Now, watching chicks hatch from an incubator is just fun. However, the hassle of monitoring and managing an incubator can’t be compared to having a mother hen incubate the eggs herself. A hen will manage to maintain temperature and humidity while still turning the eggs herself without being monitored. In case you’ve decided to ditch the incubator to do things the natural way, then it’s easy to wonder how long chickens sit on eggs.
Now, chickens have a natural clock that tells them when to get broody. During this time, she lays an egg each day and gathers them in her nest. When the eggs are enough, the mother hen sits on them to begin the incubation process.
During the incubation process, chickens sit on the eggs for a maximum of 21 days. During this period, chickens don’t lay any more eggs and are mostly aggressive and very defensive. So, in this guide, we’re going to discuss how long chickens sit on the eggs, how many eggs they incubate, and their behavior during the incubation process among other things.
Why Do Chickens Need to Sit on Eggs?
A chicken incubating eggs is considered a miracle of nature. To understand its complexity, try incubating eggs in an incubator all by yourself. Here, you’ll need to monitor the entire process from controlling the humidity to regulating temperatures inside the electric box.
But, when it comes to chickens, the process is smooth and very simple. Now, the reason why chickens must sit on the eggs is to provide sufficient warmth for the embryo to develop. Remember, chickens are birds and don’t give birth. Since the eggs are not inside the body, the broody hen has to warm them up using her body.
Here, she has to pluck feathers from her underside to guarantee skin-to-shell contact for maximum warmth. The feathers are plucked double up as beddings for the eggs to ensure they’re safe and insulated.
While sitting on the eggs, a hen rotates them gently with her feet to ensure the embryo develops into a healthy chick. Now, with all these duties, it’s clear that a broody hen sitting on an egg demands high motherhood instincts.
In most cases, this instinctive behavior is triggered by hormones and environmental factors such as increased daylight, such as during summer.
How Many Eggs Can a Chicken Sit on to Hatch?
If you are used to incubating eggs on your own, then you might be wondering how many eggs can a broody hen sit on. Remember, a hen cannot be compared to an incubator. Therefore, you need to consider the maximum number of eggs a broody hen can hold to ensure you don’t end up with spoilt eggs.
So, speaking of the number of eggs a hen can sit on to hatch, this ranges from 10-12. However, the number can get higher than this depending on the hen’s age, nutrition, genetics, and season. You see, chickens are social animals that live in flocks.
They have communal instincts that encourage them to share nest boxes. With these instincts, a broody hen can therefore sit on a bigger clutch that contains her eggs and additional eggs from other hens. So, to ensure the eggs don’t break, you can add extra nesting materials and also free up some space to provide plenty of room for her to stretch.
Stages of Chicken Eggs Hatching
1. Preparing the Nest
The first stage of chicken egg hatching is preparing the nest where the mother hen will incubate her eggs. Here, you need to get her a dark cozy spot that’s free from any interference. Food and water should be at her convenience, and the floor of the nest box should have liners, chopped straws, and shavings to ensure the eggs won’t crack during the incubation process.
2. Food and Water
When hatching chicken eggs, you must ensure the broody hen has a sufficient supply of food and water. When it comes to feeding, broodies require feeds with high proteins and less calcium. The reason for this diet is because your broody demand high proteins and high carbohydrate content to gain extra calories to keep her energetic throughout the 21 days. Fresh cool water is also essential to keep your broody hen well hydrated.
Candling is an important stage in the chicken egg hatching process. This is where you shine light through an egg to see whether an embryo is developing. In most cases, candling should be done after 10 days and should be conducted when the broody is out of the nest box feeding. The reason why candling is necessary is to check which eggs contain chicks and which ones are infertile.
4. Staying Alert
When hatching eggs with a broody hen, you must stay alert from day 19 through to day 21. Here, you have to listen for any cheeping chicks when they’re trying to hatch. You also need to watch the mother for any signs of rejection or hostility towards the chicks.
5. Feeding Mother Hen and Her Chicks
Once the chicks hatch, start feeding the mother and her chicks with starter feed. Here, the mother hen will teach the chicks how to feed and drink water.
What Is a Broody Hen?
In simple terms, a broody hen is a hen that wants to sit on her eggs to hatch chicks. In most cases, the state of broodiness is determined by different factors such as hormones, environmental conditions, instincts, and chicken breed. The reason why I’ve added chicken breed is that some breeds get broody while others don’t.
For instance, breeds such as Silkies, Cochins, and Australorps are excellent broody mothers while other breeds such as Polish, Sexlink, Crevecoeur, and Minorca rarely get broody. When a hen is readying her broodiness, she usually lays a clutch of eggs, which she sits on for the next 21 days to hatch. So, if you’re wondering how many days to hatch chicken eggs, then you have the answer.
