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Hatching Under a Broody Hen

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by Arya28, Dec 2, 2017.

  1. Arya28

    Arya28 Songster

    Apr 9, 2017
    Hi! So it’s day 21 for most of the eggs under our broody Spitzhauben. I know that number is just an average for a incubator, so they might not hatch today, but I have a couple questions.

    I know in an incubator, after first pip you’re not supposed to open the incubator so the humidity stays up. Well, does that stay true under a hen? If one pips, can she not get off the nest to eat? Does she need to be on top of them the whole entire hatching process?

    Right now, she’s in the barn, in a pen that separates her from the other chickens. The barn isn’t heated, so I imagine the temp and humidity drop quite drastically when she gets off them. Throughout the whole process, she’s been getting off the nest once or twice a day to eat (even if we have to make her). Because it’s cold out there I would think maybe the eggs would develop a little slower. But we had been candling them, and they looked to be just where they should be development wise!

    Right now we are working on building a brooder in our garage. Our garage has electricity so we will have a heat lamp in there in case it gets too bitter outside. We will also keep the mama hen in with the chicks, because we want to let her raise them.

    So really I guess I’m just asking if the rules for hatching under a broody hen are as strict as they are in an incubator?
    penny1960 likes this.

  2. imnukensc

    imnukensc Songster

    May 22, 2017
    SC Midlands
    The broody hen instinctually knows the rules for hatching better than any instructions or rules for an incubator.
  3. Hi, sounds exciting! :wee

    If she can hatch out there, she can brood out there. You won't be doing her any favors by moving her to the garage and especially not by adding a heat lamp.

    Mama won't try to take the chicks out for a few days. they chirp under her and she clucks back to them. They are getting to know each others' voices. I put chick feed and water near by the hen as some may adventure out if they hatched earlier, but always remove at night to avoid attracting rats). They will be fine as long as they make their way back under mum. Getting lost and dying from cold is a very real possibility so I usually check every hour or two the first couple days after hatch. I have had them try to come out before she was ready and she pecked them back under her. This took special paying attention on my part to learn the difference between a mum who is going to peck and kill every chicks she sees or if she knew what she was doing. I stole them at night so I could find out if they were starving since I hadn't SEEN them eating, but all they did was loud peep to get back with mum. And instantly shut up when returned despite a perfectly good (just in case) brooder set up. I have had her run out real fast with the chicks left behind before they had their land legs and hurry back. She knows she doesn't want to poo on them. It really does take about 48 hours after hatch before they start pecking and somewhat controlling their movements. They will NOT eat/drink on hatch day.

    Incubator rules aren't that strict either. EVERYTHING is a personal choice. I often remove my chicks to the brooder when they dry and fluff up. I haven't yet shrink wrapped chicks, but have definitely heard of those that have.

    If a hen was incubating eggs, I would not have made her leave when I wanted her to. I only do that to broody ladies who are headed for the breaker. They know what they are doing, it's been going on for thousands of years. They often take their break when we aren't around to notice. But by paying attention, I can tell the hens themselves make decisions and many won't come out super early when it's cold, they wait until the day warms up a touch.

    Most of the time my other ladies are no big deal though I will on occasion have a teenager who is bent on pecking chicks. A broody mum will usually do pretty good, though I have seen havoc break out and she accidentally started pecking everything in sight even babies. I knew it was confusion because of my experience. Sometimes their place in the pecking order comes into play. Make no mistake, don't make her open up a can of crazy mama on you! :p My silkies have learned how to use their broody craziness to elevate their position in the flock. My roosters, not juvenile cockerels... also are good to the chicks as it might be their offspring. They call them to treats, it's sooo special! :love

    Only thing I do is lift mama up and see how many chicks are looking back. After a couple days, any eggs that haven't hatched should be removed. They are usually smart enough to leave the nest and take the chicks out but some will sit and sit waiting for the last egg to hatch while the other die. I also make sure within that couple days that I hear her clucking to the chicks and that she has started tidbitting for them, or calling them to food. If she hasn't then I pick some up and drop it so they see the motion and start pecking. I've had LOTS of broody's with varying levels of competency.

    One other thing, my broody's usually take it at the pace of the chicks. they may only make it out of the box one day. Then half way to the coop door the next. And all the way into the run. Or each stage could take a couple days. Even had one broody that wouldn't slow down enough for the one chick who needed more warmth than the other two. That 3rd chick was found dead one day after I was gone for the day and the other two did fine. One girls was so good waiting for all 9 chicks to make it wherever she was headed and left no one behind. Each bird and even each hatch may be a little different, so you just gotta be ready to roll with it.

    Happy hatching! :jumpy:jumpy

    Pics always welcome. ;)
    WhiteWyan, Ms Biddy, sourland and 8 others like this.
  4. sylviethecochin

    sylviethecochin Crowing

    Jun 14, 2017
    Central PA
    X2 Good Post.
    penny1960 and Arya28 like this.
  5. Arya28

    Arya28 Songster

    Apr 9, 2017
    Wow! Thank you for such a long and detailed post!

