I love to hatch eggs and prefer to use broody hens whenever I can as I like to raise chickens naturally. The big problems with this method is you don't always have a broody hen to put eggs under.
Allowing a hen to set on a nest and hatch a clutch of eggs is far easier than using an incubator. The broody hen is the best type incubator and she makes sure the eggs are turned and keeps the humidity just right.
I have had chickens in the past that just adopt whatever I put under them but they were few and far between.
Can you force a chicken to become broody?
You cannot trick or force a hen to go broody and sit on eggs but you can encourage a hen to become broody by taking a few simple steps. It it is by no means a dead cert but with the right bird and conditions you might expect a 40% success rate.
It takes time for a hen to become broody, in nature they would lay a clutch of 12 to 14 eggs and then begin to sit. No hen will sit on a nest without being in lay first of all and the change can take 2 weeks.
Try these things to help turn your hens broody:
- Prepare a separate coop with low light levels. It should be just bright enough to read a newspaper.
- Pick the right time of year, a warm spell in spring is best.
- Keep the coop quite warm and cosy.
- Choose the right hen, one that has already been broody in past years.
- Place a nest of pottery or fake eggs in the coop.
- Separate the hen into the coop for a week or so to see if she settles on the nest.
Broodiness is an inbuilt instinctive behaviour in chickens and it can be encouraged but not guaranteed.
Don't forget to remove any eggs she lays in the nest so as just the fake ones or golf balls are left.
Below: Quiet, low light conditions give you the best chance for success.
Replace dummy eggs with real eggs if she begins to sit on the nest. This is most easily done at night when the hen is docile and less likely to reject the eggs.
Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling eggs.
Some people prefer to swap eggs during the day, so that if an egg gets rejected they can quickly transfer it to an incubator. However, the evening method is still the most common.
Choose the right time and conditions for broody hens:
This has to be done in spring or early summer to stand a chance of being successful. This is the time of the year when chickens are naturally broody and are most likely to respond.
Remember not all hens go broody and some never do at all. Pick a hen that has been in lay already and use one that has not already been broody in the last few weeks. A hen that was broody last year is a good choice.
Choose the right breed for broodiness:
If you try to trick a Hybrid hen or a leghorn into broodiness you are unlikely to get a good result, you really need chickens like Orpingtons, Silkies or Silkie crosses for this experiment.
You will also probably have the most luck if you choose a chicken that has been broody before.
Choose the right age of hen:
Chickens, in my experience are most likely to go broody in her second year and you really want to avoid trying to young birds in the broody way.
Sometimes it seems so unfair, you have endless broodies when you don't need them and just when you want one, there are never any willing ones about.
How do you encourage a chicken to go broody?
These are living creatures and as a rule will do as their biology dictates and the secret is time and gentle encouragement.
My chicken keeping mentor used to up the amount of whole grains and scratch in the diet when he wanted broody hens.
Use hens that have already laid eggs and gone broody the year before.
Broodiness is a hormonal change in the chicken that happens and it hasn't anything to do with whether the mother hen was incubated artificially or under a hen herself.
Isolate you chosen hen in a darkened private coop for a few days.
Set up a nest of fake eggs, pottery eggs or golf balls.
Giving a hen a bunch of eggs all at once will not cause broodiness. When I want a hen to go broody I try to make sure she has a nest box to herself.
If the hen consistently lays eggs in one nest she is more likely to go broody as long as she isn't an egg production chicken.