Preparing for hatching with a broody hen

DonyaQuick

Songster
Jun 22, 2021
914
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Upstate NY (Otsego county), USA
My little hen Dimple looks like she may go broody again. The last time she was broody I was quarantining a rooster but hadn't added him, so nothing got incubated since there were no fertile eggs. My rooster has been in long enough I'm pretty sure I have fertile eggs - at least I better have some fertile ones with the amount of certain behaviors going on lol. Anyway, Dimple is showing some pre-broody signs once again. Of course she may yet fake me out and not go broody; she has done the pre-broody behaviors many more times in the past without becoming glued to a nest. Still, I'd like to get ready if she does go broody again.

My plan would be set everything up in the house and let Dimple raise the chicks for a while indoors until they're big enough to be safe outside. I know this would inevitably lead to a lengthy re-integration process with the rest of the flock, but it would be very hard for me to make my whole coop and run safe for day-old chicks. I can repurpose the setup I built for my rooster's quarantine to have an enclosure that's about 12 square feet of space on a tarp with pine shavings. I would just need to slap together a nest box for it, which should be easy. Later I can also let them roam my home office during the day like I did when I raised my hens, so space won't be an issue.

I've tried my best to read up on the process of hatching with a broody hen, but I'm still unsure about a few things.
  • I want to hatch eggs from a few different hens, but one of them might not be mating much or at all with the rooster. So, 1-2 of the eggs I'd want to try might not be fertile. Does that mean I still need to candle regularly to get rid of bad eggs early on? Or can I just wait and see what hatches?
  • I don't have an incubator as a backup option. Is it advisable to have one on hand? Or if Dimple suddenly decided to ditch the nest near the end, would I have enough time to run out and buy one right away without the eggs dying? (I don't want buy one and then never use it if I can avoid it)
  • I don't want to hatch very many eggs, just a few really. I know too few eggs is an risk when using an incubator, but is there a minimum number for putting under a broody given that they won't rely on other chicks for warmth if, say, only one of them hatches?
 
1. Yes you’re right. Candle regularly. And get rid of anything that has no growth. I’d give it about a week or so and you’ll be able to tell the difference between fertile and not.

2. It depends on your climate. If it’s pretty warm out, you have more time. I think the cutoff temp is somewhere in the 70s when the chick would die in the egg. So you may be able to hold out if your weather leaves enough of a window.

But at what point in the laying this happens can change things. If it’s 19 days and she ditched them, then just get them under a heat lamp and keep them at temperature. I hatched 4 this way. Mama got them to lockdown then ditched them and I hatched them in a cat carrier. But if she ditched them at 14 days or so, you will need to turn them and such.

But before all this happens. If you can tell the difference between who’s egg is who’s, check for fertility now. There will be a tiny whitish disc/target shape on the yolk somewhere on a fertile egg. But if you find only half of your white eggs are fertile, put 3 under her and so on.

And 3. A chicken can sit on several eggs. The fertility rate of your eggs can help you pick a good number. If you know all of your eggs are fertile, and you only want 3 chicks, put 5 or 6 under her. Failure rate is too complicated to give a concrete number. Now she can’t sit on 20 either though.

Either way. Checks your eggs for fertility and that will help you decide the rest.
 
  • I want to hatch eggs from a few different hens, but one of them might not be mating much or at all with the rooster. So, 1-2 of the eggs I'd want to try might not be fertile. Does that mean I still need to candle regularly to get rid of bad eggs early on? Or can I just wait and see what hatches?
Either way works.
If you don't want to candle, they will probably be fine.

Personally, I would coandle once, sometime between 5 and 7 days. I can typically recognize developing eggs at that stage, which makes it easy to discard the infertile ones. (When I was first learning, I would also candle a few eggs that had never been incubated, for comparison.)

  • I don't have an incubator as a backup option. Is it advisable to have one on hand? Or if Dimple suddenly decided to ditch the nest near the end, would I have enough time to run out and buy one right away without the eggs dying? (I don't want buy one and then never use it if I can avoid it)
You could just take the chance on having no incubator. Maybe read threads about what other people have done, and see if any of the makeshift incubator ideas is something you could do if you have to.

If she quits sitting on the nest, you probably need to have SOME source of warmth for the eggs within about 12 hours, maybe less, in order to save the eggs.


  • I don't want to hatch very many eggs, just a few really. I know too few eggs is an risk when using an incubator, but is there a minimum number for putting under a broody given that they won't rely on other chicks for warmth if, say, only one of them hatches?
As regards hatching safely, there is no minimum number. A hen can hatch as few as one egg.

