Sometimes on the farm, you will see a hen that will go broody. This means that she has begun to lay on the nest of eggs in an effort to hatch chicks. This oftentimes happens when eggs are left in the nest box too long or sometimes hens just love being broody! In our case, we had 2 hens that became broody at the same time. They are both Maran chickens as far as breed. When hens go broody they stop laying, so this can become a problem for homesteaders as egg production goes down. We have so many chickens, so in our case, that was not the issue. We just did not want to have to take care of chicks ourselves this time around if mama hen decided to leave them.
It got to the point, when Aaron, my husband, would go to collect eggs, these broody hens would literally try to tear him apart. So, naturally, the eggs did not get collected as often haha! Another hen decided that she should join the party. She was a Maran breed, as well, and became broody in the 3rd nest box. Now, we had all 3 nest boxes occupied!! That means that our other 15 hens could either join in and lay at risk of getting pecked or could find somewhere else to lay. They did both, but I will get to that later. I gloved up and quickly began trying to collect eggs that I knew had just been laid but we still had a LOT of eggs under the hens. That evening we candled some, meaning held a bright light up to them when it was super dark, to see what was inside. Some we could tell were the beginning of chicks and others we could not tell. So, we left them all in there as we didn’t want to risk throwing ones away that might be ready to hatch. We had been out of town for a week and our homestead helper did not want to reach in and get pecked either. You see a trend here?!?!
Believe it or not, a fourth hen (a Columbian Wyandotte) squished in with one of the other hens, resulting in four broody hens sitting in 3 nest boxes. This was the point when I realized, it was time to take further action. It even got to the point that other hens were laying in our pig Bonnie’s igloo house! I realized that because Bonnie came out to greet me one day and had a yellow circle on her hind quarters. I could not figure out what that yellow circle was until I realized she had laid on an egg and it was then that I found the nest in her igloo house! This cannot be happening, I thought! Smart hens though because her igloo does have straw in it, so they make a nice round nest in there.
I put my big girl panties on and decided it was time for ‘PLAN A.’
Plan A: I reached in and marked all of the eggs with an X with a Sharpie marker. I did it on both ends of the eggs, being very gentle to pick them up and lay them back carefully in the same place. This would help any life trying to form to not be damaged. The hens tried to peck and tear me up, which was not fun. They fluffed their feathers out to make themselves look very large and then they made a growling type trill noise, which I knew was trouble. After all eggs were labeled, Aaron placed an old piece of fencing over the nest boxes, allowing hens access to food and water, but keeping other hens out. That way we would know that these eggs were the same eggs and no new ones would be added, or so we thought. We even added 3 new nest boxes for all the other hens to lay in. They never laid in them and somehow flew on top and tore off the fencing and got back into the nest boxes with the broody hens. We collected the extra unmarked eggs and went on to ‘PLAN B’, an hour of time gone!
Plan B: We gently moved all the eggs and hens into their own smaller coop so the other hens could lay in their regular nest boxes. This is risky for several reasons. For example, a broody hen can leave her eggs, they can go wild and squawk like crazy for long periods of time, and they can crush eggs trying to figure out what is happening. I often tell Aaron that the best tool when farming or homesteading is observation. It tells you so much about life, animals, and what is happening on the farm. So, we observed. The hens quickly exhibited all three of the red flags above as they left their nests. This was not going to work. We put all the eggs and hens back into their original locations. Thankfully, they stayed there and kept sitting on their eggs. Another hour of time gone! On to ‘PLAN C,’ as we were frustrated at this point.
PLAN C: A chick finally hatched but was dead outside the nest box. We could not figure out why. The next day we found 4 more chicks that were dead under different hens. I noticed one had it’s head missing and then saw a peck mark. Some of the hens must have become cannibals, yikes! So, I observed and finally saw 2 hens that were fighting over the head and instantly removed all the eggs. As I was about to run off the third Maran, the Columbian hen pecked her away herself. I knew then that she was protecting her nest. So, we left her there and sure enough she hatched her chick and took great care of it. The rest of the eggs went to the incubator and a sweet friend of mine said she would take them if they started to hatch. She needed to replenish her flock and we did not want to take care of more ourselves, so it worked out great.
One chick hatched in the incubator and I thought I would try to integrate it with the mama hen and other chick. I took my time to cover her and not have my scent on her and then placed her under mama hen. This is risky as the chick can get pecked and hurt but I was right there to watch and see what was going on. The other chick, which was one day older, took to pecking the new one day old chick. I could not blame her though because the chick was cheeping non-stop, not helping herself. The mama hen did take to her, but even still, did peck her a few times to get her to be quiet. I think the chick was hungry because after I placed her beak into the chick crumbles and water, she went under mama hen and slept. It was several days before other chicks began to hatch in the incubator, but we went ahead and took them to our friend’s house. She now has 5 beautiful chicks!
Overall, this was a mini-fiasco on the farm, but we are happy with the end results. Long story short, collect eggs twice a day if you do not want broody hens. If you do want them, then be sure that they are not eating their chicks and have a suitable place to raise their chicks. Our nest boxes are up high and I got worried the chicks would fall out, so Aaron built them a ramp (that never got used) LOL. Anyhow, that is our story about Broody Hens, Incubating, and Integrating Chicks, OH MY!