Friday, July 29, 2011

Broody Mamas

It just happens out of nowhere. There aren't any warning signs or disaster signals that I can tell. One day you'll go out to the coop to collect eggs and encounter a hen hunkered down in a nesting box. I say "hunkered down" because that's exactly what you'll see: a hen sitting low and fat in the nesting box. She's not trying to lay an egg. I've caught hens a few times getting ready to lay or who'd just laid eggs and they'll high tail it out of there pretty much as soon as you open the egg door. If she sits there and looks back at you over her shoulder like you're crazy for intruding on her privacy, then she's not laying an egg; she's trying to hatch some.

My first tactic to break my Brahma's sudden broodiness was to kick her off her "clutch" (Our chickens generally like to lay their eggs in the same one of the three nesting boxes in our coop). I'd nudge her out of the nesting box by lifting her big fluffy butt to take the eggs she was hoarding and then I'd push her out of the box into the coop and say, "Go on. Get out." She'd make some mean clucking noises at me that I assume where not fit for a lady and then go on out into the run. We performed this ritual for several days with the same results (Isn't that the definition of insanity?). That is, until she started getting mean. After three or four days of the nudging tactic, she started fighting back by pecking at my hand and wrist. It didn't hurt, but it was a bit terrifying. As my husband and I debated our next move, The Chicken Man offered up some fertile eggs and some sage advice: let her hatch some eggs and she'll become a happy mama. We decided to go for it.

One afternoon I went out to the coop after work, checked that she wasn't sitting on any of our hens' eggs, and placed seven little white eggs next to her in the nesting box. I'd read somewhere during my hours of internet research about hatching eggs with broody hens that this was the best way to go. I checked on her in an hour and she was sitting on her eggs, hunkered down fat and happy.

Collecting the infertile eggs everyday was easy from then on. She'd look at you when you opened the egg door, but she didn't much mind that we were in there. Most days we weren't bothering her or her unborn brood. However, I'll warn you that if you get fertile eggs that are the same color as your hens' eggs, mark the fertile eggs with a Sharpie. We had it easy because our eggs were a different color. All of our hens lay brown eggs. Some days we'd open the door to collect eggs and Mama would be sitting on the brown eggs, leaving an empty nest full of white eggs. She's cute, but she's not the brightest. Chickens can't tell color or count, so when she'd come back into the coop after her daily excursion outside for food, water, and a good dust bath, she'd get right on the first nesting box of eggs she saw. At least four times, she got on the brown eggs. I referred back to the nudge tactic. I'd lift her butt, take the brown eggs, and close the egg door. She'd get up and go over to the right nesting box. A few times, to be nice, we'd put the white eggs in the new nesting box with her and she'd situate them all underneath herself. Since we were new to this hatching venture, we could have easily prevented the egg switching by moving her to a separate area earlier than we did, but we weren't prepared and it worked out fine in the end.

With all the egg confusion, you'd think we wouldn't have any eggs hatch, but I realized that chickens have been hatching eggs for hundreds of years. They know better than we do on this one. In about twenty days, Mama hatched out five beautiful Japanese-Old English Game crossed bantam chicks. They were the cutest and tiniest things I'd ever seen. And, she did a beautiful job hatching them.

Half of those twenty days I was busy trying to research what I needed to do to help her and take care of those eggs, but then I stumbled onto a great site This site is an amazing five part tutorial on hatching eggs with hens rather than incubators. And, it taught me what I said above: chickens know how to hatch eggs. It's that simple. You don't have to do anything except provide food, water, and a safe place to hatch her chicks. She will do nearly everything else, which includes constantly turning the eggs with her feet or beak every few minutes! It's nothing short of miraculous.

I will say that The Chicken Man was right. She hatched those chicks and she's one happy mama (more on that part later).

You may be thinking the same thing I am: a hen can't tell which eggs she's been sitting on for two weeks, but she knows exactly what to do to keep them alive and then mother them? Sure does.


  1. We are about to try this with one of our broody hens! I have a few questions:
    We have six hens total and they have two nesting boxes but they all lay in the same one. Of course this is where the broody hen has been camping out. Do I put the fertilized eggs in the box she has been using or the other one so the rest of the hens can continue laying?
    How many fertilized eggs should we put in there if we really only want a few more chickens? I don't want 5 or 6 more, we are in an urban area with limited space.
    Did you move the mom and babies away from the other hens after they hatched??

    1. You don't have to move her because the other chickens will start using the other box because they won't have a choice. In our experience, we've replaced what she had been sitting in with the fertilized eggs. The problem with number of eggs is there is no guarantee how many will hatch and how many will be hens or roosters. We've set a dozen under our broody hen twice. The first time five hatched. The second time only three hatched and only two survived. So, it's honestly up to you how many you set under her. You can always sell or give away any extras. We moved mama and her eggs into a separate area a few days before the eggs hatched. The babies need to be separate from the other big chickens until they are a little bigger. Mama will take care of them and protect them, but it's good to keep them with mama on their own for a bit. Good luck! And, if you have any more questions feel free to ask.