A friend of mine is hatching some eggs using a broody chicken so I thought I'd do a quick post with some tips for success and then any anyone else has got can be added at the end.
This aren't set in stone but it's what I do to hatch eggs and helps increase your odds of a successful hatch -
- Make sure she's been broody for at least a few day before you give her eggs to hatch.
- Separate the hen off from the rest of the flock and get her settled for a day before you put eggs under her.
- If you leave her in the same pen then the other hens might bully her off the nest or they might fight and an egg get damaged, although I know many people still hatch eggs without removing the chicken from the flock I just find it easy to manage as well.
- Also use the day before to make sure she stays broody, sometimes moving her into a new pen will break her broodiness (annoying if you've brought eggs for her to sit on!).
- Make sure the pen you give her is nice and safe from predators and has a nice dark nest for her to hide in. I use a little chicken arch for the purpose (or chicken tractor if you live on the other side of the pond) with some hay for her to build her nest with and a covered run.
- When collecting your eggs to hatch out, the fresher the better, and better if they're all the same age. Make sure none are damaged.
- Don't get too greedy on what your hen can hatch out. Look at the size of her and think about how many will comfortably fit under her. Lift her up and see how big of a warm area she has under her. I normally go for about 8 or nine eggs for an average sized chicken with normal sized eggs.
- It takes on average 21 days for a egg to hatch but I have had eggs hatch on day 20 so it pays to keep checking towards the end.
- It's worth candling the eggs halfway through to see if they're is any signs of development, a bad egg at the end can smell really bad!
- Every day during the brooding I make sure the hen is chucked off her nest and shut out of the nest box for ten minutes. She doesn't like this but then she can then have a (huge) poo away from the nest and have a drink and some food. I give her constant access to food and water the rest of the time but at the far end of the run so she has to get up to eat.
- A good hen will be dedicated to her eggs, if you see her eating and walking around lots you might as well take her eggs away as it's doubtful they will hatch. Also a good hen will be desperate to get back to her eggs after you've taken her off when she has a drink and some food.
- When the eggs hatch the hen will really come into her own, she looks after the chicks, not you. You don't need to provide extra heat, just drinking water (with stones in to prevent drowning) and some chick crumbs for them to eat (they don't need any for the first 24 hours). I move mine on to fresh grass each day and after a few weeks I add a little wheat to their food mix to get them used to what they're going to eat.
- This is when they're most vulnerable to predators so make sure they're coop is covered. When I hatched some out this year the magpies didn't leave the side of the pen for three weeks and I've no doubt I would have lost them if they weren't under wire.
So there are a few of my tips. I know that free ranged chickens wonder off and come back with a clutch of chicks quite often but it's not a very planned way of hatching them and can be a little unreliable!
Using a hen in this way really is, in my opinion, the easiest way to hatch out chicks simply because once they're hatched the hen looks after them for you and they harden up to the outside world much faster -without a incubator or heat lamp in sight!
What are your top tips for hatching eggs?