will older chicks get along with younger chicks?

    I was thinking of having multiple coops for each breed/color of chicken and another huge coop that will just be for broody hens and growing chicks.

    I read another post that said the hen will know when she is done with the chicks and ready to be moved back into the main coop. Does anyone know approximately how long that should take? How long is too long and how long is too early? What is a good rule of thumb? How long does it take for a hen to start layng again after she has raised a brood of chicks? How many broods can one hen raise in a year (obviously this depends on the breed)? Should the broody/chick pen have a run included with it, if not for the hens, for the older chicks? Is it ok for chicks to go out into a run with a hen on bare ground?

    What breed of hen is the best all-around mother?
    The breeds I like are speckled Sussex, silver laced, golden laced and partridge Wyandottes, mille fleur d'uccle bantams, white Orpingtons, Marans, Russian Orloff's, Sicilian Buttercups, Dominiques, Campines, and Sumatras.

    I also want to breed chickens to the standard, so I will be doing alot of culling. From the broody pen, I plan on having a growing out pen where I will decide which pullets and/or cockerels make the cut into the main flock and which ones will be eaten. The ones that will be eaten will be further segregated into another pen to finish filling out before going into the freezer.

    I really love Sicilian Buttercup and Campines but I understand that these breeds seldomly go broody. Could I sneak their eggs under a broody hen for her to raise? Or likewise, what about quail eggs? Will quail chicks be fine around chickens? I am not opposed to having an incubator, just that I think it would be easier to let a hen do the work.

    Does anyone have advice, experience, links to online sources, articles or anything to help me with this?


    Thanks in advance! [​IMG]
     
  2. Judy

    Judy Chicken Obsessed Staff Member Premium Member

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    Quote:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 25, 2011
  3. Judy

    Judy Chicken Obsessed Staff Member Premium Member

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    Wow I thought I was bolding all my answers so they would be easy to find -- guess I don't know what I'm doing. Sorry about that.
     
  4. dldolan

    dldolan WineNChooks

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    Yikes! Slow down! [​IMG]

    The breeds you list are not the "broodiest" girls, true. Buff Orps, Cochins, and Silkies all have a reputation for going broody frequently, which is not to say that the others never will. But the likeliest on your list are the Sussex and Orps.

    I suggest moving the broody to her own space. I have one cochin who just hatched out four BCM chicks, and I moved her into her own space (cabinet with dog crate attached). This way she wasn't fending off the other hens who want to lay where she was setting. (so common!) My other Cochin went broody the minute she heard her sister's chicks, so is currently sitting on some Blue Splash Marans eggs. Two eggs have broken while she was defending her right not to move and the other hens wanted her to. I will move her out of the main henhouse tomorrow with a similar set-up as #1. Private space with own food and water; locked in until she knows that is now "home", locked in again when chicks hatch for about 12-14 days.

    Here is my set up. Food, water, treats... She is way in the back (this is pre-chicks).
    [​IMG]

    When I moved mama #1, I carried her, nest and all, into the new setting, replaced the two fake eggs I had been using to test her broodiness with five fertilized ones, and locked her in. She fussed for five minutes, then saw the eggs and Zowie! Plunk, down on them she went. I needed to change out the Christmas Basket she was brooding in, so after about 9 days of being on the real eggs, I shooed her off the nest (with gloves on, just in case!) to go eat and drink (i had to do this for three days in a row--before that she didn't eat! finally she got the idea and she would get off in the morning when I went out to feed.), then changed her shavings, put the eggs in a new " brooder box", and had no trouble. Not sure if everyone's hens are this easy or dedicated, but so far my Cochins are.

    I opened the cage door for mama to come out when chicks were about 12 days old, and she started taking them out on digging expeditions, staying close, then venturing out farther and farther. The other hens could always see her for the first 12 days after the chicks were hatched, and I'd toss down scratch for her inside and for them next to the dog cage, so they saw the babies milling about the cage immediately. When she first ventured out with them, I noticed the other hens barely gave them a glance. Very easy integration in the past three weeks, which has been great. My lead hen (RIR) is kind to the chicks, and the Wellsummer who got pecky with them got taken to the mat by Mamahen, who grabbed Wellie by the ear and flung her three feet into the fence! Solved that issue!

    Here they are out in the run. They have ventured out a bit into the orchard, but the recent sighting of a hawk has mama keeping them close to the enclosed run or fences. My hens are too big for this hawk, but the chicks would be a mouthful for her. Here they are last week...
    [​IMG]


    Broody #2 is due to hatch her group (fingers crossed) late next week, and I am fully intending to let her do the same as Mama#1. Really the flock integration seems way easier...
    Hide and peep just today...
    [​IMG]

    Your multiple pen idea by breed/color sounds great. Good luck.
     
  5. dldolan

    dldolan WineNChooks

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    In the article ddawn cites, it says,[​IMG] I also did this just to be sure. My hen is a first-time momma, so I let her do her thing, but also molded the atmosphere to make it easier for her to do the right thing...
     
