How to get a hen to sit on eggs
I really like the idea of a hen choosing to sit on a clutch of eggs to hatch into chicks. It took me a few years to get the right information in order to have a nest of chicks to hatch. Do you think it is weird for a species to not have the ability to reproduce? For decades, poultry producers have been working to breed out the broodiness of hens. One of the reasons; and it makes sense, if you are in it to make money off of eggs, once a hen goes broody, then she just sits there and doesn't lay more eggs. I myself don't really want ALL my hens to go broody every summer. Because I want lots of delicious fresh eggs! A lot of breeds of chickens don't have the ability to go broody any more. I have had success with my Buff Orpington mixed breed.
In my favorite chicken book called "The Small-Scale Poultry Flock" by Harvey Ussery; it says that the heavier breeds like Cockins, Brahmas, and Bufff Orpingtons have a reputation for being mored likely to brood than other breeds. Mr. Ussery also says that the older more historic breeds of chickens still have that broodiness trait. He mentioned Old English Game, Asils, Malays, Shamos and Dorkings tend to go broody. Lots of people have success with Silkies and Bantams. In my flock of 20-25 hens I normally have 2-3 hens go broody a summer. I think that is a good number for my needs. Since my kids take care of the chickens on a daily basis, I have them pay attention to see if any of the hens have went broody.
It is a good idea if you want your hens to go broody is to start a nest box with 12-15 golf balls. When you collect eggs every day, it is harder for the hens to go broody. But there is something about when they sit on a nest full of eggs that starts that broodiness hormone. Those golf balls feel like a nest of eggs to the hen and she may start to have some motherly instincts.
One of the ways to tell that your hen has gone broody is she is not joining her friends at night on the roost. Also when you put your hand close to you she will let off a shrieky squawk and try to peck your hand. She will flatten her body in the nest and raise her feathers. I normally watch her for another day or two and see if she is in the same frame of mind. If she is, I will remove her from her nest and give her an area of her own, away from the rest of the flock. Here are the reasons why; Reason 1: when she needs a potty break and to eat and drink, another hen might come in and lay an egg and the hen could mistakenly go into another nest box. The clutch of eggs does not need any more eggs added to it! Bad Idea! Reason 2: Your broody hen also needs a way to get her chicks to be able to reach the ground once they hatch. Reason 3: I feel much better when new baby chicks are safe from the rest of the flock for at least ten days till they get stronger. Trust me, you need to separate her. There will be so much less confusion.
When I separate a broody hen, I put her in a portable dog kennel. It is best to move her at night when she has less awareness of what is going on. She will be a whole lot calmer. I put straw in the kennel. I also put an old blanket over her kennel so she is more likely to stay broody. She is more likely to stay broody if you put her in an area of a shed or barn that doesn't have a lot of busyness and racket going on. It is best if she is in a quiet place. Before you put her in there. Put a clutch of golf balls in there. 12-15 should do the trick if she is a large breed. If she is on the smaller side, only put in 9. Your broody hen is so smart that she knows just the right amount of eggs that she will be able to keep warm. If she doesn't have enough golf balls under her she will lay one every day until she thinks she has enough eggs.
If she still is broody in 2-3 days, replace those golf balls at night with real eggs. The fertilized kind would be ideal! If you don't have a rooster, you won't have fertilized eggs. No rooster=no fertilized eggs=no chicks. I put an odd number of eggs under her. At the most, 15 eggs for a large Buff Orpington. For a smaller breed, perhaps you should do 5 - 10 eggs. Always do less eggs if you are not sure on how many to put under her. If any of the eggs get chilled. The baby chick will die in the egg. Mama Hen will continually rotate her eggs so if there are one too many eggs, you could have most of your eggs not hatch. It is better to set fewer eggs then to risk not having many hatch out.
I have learned the hard way a couple times now. Don't be like me... Don't give eggs to a hen unless she has sat on the golf balls on the nest where she is going to hatch out her babies for at least 2 days. If she gets up on her own in those 2 days she is either not broody any more or losing her broodiness.
As soon as you put eggs under the hen, write down on your calendar when you put her on the nest and when the hatching date will be. It would be a mistake to add any more eggs after you put the original eggs in there. Your hen will start hatching those cute little chicks on the 20th day. In the incubator it will 21 days. See, your hen is going to do a better job than the incubator! After 10 days, of her sitting on the eggs, go out at night and candle those eggs. If there is an unfertilized egg it will be dark and there won't be any movement in there. A blood ring will be in there if the egg is not viable.
Research how to candle eggs if that is not familiar to you. Take out any eggs that don't seem like there is a chick in there.In ten more days there should be some little chicks hatching under her. Since I put the eggs under her when it is dark outside, that is typically when the chicks will start hatching. Go out and check to see if any chicks are hatching on day 20. Normally there will be a couple chicks under her. For 20 days I have something to look forward to. If you ever feel like life has gotten mundane or not exciting, get some chickens, especially a mama hen with some eggs under her. I can't wait to see the miracle of new life. I realize these are chickens, but you can see the handiwork of Someone much greater than ourselves at work!
A mama hen can go days without eating. She seems to not need much sustenance. She can even lose up to a third of her body weight. I don't want my hens getting too skinny so I either provide water and food in an area that she can get to easily, or I take her off her nest so she can stretch, go to the bathroom and get some food and water. By the way, when she goes to the bathroom, it is a smell that is quite horrible! I like to throw some straw or wood chips on top of it to take care of the smell. Do not let her be off her nest more than 15 minutes. If her eggs cool to long, she will not be able to hatch them out.
Also do not put 2 broody hens in the same space even if they are in separate kennels. If one hen hatches out her chicks before the other one, the hen that is still waiting for her chicks will hear those little chick sound and wonder where her chicks are. She is a chicken; she will not realize that she needs to wait a little longer and she will turn into a confused mother that is looking for her chicks. I had that happen and the hen wouldn't sit on her nest anymore on the day before her chicks were due to hatch. The chicks started hatching and I lost 5 chicks because mama hen wasn't sitting on the nest. They got too cold and quickly died. Luckily I had another broody hen that I put the remaining unhatched eggs under her and she hatched them out.
I have been able to get a mama hen to adopt more chicks that had lost their mother to a coon that got into the building that they were in. They were a couple weeks old already so they didn't need to be under their mother as much. I put the orphan chicks in a small dog kennel, put the mama hen in the same small room with the orphans but yet separated by the kennel. They were able to meet. This mama had 8 of her own babies. I also put the food and water next to the kennel so they would have to all be in the same area. My thinking was that the hen would start seeing those chicks as her own. Sure enough, I let the orphan chicks out in about 4 hours and the mama hen didn't treat the new chicks any different.
My kids have made the comment that baby chicks that hatch under their mother look so healthy. Their eyes look so bright, their fluffy little bodies look healthy and they look content. We have seen a lot of chicks hatch with incubators and can see a real difference! Maybe that's the difference when there is someone to take care of you when you hatch!
Here's a verse for you:
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.