Homesteading 101: Timeline of a Broody Hen Hatching Chicks

My posts about my broody chicken have gotten the most hits recently, so I’m guessing there’s some interest in what all happens when your hen decides to raise some chicks.

For starters, broodiness or going broody is just a way of saying the hen has gone into baby-raising mode. This involves becoming a bit on the temperamental side, fluffing up or turning out her feathers, becoming agitated with her humans and spending more time in the coop. Broodiness was bred out of most modern chickens, but some breeds, like buff orpingtons, are known for going broody with some frequency.

Signs of Broodiness

broody

As mentioned earlier, there are some signs that you can look out for that might indicate your hen is going broody. Here they are:

  • Becoming aggressive (i.e. pecking and waving wings at people that come near)
  • Fluffing up feathers
  • Spending more time in the coop
  • Pulling feathers from her breast
  • Making growling sounds
  • Fortunately, these behaviors are temporary. Once the babies hatch, the broody will return to her normal temperament. Don’t try to disturb your hen too much once she has begun sitting on her nest, since this can lead to a failed hatch.

What to Do

There’s really no human interference needed once a hen goes broody. All you should do is stealthily mark the eggs in the nest with a pencil or permanent marker while the broody is eating or drinking for the day. You’ll only have a small window of time to do this, since most broody hens only leave the nest once a day or less. Remove any unmarked eggs from the nest every day. It has been my experience that the broody will stop laying once she starts sitting, but other hens may try to lay in that nest.

If your hen has nested somewhere undesirable, like outdoors or in the favorite nesting box, it’s possible to move her. Move the eggs with extreme care and make sure the broody can rearrange them before sitting on them.

It will take 21 days (give or take) to hatch the eggs. The hen will know when the hatch is over, and any unhatched eggs can be discarded at that time.

Hatching

buff orpington

Around the 18th day of sitting, the hen will get up and reposition the eggs. She’s arranging them to make it easier for the chick to hatch. Don’t disturb her during this process. For the final 3 days of the incubation period, she will not leave the nest. She may make soft clucking sounds, which may be alarming, but she is talking to the babies in the eggs. Near the end of the hatch, the babies will start peeping back at the mother hen.

During the last 3 days, the hen will not leave the nest and she will relieve herself in the nest, regardless of the eggs or chicks. Once she takes the chicks out for their first outing, the nest may be cleaned. During the first outing, the broody will teach the chicks where to find food, how to dust bathe and how to get back to the nest.

That’s all there is to it! The broody and mother nature will take care of the bulk of the work for you, leaving you free to enjoy the show.

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