There will come a point when the hen no longer wants to care for the chicks. This point can happen when the chicks are quite young (3 weeks or less) or when they are fairly old (8+ weeks). It varies from one hen to another, and sometimes even from one batch of chicks to another batch with the same hen.

At that point, it is nicer to have at least 2-3 chicks so they can hang out together. A single chick could be pretty lonely for the next few months, before it finishes growing up and works its way into the adult pecking order.

If you don't intend to keep any cockerels, you might want to try 6 or more eggs, to increase the chances of having several pullets hatch.
 
If it’s 19 days and she ditched them, then just get them under a heat lamp and keep them at temperature. I hatched 4 this way. Mama got them to lockdown then ditched them and I hatched them in a cat carrier. But if she ditched them at 14 days or so, you will need to turn them and such.

That sounds like something I can do. I can both keep the room warm if I need with a space heater and I also have a heat lamp from raising my hens.

There will come a point when the hen no longer wants to care for the chicks. This point can happen when the chicks are quite young (3 weeks or less) or when they are fairly old (8+ weeks). It varies from one hen to another, and sometimes even from one batch of chicks to another batch with the same hen.

At that point, it is nicer to have at least 2-3 chicks so they can hang out together. A single chick could be pretty lonely for the next few months, before it finishes growing up and works its way into the adult pecking order.

Ah...yep, that makes a lot of sense.
 
My little hen Dimple looks like she may go broody again. The last time she was broody I was quarantining a rooster but hadn't added him, so nothing got incubated since there were no fertile eggs. My rooster has been in long enough I'm pretty sure I have fertile eggs - at least I better have some fertile ones with the amount of certain behaviors going on lol. Anyway, Dimple is showing some pre-broody signs once again. Of course she may yet fake me out and not go broody; she has done the pre-broody behaviors many more times in the past without becoming glued to a nest. Still, I'd like to get ready if she does go broody again.

My plan would be set everything up in the house and let Dimple raise the chicks for a while indoors until they're big enough to be safe outside. I know this would inevitably lead to a lengthy re-integration process with the rest of the flock, but it would be very hard for me to make my whole coop and run safe for day-old chicks. I can repurpose the setup I built for my rooster's quarantine to have an enclosure that's about 12 square feet of space on a tarp with pine shavings. I would just need to slap together a nest box for it, which should be easy. Later I can also let them roam my home office during the day like I did when I raised my hens, so space won't be an issue.

I've tried my best to read up on the process of hatching with a broody hen, but I'm still unsure about a few things.
  • I want to hatch eggs from a few different hens, but one of them might not be mating much or at all with the rooster. So, 1-2 of the eggs I'd want to try might not be fertile. Does that mean I still need to candle regularly to get rid of bad eggs early on? Or can I just wait and see what hatches?
  • I don't have an incubator as a backup option. Is it advisable to have one on hand? Or if Dimple suddenly decided to ditch the nest near the end, would I have enough time to run out and buy one right away without the eggs dying? (I don't want buy one and then never use it if I can avoid it)
  • I don't want to hatch very many eggs, just a few really. I know too few eggs is an risk when using an incubator, but is there a minimum number for putting under a broody given that they won't rely on other chicks for warmth if, say, only one of them hatches?
If you are going to let a hen sit and hatch then let her get on with it.
Don't touch the eggs.
Don't candle them.
Don't worry about an incubator. The hen hatches what she hatches and that's it.
No there is no minimum. More is better up to a point. 6 is a good number I've found. If all six hatch mum will be busy but not a wreck. If less hatch right down to one, mum will be pleased and so should you be.:p
Making her a safe place to sit and hatch is important. Make sure she can come and go at will. She needs to get off the nest every day to poop, eat and dustbath.
The hen knows best. Don't interfere more tha is absolutely necessary.
 
what Shadrach said.

why? what's the issue?
The main issue in my case is snakes. They are quite abundant at the moment. None are venomous or big enough to harm a larger bird or even a chick that's a few weeks old, but I was out doing yard work recently and saw a small one that I'm sure could go right through 1/2in hardware cloth catch a toad about the size of an egg. I kept walking past it thinking "it's not gonna work dude" because it just looked absurd. But...that snake did actually eat the whole toad and slither away happily. So, if a snake with a head <1/2in wide can eat a toad the size of an egg and day old chicks come out of eggs...I'd have to cover the entirety of my setup with 1/4in HWC or something similar, which would be both an ordeal and possibly quite an expense too given that it would only be needed for 2-3 weeks.

