Broody Hen Coming Off The Nest

“I’ve had a broody chicken sitting on eggs for over two weeks. Today she has been off the nest all day. Will the eggs still hatch if she goes back to sitting?” ~ Anne

Thanks for the question, Anne.

My answer is, “Maybe.”

There is a possibility that the eggs will be fine if your current temperatures and humidity mimic that of an artificial incubator.

The current temperature surrounding the eggs needs to be around 99 degrees Fahrenheit if the air is still, 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit if there is a slight breeze.

The relative humidity needs to be 58%-60% through day 18 and then increase to 65% from day 18 to 21.

Any variance with the above measurements will have an effect on the hatchability of the clutch.

Assuming your conditions are right, it would be important for the hen to return to her nest before the temperatures drop for the night.

If I’m realistic though, it’s probably pretty unlikely that your climate will support the incubation of eggs without the aid of mother hen so let’s talk about some of the reasons she might have left the nest in the first place.

An experienced mother or one that has a strong broody instinct will know the condition of the developing chicks within the shells.

It’s not uncommon for mama to kick out of the nest, eggs in which the chicks have died.

It is possible that there was no hope for the clutch and mama’s instincts caused her to leave the nest.

A first time mother sometimes seems to lack the patience to stay on the nest long enough to hatch her clutch. This is most often the case when she is less than year old.

Many breeds have had the instinct to brood bred right out of them. This is especially true of prolific breeds. A prolific breed (one that produces a lot of eggs) has been bred for that trait.

Keeping in mind that a broody hen does not lay any eggs while she is incubating her clutch and raising her chicks, the instinct to brood has been discouraged in these breeds.

If you can find a broody hen amongst this group, she’s likely to give up after only a few days.

Unless you are raising heritage birds that have not gone through this genetic selection, it can be awfully hard to find a prolific breed with the instinct to brood.

All this to say that, we can’t always rely on our hens to stick with it until the eggs hatch.

The most reliable mothers are more than one year old, have been hatched and raised by a mother (the example of mothering has been set) and are of a breed that has a strong instinct to brood.

So Anne, because your hen stuck it out for over 2 weeks, I’m going to assume that she is either young, or the chicks had died.

I’m sorry that this has been your experience and wish you the best of luck with your next setting.