Habits of a Broody Hen Hatching Eggs
Now, how do you know that a hen is broody? The first way to recognize a broody hen is to see whether she’s moody. If she tends to puff her feathers to look intimidating, try to be defensive, or tend to growl a lot, then that’s a clear sign she’s broody.
Other than being bad-tempered, another way to identify a broody hen is the amount of time she spends in the coop. When a hen is broody, she rarely leaves the coop meaning she feeds less than normal.
She also prefers to rest in a dark, quiet, and private space where there’s less interference from other chickens. When hatching chicken eggs, broody hens also pluck their breast feathers in the hope of keeping the eggs warm.
Lastly, a broody hen can be identified by the size of her droppings. Usually, these droppings are larger than usual and tend to be smellier. The reason why the droppings are smelly and intense is that broody hens don’t relieve themselves too often.
Do Chickens Remove Rotten Eggs Out of the Nest?
When it comes to broodiness, people tend to ask all sorts of questions. One question most novice poultry farmers ask is how long chickens sit on unfertilized eggs. Another common question is whether broody hens kick out rotten eggs from the nests.
To answer this question, let me start by saying yes. Broody hens kick out eggs from their nests. However, the eggs are not necessarily rotten. Sometimes, a broody hen can mistake rotten eggs for healthy eggs kicking out good eggs and brooding over rotten eggs.
Now, rotten eggs occur when the developing embryo suddenly dies. Since the decay process starts from inside the shell, you won’t notice it until the egg breaks due to excess gas. A rotten egg has a pungent awful smell that’s easily recognizable.
Just to mention, a rotten egg contains bacteria that can contaminate the rest of the eggs in the nest. I think that’s the main reason why a broody hen tries to remove rotten eggs from the nest. But, as I mentioned earlier, a broody hen can sometimes remove healthy eggs.
For that reason, you must use the candling method to determine whether the eggs contain chicks or not. If the eggs are healthy, then you can either put them back or incubate them yourself.
What Is the Behavior of Mother Hens?
Now, hens are natural mothers with excellent protective instincts. However, this can’t be said for all hens. While some breeds make good mothers, others don’t. Some hens might abandon the nest and leave the poor chicks alone and defenseless. Other hens can injure or even kill the chicks.
Therefore, if you’re hatching eggs with a broody hen for the first time, it’s recommended that you keep an eye on the nest for the first few days to ensure the chicks are safe. In most cases, it’s good to have another broody hen on standby or else, have an incubator ready.
Also, you need to access the mothering skills of your hen. If she’s an excellent mother that can raise her own chicks, then you can count on her. If she doesn’t show any interest to raise her chicks, then you don’t need to give her another batch of eggs in the future. Remember, chickens rarely change their behavior. So, if your hen has proven to be a bad mother, then she won’t change that character even in the future.
FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Is it Okay to Move a Broody Hen and Her Nest?
Now, there are times when you might be forced to move the broody from the nest box she selected to somewhere much safer. Since she’s more attracted to the position she picked, moving her will upset her a lot causing her to protest.
Therefore, the best strategy is to prepare a nest box complete with water and food. From there, move the broody at night when she’s less aware of the change of scenery.
Q2. How Often Are Hens Broody?
Now, broodiness is a biological clock that kicks in when a hen starts sitting on an egg. It starts when a hen lays a clutch of eggs and then sits on them. In most cases, broodiness kicks in during spring or early summer time. It also depends on factors such as genetics, hormones, and lighting conditions.
That said, when it comes to how often hens get broody, then it can be once or twice a year. Some farmers also claim higher numbers than this depending on the hen’s specific breed. Although we mentioned this earlier, there are breeds that don’t get broody at all.
Q3. How Long Do Hens Sit on Eggs Each Day?
Now, eggs take 21 days to hatch. This timeframe is considered short and for that reason, a broody hen must sit on the eggs for long hours to incubate them. In most cases, a broody sits on her eggs for 24 hours daily. However, she leaves the eggs for a few minutes to feed and relieve herself. Remember, eggs require around 97-102 degrees F to hatch successfully.
So, how many days to hatch chicken eggs? Well, the simple answer is 21 days. If you’re an experienced chicken farmer, then you know that hatching chicks aren’t a simple process. There are many factors you must consider to ensure that the end result is rewarding. For instance, you need to intervene in the entire process by assisting your broody hen in her “maternity ward”.
You need to supply her with food and fresh water and you must inspect the nest to ensure the eggs are insulated. Lastly, if your hen decides to abandon the eggs, you must be prepared with a backup plan such as having an incubator.
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Hello, I am John Reid. I have been raising chickens for the last 15 years. I have got my experience from my father. My father is the owner of a large chicken farm. This is our family business that has been continuing for over 35 years. I am very interested in backyard chickens and I know how to take care of them. You can learn more About Us here. Happy Reading!!