    There are probably 19 eggs under her... and she’s a pretty small bird. Do you think if we leave her outside she will be able to fit all of them under her and keep all of them warm? That’s the main reason we are leaning towards putting them in the garage, because there are so many chicks and because it’s so cold. However, it isn’t as cold as it usually is in PA this time of year... right now it’s 41 but it’s been getting in the 20s and 30s and night. She should be able to keep them warm enough with that many?

    Also, right now to make sure to keep mice or rats from her (which we haven’t had any that we know of get into their actual pen) we have her probably close to a foot off the ground in a box. Would she be able to move the chicks out of there?

    We really wanted to be able to let her raise them in the barn with the rest of the chickens, but concluded that it might be a little risky.

    Thanks again!
    penny1960 likes this.
  6. Oh... I would be seriously surprised if 19 hatched. She probably had to rotate some into the cold, but I guess you've been candling so would have removed any that weren't developing.

    I would NEVER let a mum try to raise 19 chicks. My gal that raised 9 played havoc getting them to follow her to wherever she felt the need to take them because they would get comfy in their little cliques after they aged a couple weeks and start staying behind leaving them more open to predation.

    The babes may be fine getting down from 1 foot but they will not be able to make it back up unless you've made a path. When my banty girls raised chicks that got too big to all be warm and comfortable, the chicks would shove and push their way to the center and others would get shoved out and have to work their way back in. So your situation would be a new to me.
    penny1960 and Arya28 like this.
  7. Arya28

    Arya28 Songster

    Apr 9, 2017
    Well... we didn’t put that many eggs under her on purpose. We thought our hens had just cut back laying for 4 days before we found her broody. And then we found her sitting on all those eggs we had been missing. By the time we found her, she had 21 eggs double stacked under her! And then we didn’t know how long she has been on them, and their hearts beat at day 3 so we couldn’t bear to take them from her ... we’ve taken 3 that we’re infertile our. We’ve also been paying super close attention making sure she’s on top all of them, repositioning her over all of them if any stick out.
    ChuSayBok and penny1960 like this.

  8. I have to know how this turns out, especially because I'm way south of you and it never really gets cold here (we get snow maybe once every 2-5 years.) I've never had a hen go broody in consistently cold weather, but the nest being off the ground may be bad, depending on how well it's insulated (ever tried sleeping in a Hennessy hammock in 30-40F? It's like sleeping on a cold waterbed, the air underneath is brutal.) Also he number of eggs may be too much. If they don't all fit under her, as she rotates them, some getting chilled is a concern. If it was me, I'd definitely go garage.

    As to the number of eggs, I had a medium sized hen hatch 15 out of 17 in optimal conditions, so yer girl is definitely got a challenge. My hens are bad to lay in a broody hen's nest, so I know how that works. I've had to mark the ones that are being incubated and remove the new ones.. had one broody hen sitting on 25 eggs once while I was trying to figure out where all the others were laying. The result of that is that she abandoned the last 6 that were later to hatch; it was summer and hot then. 3 hatched after being abandoned for 3 days and another hen was sitting on them only at night. If she does hatch that many, it will be even more of a challenge for her to keep them all warm as they get bigger.
    EggSighted4Life and Arya28 like this.
  9. song of joy

    song of joy Crowing

    Apr 22, 2012
    Central Pennsylvania
    Yes, I generally follow strict rules with a broody, like I do with an incubator. I don't disturb the broody hen at all from Day 18 until after the hatch. Once she starts hearing the chicks peep (due to internal pips), instinct should tell her to stick tight on the nest and not get off until the chicks are 1 to 2 days old.

    I've noticed that chicks usually hatch on Day 20 when under my broody hens, but Day 21 or 22 is within the realm of normal. However, I'm concerned about her incubating 19 eggs. That's way too many for a hen to cover adequately (12 is about the maximum number that should be set). As @EggSighted4Life noted, she'll rotate the eggs, and each egg will likely end up getting too cool on occasion. This is likely to result in a delayed hatch and a reduced number of hatchlings due to eggs cooling (= developmental delays). If chicks hatch much later than 22 days, it could also result in the chicks having some developmental issues. I'm hoping none of these things happen - but you should be prepared just in case.

    As far as keeping the chicks warm, she'd probably do fine with 6 to 8 chicks this time of year. The issue will be keeping them warm as the chicks get bigger (i.e., 3 to 6 weeks old, especially in combination with increasingly colder weather). If there are more than that, or if it seems she's having trouble keeping them all warm, you could raise some yourself in a brooder.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017
    Smuvers Farm and Arya28 like this.
  10. Arya28

    Arya28 Songster

    Apr 9, 2017
    Thank you all for your advice! Like I said, we definitely wouldn’t have put that many underneath her on purpose, it’s beyond me how she even got that many! Throughout incubation, we were concerned, like you mentioned about her not keeping them all equally warm. So a few times we rotated the eggs, so that the knee underneath had a chance to be warmer.. this is kind of experimental for us, as it just kinda happened- and considering we just tried to hatch in an incubator and only 5 of 30 hatched. Since they looked good through candling we have our fingers crossed everything turns out ok! I will definitely update you.
    ChuSayBok and Molpet like this.

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