Modern breeding has pretty much eliminated broodiness in most large fowl breeds, although there still may be one or two within a flock that have retained those mothering instincts. If you are raising Silkie chickens or Bantam chickens, you’ll find these broody chicken breeds tend to be perpetually broody and generally make good, reliable mother hens. Rare landrace breeds instinctively go broody and are fierce protectors of their offspring.
Broody Hen Behavior
Several things will happen when a broody hen is ready to set. She will pull feathers from her breast, which by nature is how she determines the proper temperature of the eggs as they lay close to her breast. Her own body temperature will increase, so those incubating eggs will be at the optimum incubating temperature. That sweet little hen may become a mama bear as her hormones surge, so expect her to growl, peck, and even flap her wings at you if you come near. Just talk quietly to her and do not try to approach her if she is stressing and showing aggression. This is perfectly normal behavior and once the chicks have hatched and are on their own, she will most likely return to her sweet self once again.
The more disturbances to the broody, the higher the risk of a failed hatch. Do make sure the broody hen is in a protected and safe environment, it is not uncommon for a broody hen to choose a nest outside of the coop, especially if your flock free ranges. If a hen comes up missing, it’s time to start searching for her and remove her to a protected environment.
Hatching Chicken Egg Timeline
When relying on a broody hen to hatch eggs, be sure to mark those eggs. This way other eggs laid by hens trying to share the nest will be distinguishable and can be removed. You can purchase fertile hatching eggs and place under a broody hen. As soon as you know you have a determined broody hen, order your eggs, which take an average of three days to arrive via priority mail or at an additional cost you can have them shipped by overnight mail.
If possible, move the broody hen to a nest not typically used by the others or set up a broody pen or crate for her so
she is able to set in peace. Be vigilant about how you place the eggs if you do move her, though she will re-arrange them to suit her but. if they are not in the position she has set them, she may kick some of the eggs out. Mark your calendar when you know she is setting. Chicken eggs average 21 days incubation. This is merely a guideline; eggs can hatch either side of 21 days, so don’t be in a rush, allow her to determine when the hatch is over.
No Human Help Needed
There isn’t much hands-on work needed with a broody hen; she knows what she’s doing. Human intervention can discourage her and cause her to abandon the nest. So, if you want her to set, leave her to take care of business and only remove other eggs when she is off the nest for food and water.
It is possible to witness some co-parenting, where two hens may share a nest of eggs right through hatching and through the rearing of those chicks. Determine if they are actually sharing the nest compatibly or if one hen is interloping. If one is just causing a disturbance, it will be best to move that hen where she can no longer bother the nesting hen.
As the 18th day approaches the hen will position the eggs for an optimum hatch. Do not disturb her during the final three days of the process. And do not assume when day 21 arrives with no pipping or hatching, that it’s over. Continue to leave that mother hen alone. You may notice the mama softly clucking. She feels the babies moving in the eggs, and as they near hatch, the babies will peep back to her. This may be a sign of encouragement and comfort to those unhatched babies. She will leave the nest when she instinctively knows that no other chicks will be hatching.
The hen will not leave the nest for at least the last three days of incubation, even to relieve herself. In addition, do not be surprised to see the nest soiled, the hen will relieve herself in that nest regardless of the eggs and ensuing chicks. You can clean up the nest after she decides that all have hatched, and she takes the babies from the nest for their first outing.
If by chance a broody hen does abandon a nest, you can gather those eggs and either place them under another broody hen or place them in an incubator. Just be sure to mark your calendar so you have an idea when that hatch is due.
After all the chicks have hatched, Mama hen will take her babies for their first outing, and you will want to observe how she expertly teaches them where to find the food, how to scratch for the food, locate a water source, and teaches them how to dust bathe. You will also notice her discipline them with a peck if they do not follow her instructions. We’ve seen mama hens send their offspring to a corner if they do not behave.
Enjoy the experience of watching nature in action. There is a lot of entertainment and learning experiences involved if you have never seen a mama hen perform her natural and instinctual duties.