I just experienced the joy of hatching eggs under a broody hen and I’m so excited to share it with you today. That’s right – we’ve got chicks again!
I have been sharing videos to Instagram stories (saved to a highlight called “Broody Hen”) – if you’re interested in hatching and chicks, check it out because I captured some really neat footage. And if you’re new to my journey raising backyard chickens, get caught up by clicking here.
What is a Broody Hen?
Last year one of my Ameraucana hens (the kind that lay blue eggs – the first chicks I ever got) went broody. That means her body told her to “hatch these eggs!” and she would steal and sit on other chicken’s eggs, refusing to get off. She angered the other hens by occupying the best nesting box – and worried me because she would barely eat or drink. I recently read that a broody hen consumes only 80% of the feed she normally would. We tried so many ways to “break” her of her broodiness but it was only the cold weather that eventually convinced her to give up on nesting. When she emerged from the nesting boxes, she was a tiny little thing. Then she went through a hard moult, losing almost all of her feathers – right before winter. It can be really hard on a hen’s body to go broody, especially if she’s broody for an unnaturally long length of time.
We Had to Buy Fertilized Eggs
When she went broody again this spring, I caved and bought her some fertilized eggs. My rooster, Pewter, rarely mates these days so I couldn’t count on him, lol. I know this, not only because I never see him mate anymore, but also because I check our eggs when we cook and bake with them. You can spot a fertilized egg once you crack it open and they used to be fertilized, but not anymore. So I bought six fertilized eggs (three Marans and three Ameraucanas) from a local woman. I told her it was my first time hatching, and she generously gave me two extra for a total of eight eggs.
Broody (her new name) was DELIGHTED when she saw that I had a clutch of eight eggs waiting for her in a separate, closed off area. We kept food and water nearby for her, where no other chickens could pester her, and she was the best broody hen ever.
Some hens give up after a few days or weeks, abandoning their eggs, but she did not. She sat and sat and sat – I never saw her leave the nest, but I saw one new fresh poop in her general vicinity every day, so I know she was getting up to quickly eat and drink. But she went right back to the eggs!
Because I had taken so many eggs from her in the past, any time I checked on her she SCREAMED and growled at me. She would peck if I tried to sneak a peek. She was a very protective broody hen.
The Hatching Experience
For 19 days, she just sat on those eggs, pretty much non-stop. There was not much for me to do except keep her area clean, and keep her fed and hydrated. I tried to give her little treats but she wouldn’t touch them until I left. Even then, she barely made a dent in even her most favourite snacks.
After 19 days (which was four days ago), we could hear the chicks peeping from inside the eggs. And the eggs were moving slightly. That was amazing to see! The chicks communicate from the egg to their mama, to say “I’m on the way!”. The peeping tells her how long to keep sitting on the nest because it’s a clue as to how many viable eggs there are. The chicks also communicate with each other, to sort of time their hatching.
By Day 20, there was a chick under her!
I could even see some of the eggs with beaks poking out and I almost got to see one hatch!
But mostly I left her alone to oversee the hatching process – even though I was bursting from the curiosity.
The new chicks were curious about me too, haha! They pop out from under her to say “hello,” every time I open the door.
Over the course of about a day and a half eventually two, then three – finally SEVEN of eight eggs hatched!
I was told to expect a 25-50% hatch rate, but to brace myself for no chicks at all. Hubby was worried about us getting too many new chickens, and I kept promising him we’d probably end up with only a couple. I will admit that I was wrong, lol. We have seven new chicks!
It’s very interesting to see photos of chick embryo development – I really recommend Googling it (here’s a graphic version and a less graphic version). I saved the egg shells after the chickens hatched, because it’s neat to see the little blood vessels. Hubby thinks this is absolutely disgusting so I eventually threw them away. I find it incredible fascinating to think about how chicks grow inside these eggs.
At least the dogs were interested too, haha:
Meeting Hours Old Chicks
The chicks were so small when they first hatched. At first they emerged all wet and weak, exhausted by the task of pecking out of their shells. But soon, under the warmth of their mama, they fluffed out and emerged all dry and sleepy. But even when they fluffed out, they were so small the first day! I am used to getting chicks by mail, when they are already a few days old. Chicks that are only a few hours old are so, so tiny and delicate.
The chicks Broody hatched behave differently than the ones I have received by mail. These chicks are confident and brave, immediately curious about me and brave enough to hop into my hand. I think chicks get a little traumatized by the mailing process. My last batch of chicks (two died in transit), were especially squirrelly. Some were clingy while some were terrified of me and overall they just seemed…unsettled. These chicks, on the other hand, are super content and relaxed. Even when they get a bit active, they’re calmer somehow. I will never buy chicks through the mail again. I see now how different they are when they can hatch under a broody hen and are immediately taught by their mama. They are happier chicks!
The Magic of Mama Teaching Her Babies
What’s fascinating is watching Broody teach her chicks. I had taken a couple out from under her to dip their beaks in the waterer (it’s how to show them to drink). She realized what I was doing and brought more over to me, drinking herself and showing them how. It’s like she said, “Good idea human, let me help with that”. When I gave her a handful of hard boiled egg, she called them over and showed them how to eat from my hand. She seems to work with me to teach them things – it’s amazing!
And she doesn’t mind when I take them out for a little a snuggle or photo.
But whenever I set them back down, they run back to her. When I had chicks from the mail, some of them grew really attached to me and would run to me. I won’t lie, that was nice. Now they run back to Mama, which is the way it should be.
Seeing a broody hen with her chicks has also been really funny.
At one point, she had some chicks sleeping under her and she let out the BIGGEST, smelliest, diarrhoea poop. It was so loud and disgusting and the chicks under her SCREAMED in unison in response. I wish I had caught that on camera – Hubby and I were doubled over laughing. (Don’t worry, I cleaned it up).
Later that day, she was eating some egg and the chicks kept trying to eat it from her beak. Eventually one poked her in the eye and the other was hanging off her feathers, so she sort of whipped her head around and the chick went flying. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to be so gentle with them and she just sends them airborne when they misbehave.
Candling the Remaining Egg
She’s still focused on that remaining egg, which I have a feeling isn’t viable. I moved her to see the chicks and count how many hatched, and she was SO upset. Not because of the chicks, but because of the egg, which she adamantly pushed back under her body with her head. We candled it to see the development and it looks how an egg should look at 19 days – but I didn’t see any movement under the light. And I don’t hear peeping either. We’re going to wait until Day 25, because I have read that an egg can take that long to hatch.
Overall, this experience has been absolutely fascinating to watch! I have spent most of my time in here:
I have a plan to take a little video of at least one of the chicks every day, and put together a little video of how they grow over the course of 30 days. I’m so thrilled to have chicks again and to have experienced the excitement of hatching eggs under a broody hen. Want to read more about chickens? Find all of my posts about chickens by clicking here.
21 Days in Under 3 Minutes!
Here’s a little video I put together for Instagram, it chronicles the process in under three minutes!
View this post on Instagram
P.S. Don’t Forget to Pin for Later!