Efficiently Hatching Eggs with a Broody Chicken
How Many Eggs Can a Broody Hen Sit On, Where Can She Hatch Eggs, and More!
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Having a broody chicken is one of the most exciting things one can discover in their coop. While it depends on the breed and the genetics of the bird, more than likely you’ll experience a hen that is broody at least once in your life. When you do, you’ll need to know how to set your hen efficiently for optimal success.
Broody Chicken Breeds
While barnyard mixes and random hens can certainly go broody, there are breeds that tend to go more broody than others. Some of the best broody hens that you’ll find are the Brahma, Cochin, Orpington, Silkie, Marans, and Sussex. My favorite broodies are landrace breeds, such as the Icelandic chicken. A landrace breed is not really a breed at all. Instead, a landrace is a group of animals that have been mostly kept in the wild and adapted to the ever-changing environment around it with little help or alterations to the breed by humans. Think of the term “survival of the fittest”, and that’s what a landrace is. Their natural instincts are impeccable.
Signs of a Good Broody
Some hens will just go broody, period. When they do, there are a few tell-tale signs to know if she’s truly broody, or if she’d just like to think that she is. Giving your hen a few days in the nesting box, or wherever she originally decides to set, is best in order to know if you have a hardcore broody or not. Here are some things to look for while she’s setting.
- She’s a permanent sitter. Your hen will only get up to leave the nest to eat, drink water, and take a quick dust bath. She will not get up to roost in the evening with the other chickens when there are eggs in the nest. She’ll return to the nest after only 10 to 15 minutes of being off of it to eat and drink.
- She pulls feathers. In order to fluff her nest and create a long term environment for her to hang out in, she will often pull feathers to feather her nest with.
- She screams at you. If you go into the coop to remove her from the nest, and she puffs up her feathers and starts screaming a shrill sound towards you, chances are, she’s broody.
- Broody poop. Broody poop is the worst. It is chicken poop times five, in every way. And it normally comes out as soon as she gets off of her nest and into her regular living area.
- She lays fairly flat. Broodies like to settle into a naturally relaxed state. This means that their bodies will tend to lay flatter on the nest than a regular chicken laying an egg or sleeping.
If all of these signs are happening, then you’re ready for the next step –– setting up a safe environment for your broody for the next couple of weeks.
Setting Up Your Broody Space
Once you have your broody, you need to decide whether or not you want to allow your broody to hatch her chicks in your coop or in a separate area away from the flock. You can either leave her be in the nesting box, move her to a secluded area in the coop, or move her completely out of the coop. We prefer to leave her in the coop but in a secure area. This way she can raise her chicks right beside the rest of the flock, which ensures easier transition.
How a broody hen hatches chicks is an extremely delicate process. If at any time that process is hindered, it can mean losing the entire clutch of eggs. If this happens, you can go buy chicks to place under her if she loses her clutch if you’d like, or just leave her alone and remove the eggs. Often times people wonder, will a broody hen adopt ducklings? Maybe you have ducklings available but not chicks when a hatch fails. The quick answer is, yes! She very well may. We’ve done this a few times with success by placing the ducklings under her at night. We’ve even had chickens hatch ducklings for us. Whether it’s ducklings or chicks, however, there is always the risk that she’ll simply reject them and go about her way.
Here are some things you can use as a separate broody area away from the coop:
- An old dog house (protected)
- An enclosed (with sides) pet carrier/dog crate
- Rabbit hutch (or any type of hutch)
- Small portable chicken coop with run
- Create your own area with reusable resources
While these are all great options, we prefer to set up a separate space inside the actual coop. You can do this by building a specific broody pen (or even a rabbit hutch) in the coop, or by using a simple large dog crate. As long as the flock can’t get to the nest, you’re good to go!
Steps to Efficiently Hatching With a Broody Chicken
It’s time to set your broody! Here are the steps to take when you’re ready to move her. It’s important to follow these so that she stays on the nest instead of trying to get back to her old nest.
- Move your broody at night. This helps her adjust easier and makes her think she’s still on her original nest.
- Make sure her eggs are good. How many eggs can a broody hen sit on, anyway? A standard size chicken can sit on a clutch of six to 12 eggs. This ensures that she doesn’t crack any of the eggs from over-crowding while trying to keep all of them warm.
- Give her food and water. Make sure you have given her a space that is big enough to put a small bowl of food and water away from the nest but in her general area.
- Make sure she gets back on her nest. Whether she’s in the coop without security, or within her own separate area, make sure she gets back on her nest successfully. You’ll also want to make sure no other chickens are raiding her nest while she’s off.
If you’re able to make sure these simple steps take place, you’ll be on your way to a successful hatch with your broody chicken!
There’s nothing like watching your hen hatch and raise her sweet babies. There truly is nothing quite as enjoyable on your homestead. With these simple steps, you’re sure to enjoy your broody hen for years to come without ever having to pull out the incubator!
Originally published in the April/May 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.