Issues With Broody Hens

“I have a question: Not coming from a chicken oriented background, I’ve had very poor luck in getting a broody hen to keep other hens from laying in her nest, so the nesting goes on – like – forever, and I even had a banty hen starve to death while setting, trying to get the eggs to hatch. The only successful hatch I’ve had was when the hen hid her eggs on top of the hay and out of sight of the other hens.

It would be nice if I could get one to set in one of the nest boxes so I could more easily manage the outcome. I’ve ordered 25 chicks to arrive next week and they are all broody breeds, so there is time to prepare for the broody hen[s]… maybe this fall or next spring. My hope is to not have to buy new chicks every couple of years. Thanks for answering” ~ Yvonne

Hi Yvonne,

Thanks for writing.

Here’s a couple of tips.

I am not completely clear as to whether your hens are in fact laying in their nest boxes or not. If they are not, encourage them to do so by placing eggs in them. You may loose a few eggs if the weather is warm but in the long run, it will be easier to manage an impending hatch.

If necessary, separate your new chicks from the existing flock and teach them where to lay their eggs.

Now you have to make a decision based upon how strong your hen’s instinct to brood is.

If her instinct to brood is very strong, you will begin collecting eggs for her.

Remove all the eggs each day.

You will “hold” these eggs until you have assembled a clutch for her. Two or so days before the clutch is complete, allow her to sit on a few eggs to ensure that she is broody and will stay on the nest when you return the eggs you are holding. At that point, you will place the eggs under her for her to hatch.

If her instinct to brood is not very strong, removing all the eggs might discourage her and cause her to give up the whole thing. In this case, you’ll need to leave a few eggs in the nest for her to sit on. The few that you leave should be marked with a pencil so that as you collect, you know which ones are new and should be collected, and which are the ones you are leaving.

Following this method, you’ll need to throw away the eggs you’ve left for her when you deliver her clutch to her.

Watch her closely during this time to make sure she is getting off the nest to eat and drink.

Remember that her nourishment will be limited for 21 days while she is hatching the eggs you are collecting for her, it is important for her to receive proper food and water during this time while you assemble her clutch. If it is necessary, remove all the eggs for a day or so to encourage her drink and eat.

It can be a precarious situation because you don’t want her to come out of her brood but she needs nourishment. She will be appreciative if you place food and water near her nest box so she can keep an eye on her nest while she takes care of her needs.

The purpose of collecting a clutch for her is so that all the eggs begin the incubation process at the same time.

That way, the eggs will hatch at roughly 21 days and she can begin the process of mothering her chicks rather than being torn between staying with the eggs that have not yet hatched and caring for the chicks.

Of the eggs that you collect, choose only the best to store; no cracks, clean, not misshapen, fresh, etc. Select medium sized well shaped eggs. Large eggs don’t hatch well and small eggs will produce small chicks with a high mortality rate.

DO NOT WASH THE EGGS, the protective bloom must be intact.

Once you have selected your eggs to hatch, you’ll want to “set” them as soon as you have a clutch, or group, ready.

“Setting” is when you return the eggs to the nest and place them under the hen.

Storage and handling is important as you assemble your collection of eggs to hatch. If properly stored, you can “hold” your eggs for up to 7 days. After 7 days, hatchability declines rapidly. After 3 weeks of holding, you have about a 0% chance that any of your eggs will hatch.

Handle eggs as little and as carefully as possible to prevent damage. Remember that inside the eggs is living thing. Also remember that with each handling, the protective bloom is disturbed.

Store the eggs in a cool and humid storage area.

The temperature needs to be steadily around 55 degrees F (13 degrees C.) There needs to be around 75% relative humidity. Variations will reduce hatchability.

Store the eggs in an egg carton or flat with the small end pointed down.

With a pencil, and only a pencil, mark the date of collection on each egg. If you haven’t assembled your clutch within 7 days, you might want to go ahead and set the ones you have and thereby hatch a smaller number of eggs.

The alternative would be to continue collecting more eggs with the understanding that the eggs that are more than a week old are less likely to hatch.  Also, eggs held more then 10 days should be stored with the large end pointed down.

If the eggs will be set within 7 days of being laid, there is no need to turn them during the holding period.

If you will be holding your eggs for more than a week, you’ll need to turn them from side to side once daily. One way to accomplish this is to place a 6 inch block of wood under one end of the carton or flat. Each day you’ll move the block from one end to the other allowing the contents of the eggs to shift. The advantage to this method is that you do not need to handle the eggs thereby disturbing the bloom.

When you return the eggs to your hen, be sure that you remove the eggs you had left for her to sit on while you assembled your clutch.

If your hen is broody, she will only leave the nest a few times a day and only for a few minutes at a time. There should not be time for another hen to settle onto the nest and lay another egg.

However, if you suspect that is the case, you’ll want to remove the new additions daily, a few times a day would be better. You should be able to tell which are the new eggs and which are part of the original clutch because you wrote the date on the eggs as you collected them while you were assembling the clutch.

This is also important because your hen can only properly cover so many eggs.

She must keep all the eggs at a temperature of around 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

As she turns and rotates the eggs, the ones on the outside will become chilled. Each time the eggs in the middle are cycled to the outside, that chilling effect will drastically reduce your hatch ratio as each eggs spends some time on the outside.

Yvonne, I hope this has been of help to you.

Best of luck with your new chicks and your existing flock.