The First Babies Hatched on the Farm - and Lessons I Learned from Them - With Pictures

Rhode Island Rita

In the Brooder
8 Years
Jun 22, 2011
I hope this is the right section for this! If it's not, I will move it over elsewhere. :)

We recently had three hens go broody at once, and we were thrilled at the prospect of babies running around that didn't have to go through the trauma of shipping from a hatchery. Well, two of the broodies hatched out their eggs, and these are the things I learned:

1. Momma always knows best, except when she doesn't. Our broodies are first time mothers, and while they were absolutely dedicated to keeping those eggs warm, one of them wasn't ready yet for the protective duties of keeping her babies safe from the other hens around the yard. We human types are to blame as well, because we didn't realize there would be issue with the other hens attacking the babies. Of the five eggs our buff brooded on, four hatched, two of those babies were eaten, and one was wounded before we managed to get them out. Now they're under a heat lamp, and doing fabulously:

There's a third buff in there who hatched under a different mother and had to be taken out due to the other eggs under her still needing to be incubated until the third of next month. Also, yes. That is a moose stuffed animal. They like to sleep under it!

2. You should always separate out your broodies from the rest of the flock. I've discovered it's really the best way to go (for me, at any rate) after seeing what happened to the buff who I let stay in her coop (since she was the only one who would lay eggs in the area she picked as her nest) versus the slight mystery hen (some sort of bantam game hen? she's TINY) who I moved out into a completely separate enclosure free of hens, roosters, and other distractions/stressors. She and her babies are doing wonderfully, and they're absolutely adorable:

I'm not sure if the babies are going to be a mix of her and the rhode island red rooster she lives with, or the rhode island red rooster and the new hampshire red hen who also shares their pen. I'm excited to find out as they get older (and if any of you have theories based on these shoddy photos, I would love to hear them!).

3. Don't add eggs to the broodie hen's clutch as you pull them out of coops days apart. I'm horribly guilty of this, and it's why that little buff had to be added to the other two. The game hen who hatched out those four mystery babies was brooding on a lot of other eggs that were spaced apart by a day or several days. So she was neglecting her hatched chicks in favor of continuing to brood. After a full 24 hours of that I hoisted her up, snagged the eggs, and settled her back in. It took her maybe an hour to realize she didn't have any more eggs before she was out there showing them the water dish and the food. Of the eggs I pulled out, I discarded the ones I knew were mystery hybrids, and put the buff egg and two araucana eggs under another broodie. The buff hatched out the next day after I put it under, and I'm hoping the araucanas will hatch too. If not, I marked them and plan to pull them out in a couple days. <-- Look how even after seeing how it was bad to put eggs under a hen late, I still did it anyway. Guilty, guilty.

4. Broodiness is like a disease in my flock. I don't know if they caught on that broodiness wouldn't be punished or something, but now I have three more hens gone broody. It might just be the change of seasons from ridiculously cold to painfully hot, but I like to think they're conspiring against me so I don't have any eggs to sell at market :p They're lucky they're so durn cute.

4b. Breaking a hen out of a broody mindset is hard. Once they get going, they're incredibly determined.

5. Don't mess with mother. Just don't do it. She will bite you, and she will scratch you, and she will treat you like the predator you are. It'll stress her out a lot, and make the brooding experience unpleasant for her. It can also knock poor (poor quality, I mean) brooders out of broodiness if you do it too much. Unless your brooder is the wee game hen. Then she'll make dinosaur noises at you, and let you scritch her feathers and feed her and her babies out of your hand.

But she will give you the crazy eye while you do it (when she's not busy chowing down).

6. Don't assist the failed hatchers. I came across an egg under the game hen who had pipped the night before but then failed to hatch out. Being morbidly curious, and assuming it was dead, I decided to take the shell apart and see what had done it in (I'd heard terrible stories about something called "shrink wrapping" and wanted to see if that was culprit). Upon peeling some of the shell back, I heard some peeping coming from inside the unbroken membrane of the egg. That should have been my cue to put the egg back under mom, give it until dark, and see if it could get out on its own. Unfortunately, I didn't do that. Instead, I started peeling it more, broke the membrane, and out plopped a wet, peeping buff orpington. Mom wanted nothing to do with it, acted very aggressively toward it. The same sort of aggression that had left the other buffs dead/wounded from the other brooder. So I took it in and put it under a heat lamp. It seemed fine, but when I came back a few hours later, I found it dead. It wasn't strong enough to break out of its egg, and I should have left it at that!

I'm a novice chicken keeper, but I feel that I've learned more in the past few days with these hatchings than I have in the last year since I got my first chickens off craigslist. I hope that some of this might be useful to anyone else having a first time experience with brooding hens.

:) Happy Chickening!
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