Hen is Getting Eggs from the Whole Flock--what to do?

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
Premium Feather Member
Feb 2, 2009
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I’ve been doing it for years and never had a problem.
Same here, never been a problem. Over the years on this forum I've seen where people give this warning about Sharpie's. I've never seen anyone say they've actually had a problem. The theory is that the liquids that carry the ink and quickly dry so the ink is not wet will penetrate the porous egg shell, penetrate the membrane under that shell, and pass through the egg white to the embryo on the surface of the yolk in enough strength to kill or harm the embryo. When I think of the physics involved and the dosage that it would take to do anything to the embryo I am not in the least bit worried.

When I was a kid we didn't have Sharpie's. I'd use a soft leaded pencil, ink from a fountain pen, or even a Crayola crayon to mark eggs. I never had a problem with any of those either. Yes a fountain pen. Ball point pens had not been developed or I'd have probably used one to them too. If you don't want to use a Sharpie, use something else. I'm not trying to tell anyone how they have to do it, just mentioning what I do.

@jwehl I'm not trying top pick on you. I've read the same stuff on here, I think it is a legitimate question.
 

jwehl

Crowing
Nov 3, 2020
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@jwehl I'm not trying top pick on you. I've read the same stuff on here, I think it is a legitimate question.
No worries, I didnt see anyones replies as picking. I appreciate your thorough and scientific explanation. Some of my info is passed down from other chicken tenders, without me doing my own research. I definitely try to convey those bits as things I've heard and not straight out facts.
 

DoozyWombat

Songster
There are lots of ways you could go about this. When I think a hen has gone broody and I want her to hatch eggs, she has to spend two consecutive nights on her nest instead of sleeping in her normal spot before I give her eggs. I've had many that almost go broody but don't quite kick over into full broody mode. So two consecutive nights on the nest. During this time I collect real eggs put from under her daily but toss in a couple more fake eggs, golf balls for me.

I do not isolate my broody hens from the flock at all. Some people isolate while incubating, during hatch, or when the hen is raising them. I'm not going to say any of them are bad or best methods. We all have different circumstances and there might something about yours that makes one way better for you, but this way works for me.

I collect all the eggs I want her to hatch and mark them with a black Sharpie so I can tell at a glance which ones belong. Then I put them all under her at the same time, removing the fake eggs. Then every day after the other hens have laid I check under her and remove any that don't belong. As long as you remove them daily you can still use them. As someone else said the eggs that have started to develop are still safe to eat but I can't get past the yuk! factor. Starting then all at the same time avoid the staggered hatch uncertainty you are going through. There is a lot less stress.

Other eggs can show up. Usually this is from other hens laying with the broody but some hens have been known to carry eggs back to their nest, even hopping up a distance. Don't underestimate a determined broody. Like Bobbi, I just raise her up to see what is under her. Some people toss them off the nest. She should sort of hunch down there for a bit and then either go back to the nest or go out to eat, drink, and poop. Maybe take a dust bath. As long as she is a committed broody she will go back.

Before a hen or pullet starts laying eggs she stores up a lot of extra fat. I've butchered enough pullets, hens, cockerels, and roosters to see how much extra fat the girls pack on. It can be impressive. This fat is mostly what a broody hen lives off of while she is on the nest incubating her eggs. That way she can stay on the eggs instead of spending her time looking for food. Broody hens will leave their nests to eat, drink, poop, and such. I've seen a broody leave her nest twice a day and stay off for over an hour each time. Another one came off for only 15 minutes in the morning. Both had great hatches. A lot of the time I never see a broody hen off of her nest, they can be secretive, but I know she is coming off because she is not pooping in her nest. A broody should know instinctively to not poop in her nest, they often save it up and you can see some humongous poops outside when she does let go.

Different broodies store up different amounts of fat and come off of the nest for different periods. When ours come off the nest they have food available so they don't have to hunt for it. They can really load up. That stretches their fat even longer before they run out. I'm comfortable letting my hens stay broody and on a nest for five weeks before I break them. There is nothing magical about five weeks, it's just a number I arbitrarily chose. Broodies do lose weight while broody but it's fat put there for that purpose. It doesn't hurt them. Most broody hens will break from being broody when that fat runs out but a few won't. So for their own health I put them in my broody buster if they can't meet my five week deadline. I don't give them any eggs after they have been broody a week and a half. To show you how safe and arbitrary my five weeks are, some people let broody hens hatch turkey eggs which need to be incubate five weeks before hatch. It can take time for then to get the turkey eggs. I'm just extremely cautious.

This is for next time. What do you do now? You can mark all the eggs that are under her now and start removing any new ones that show up. Or you can candle them and mark and keep the ones you choose by candling. There is information about candling under the "Articles" tab at the top of this page that show you what you are looking for and how to do it. I use a bright flashlight in a very dark place. Others get more fancy and can probably see better than I can.

I'd let the hen go another week to see if any hatch before I used my broody buster. That's an elevated wire bottomed cage with food and water but nothing that looks like a nest. You may be able to raise it up on bricks or blocks depending o what you have or can make. The cool air under her seems to help break her from being broody. I keep her in there for 72 hours and turn her loose. That's usually enough but if she goes back to her nest I put her back in.

This is arbitrary, the way I'd do it. Others have different opinions and methods. I'm not saying they are wrong, just that this is the way I'd do it and I've tried to say why. You have lots of different options.

Good luck!
Thank you for this long and clear answer! I've been letting her stay on the eggs for now, but I marked them all, and I've been pulling out any that aren't marked. So far, two of the eggs have started hatching, but neither of them have made it. One definitely died, and the other was barely alive as of yesterday. I'm making sure she has food and water, and I'll let it play out at least another week, in case some of the later arrivals make it. I really want her to handle this naturally, and I'm hoping she gets it when the first chick makes it all the way out of the shell.

She has gotten used to me lifting her off the nest, now. I set her down beside it, and she grumbles and hunkers down. I have to check the eggs quickly, because I have about six seconds before she jumps onto my arm to squeeze back into the box and gather the eggs again.

And that sounds like a great plan to break her if the whole thing fails.

Thanks again.
 

SulkyBantam

Flock Consultant
Nov 3, 2020
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My Coop
Here's another newbie question. The nesting box is elevated about a foot. If/when chicks start to hatch and start to explore, will they fall out of the nest and will the hen look after them?
The hen will try to look after them but you will want to make sue they can't fall. They may get lost or injured. Make a wooden plank-guard maybe.
So did you candle?
 

DoozyWombat

Songster
So have you candled? Any alive?
I started to candle them, but couldn't do it in the daytime, without carrying the eggs back to the house. I guess I can do it in the coop at night, but I haven't tried that yet. I haven't done that but once or twice, and it seems to disturb the flock a lot. By removing any new eggs (during the day,) I will at least stop any new chicks from starting.

I've had two eggs start hatching. One definitely died, and the other doesn't look like it's going to make it.
 

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