If you are going to let a hen sit and hatch then let her get on with it.
Don't touch the eggs.
Don't candle them.
Don't worry about an incubator. The hen hatches what she hatches and that's it.
No there is no minimum. More is better up to a point. 6 is a good number I've found. If all six hatch mum will be busy but not a wreck. If less hatch right down to one, mum will be pleased and so should you be.:p
Making her a safe place to sit and hatch is important. Make sure she can come and go at will. She needs to get off the nest every day to poop, eat and dustbath.
The hen knows best. Don't interfere more tha is absolutely necessary.

The dustbath part may take some work...hmm. Well, I managed it indoors with that when my hens were little and not outside yet, so maybe I can just do what I did then. Back then I periodically offered some dirt in a shallow cardboard box and tried to avoid being right next to it when they went to town. It was easy enough to sweep/vac up what was tossed out.
 
The main issue in my case is snakes.
If the broody is not threatened by it, and it's not venomous, I would leave it to her to protect her chicks from it. A broody is a force to be reckoned with! I have seen broodies take on and defeat would be predators. Of course, if you expect her to raise a dozen or so, she might not be able to keep them all safe, but in the circumstances you describe, I would be expecting her to serve her chicks snake as a meal, rather than the snake succeed in eating them.
 
If the broody is not threatened by it, and it's not venomous, I would leave it to her to protect her chicks from it. A broody is a force to be reckoned with! I have seen broodies take on and defeat would be predators. Of course, if you expect her to raise a dozen or so, she might not be able to keep them all safe, but in the circumstances you describe, I would be expecting her to serve her chicks snake as a meal, rather than the snake succeed in eating them.
During the day the risk may be lower as long as chicks don't wander off, but I'm not sure what Dimple could do if it was at night and she can't see what's going on. My crazy hen that was going after shrews in the winter may well have eaten a snake or two already without me knowing, but there are so many right now and they are hanging out so close to the house and coop that it's just not a risk I want to play with.
 
Coming back to this plan after a tragedy in the flock. Dimple is fine and fully broody now, but one of her sisters had some major health problems and passed away over the weekend. I am trying to stay positive by getting Dimple on her way to hatching some eggs.

This is what I want to get started on very shortly:
  1. Do the brief 40F storage thing on 6 eggs to reduce the chance of cockerel hatches. I need to re-read the details on that and start tonight I think since I don't want Dimple sitting broody for excessively long without incubating. I've read some articles on the 40F trick so it seems worth trying to try to minimize my chances of ending up with 6 cockerels if there's a strong bias towards boys in the eggs I choose. If they're all cockerels, hopefully I would end up with either fewer eggs developing (and therefore fewer roosters to figure out what to do with) or none at all.
  2. Get broody little Dimple moved into the house while still sitting on her nest and then swap the eggs.
  3. I can candle the eggs after a bit to check that any are actually developing early on. It would give me an opportunity to either try again with a new set of eggs or punt. I think dimple should be ok with this; she is not your normal human-aggressive broody and has actually still benn very friendly towards me even in the broody state. I've already practiced taking the ceramic eggs from her, looking at them, and then letting her have them back and it hasn't caused any problems so far.
  4. If I get some development and hatches, yahoo! If I have a completely duff batch I might fall back on getting some day old chicks and doing the midnight swap. I am fully equipped to raise chicks if she were to reject them so I think I have all bases covered.
So far that first step is not proving easy. I built this:

IMG_20220626_175035__01sm.jpg


Not to toot my own horn but I thought it was a pretty good job. I put in a handful of ceramic eggs, moved it to the spare room, grabbed Dimple, and...she essentially said "ew stinky I hate the box and I hate this room but oh hey I love your home office across the hall and there are nice places to sit here, but oh no definitely not that box you made I still hate it." So I for the moment I have done this...

IMG_20220627_115047__01sm.jpg


It JUST fits into a slot next to my other nest boxes. Pure luck since I never intended that. Of course, Dimple went right into the nest box the instant I put it in the coop. Figures. At least this kind of gives the other hens some peace since they can go back to laying in their favorite nest box.

The box can't stay in there for a number of reasons. Snakes are the main one but there are now others, such as another hen that has really started to get fed up with Dimples broody behaviors when she does her brief exits. I'm thinking I may try moving her in the evening by covering the front of box with a towel and bringing it inside with her in it...into my home office I guess since apparently she quite likes that room.
 

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