  6. hwxeper

    hwxeper Out Of The Brooder

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    Great information guys! Thanks so much!
    Maybe I am making this harder than it should be. But I want to make sure I get everything right. [​IMG]
    So here's my next round of questions. Now none of this is set in stone, because I haven't a single chicken to my name, yet, and haven't set aside any large building projects or anything of the sort. Thus, I am experimenting theoretically with different set-ups and ideas. One idea, that I mentioned before was to have seperate coops for each breed/color. The only reason why I would want to do this is so I know that my chickens are going to breed true and to breed to improve the standard. However, I would LOVE to free range my chickens. The only other way that I can see to do this would be to building one ginormous coop for all of my hens and let them free range in the day and have smaller seperate coops and runs for my roosters. I would introduce hens a few at a time for a day or so to make sure everyone stays fertile and alternate them. I really would prefer to free range them. I had bantam's when I was a wee child and loved having them clucking and scratching around the yard.

    Input, suggestions, advice needed!

    Do roosters need to be penned individually so they will not fight?

    At what age to cockerels and pullets begin to breed? Because if I do free range and just let the hens sit on the nests in the regular coop and then hatch the chicks in with all of the other hens, I will just let the chicks grow up and fill out normally amongst the rest of the flock. But I want to make sure that no cross breeding occurs before I can cull out and either send cockerels to the freezer or to their own pens.
     
  7. hwxeper

    hwxeper Out Of The Brooder

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    Quote:BTW, great pics! Thanks!
    Your hen is gorgeous!
     
  8. hwxeper

    hwxeper Out Of The Brooder

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    Quote:Oh no problem at all! Thanks for your help!
     
  9. Judy

    Judy Chicken Obsessed Staff Member Premium Member

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    I've thought about doing this in the future, breeding within one breed, and I also free range my chickens a lot of the time. I have an 11x17 coop with a pop door on either end, and a good size fenced yard, about 50'x80'. I would divide both of them so there would be chickens, in effect, in two separate coops/yards, with one smaller than the other. I would put (probably all) the hens and roos of one breed in the smaller area for probably a couple of months. It takes about 3 weeks for sperm to cycle through the hen so I would not hatch the first 3 weeks of eggs unless I did so for meat. Then these would go back with the flock and another breed would cycle through. The areas are in full view of each other so hopefully there would not be integration issues. I would keep some Kraeinkioppes so I would be likely to have a broody when I needed one. Knowing how well they work together, I would have one broody pen/coop. I have to tell you my story. I had 3 Kraeinkoppes; one stayed broody for 4 months all together; I couldn't break er so finally I ordered some fertile eggs and let her hatch them. It was hard for me to tell them apart but I suspect they shared the setting a bit. The mama was killed about a week after they hatched, and another hen took over mothering. Then this happened again a week or two later. All 3 participated to some extent in mothering when they were all alive.

    Roos when penned together are much more likely to fight if there are females in sight. If they are separated by enough distance, this usually won't happen as long as you aren't talking about game birds, which must always be housed individually -- but those breeds have a whole set of special needs you'd have to learn to manage them well.

    Breeding starts somewhere around 5 months, like laying -- lots of variation here, though.

    I personally wouldn't worry about their cross breeding most of the time, I'd simply collect eggs, not let anyone hatch them. Or grow them for meat, of course.

    We haven't solved your puzzles, for sure, but maybe helped you figure them all out. Tell us if we can maybe come up with a little more help.
     
  10. hwxeper

    hwxeper Out Of The Brooder

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    No, no! You have been a great help. [​IMG]
    I think one of the best ideas I have had would be to house the roos individually in small coops and runs big enough for the roo and 5 to 6 hens at a time and cycle the hens through and let the others free range. I would just have one big coop for all of my hens for when they are not with any roos and let them free range every day. One concern I have with this idea is that most people keep roos to watch for predators. I don't think I would have a problem building a strong, sealed-tight coop for the nights, but I do worry, mostly about hawks, during the day....hawks are especially prolific here during the winter when they all migrate down from the north and there is less cover during the winter for the chickens to hide in/under if there is a hawk threat.
    However, I also want to keep Guineas and have heard they can be great watch dogs, sort-to-speak. Would the Guineas roost in the coop with the hens?
    Geese and Peafowl are also on the table as viable additions. I think the Geese would be great and my only concern with free ranging the peafowl is if they would stay around or if they would wander off? I've read that they will usually stay if there are other fowl that they can see/hear, whether it is ducks, chickens, other peafowl, geese, etc.? And again would the geese, guineas, peafowl, and hens all roost together or would I need seperate coops?
    I think that if I build one HUGE coop that gave everyone enough room to themselves, they would probably prefer to roost together, but I am not sure.
    Does anyone else roost multiple species of fowl together? How is that working out?
     

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