Letting a Broody Hen Hatch Chicks: Diary of a First-Timer

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baby chick under mother hen

I've been raising chickens for a little over two years now and while some people think that sounds like a long time, let me tell you - I'm in new and interesting situations on an almost daily basis!

The first chicks I brought home were mail-order.  I ordered 9 female chicks of assorted breeds and waited with anticipation for their arrival.  I prepared the "chicken yard" and coops, I put together a brooder, and I read almost every related website and forum I could find.  While I thought I had all my ducks in a row, there were several things I wasn't prepared for - the mess in my spare bedroom, the thick layer of dust that resulted from feathers growing in...

The next round of chicks were hatched out in an incubator during a warmer season and moved outside much more quickly.  This was pretty good, but my other birds terrorized the newbies until they were old enough and big enough to hold their own.

This year, I decided to let my broody Silkie "Marie Antoinette" hatch out some fertile eggs in the hopes integration would be easier and with excitement that I would have no need for a brooder or indoor setup.  Plus, I was pretty excited to let Marie Antoinette finally have the babies she wanted so badly.  What could be cuter than a fluffy white Silkie walking around with a trail of little fuzzball babies peeping after her?

It wasn't until late April that I decided I wanted to add to my flock.  One of my two blue-egg layers passed away due to a particularly nasty case of egg binding and with a flock that was down from 12 to 9, I thought we could find room for a few replacements.  As it was already May, I wanted to move quickly to increase the odds I could actually see some of the chicks start laying before the winter came.  I already had a bit of a "wish list" of breeds, so I tracked down a couple breeders who had eggs available and placed my order.  I ordered more eggs than I knew I would be able to fit under my broody, but the lowest number I could get per breed was 3 and there were so many lovely breeds!

On May 1st, I placed 3 "Easter Egger" eggs, 2 Golden Lakenvelder eggs, 2 Black Copper Marans eggs, and 2 Welsummer eggs under Marie Antoinette.  As a general rule, 6 standard-sized eggs under a Silkie is more appropriate, but this particular hen was rather large for a Silkie and choosing the smaller "pullet" sized eggs from the fertile eggs I ordered ensured that all eggs could be covered appropriately. We marked our calendars for May 22nd and started the hopeful conversations about which ones we especially hoped would hatch and be girls.

After 10 days, I waited for nightfall to go out and candle the eggs to see if they were developing.  I knew from experience that I wouldn't be able to see through the darker shells (Black Copper Marans and Welsummers) but the white eggs of the Golden Lakenvelder were easy enough!  I could see one egg was developing for certain, one egg was definitely not developing, and one I wasn't sure about.  I discarded the one that wasn't developing and moved on to the light green eggs of the Easter Eggers only to determine I really couldn't see too well into those ether.  "Well," I said to my husband, "At least one egg is developing.  That's a good sign, right?"

It was borderline painful to wait another 11 days to see what would hatch...  Without disturbing Marie Antoinette too much, I barely peeked under her the day before the eggs were "due" and managed to see at least one pip (the small airhole a chick cracks in an eggshell 12-24 hours before hatching).

After work on May 22nd, I checked again and saw a little beak peeking out of a Golden Lakenvelder egg. 

egg hatching

He hatched out sometime during that night and four more chicks followed at approximately 12 hour intervals over the next few days, with the last chick hatching Friday morning, the 25th.  After the last chick, Marie Antoinette started walking around and eating, leaving the remaining three eggs.  Seeing no pips on them, I gently cracked them open to confirm there was nothing inside.  Apparently, she knew she was done!

I ended up with 1 Golden Lakenvelder, 1 Black Copper Marans and 3 Easter Eggers.  They are all around four weeks old now and I'm playing the ever-so-fun "Is it a she or a he?" game.  The Golden Lakenvelder is definitely a boy and I've already found a great home for him once he gets a little older (my neighbors strongly prefer I keep hens only).  The Black Copper Marans and at least one "EE" are girls, which is exciting.  The remaining two "EE" chicks remain a mystery as yet.

Mama and babies are living separately while they grow up a bit, and I'm dreading the eventual integration with the flock, but the overall experience was fun and exciting!  I'd say it's very likely I will use this method to add chicks to my flock from here on out.  After all, I was SO RIGHT about the cuteness!

Do YOU have tips about letting a broody hatch eggs?  What about integrating a protective broody and her babies into an existing flock?  Best breeds for broodiness?  Please share any and all tips with us for a chance to have your tip featured in an upcoming guide!  5 participants will be randomly selected to receive a free Manna Pro product of your choice!

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