Letting a hen sit on a nest of eggs to hatch them is far easier than using an incubator. The broody hen IS the incubator, turning the eggs and keeping them warm and at the correct humidity level.
After the eggs hatch, she acts as the brooder box as well, needing no electricity to keep the chicks warm and safe. No more messy, dusty brooder in your laundry room or garage, no worries about heat lampsThe mother hen also shows the chicks how to find bugs and which weeds are safe to eat, and she will introduce them to the rest of the flock when she feels it’s time.
But for this you need broody hen. So how do you know when a hen is broody and how do you ‘make’ a hen go broody?The short answer is – You can’t “force” a chicken to sit on eggs. Sadly, the broodiness gene has been bred out of most modern breeds. Since the advent of incubators and shipped chicks, broody hens aren’t as desirable as they once were.
Since most people raise chickens for the eggs nowadays and aren’t concerned about their flock self-propagating, and commercial farms use incubators as well, a hen who will stop laying eggs once she goes broody is counter-productive to modern chicken keeping.
But you still can sometimes get lucky
Five Ways to Encourage a Hen to go Broody
So what to do? Here are five ways to (hopefully) end up with a broody hen:
1) The first thing you can do is choose breeds that tend towards being broody, such as Australorps, Brahmas, Buffs, or Cochins and bantam breeds such as Silkies, bantam Cochins or Orpingtons.
2) A second way to encourage a hen to go broody is to leave some eggs in the nests. (“Dummy” eggs, such as golf balls or plastic Easter eggs work just as well as real eggs and don’t risk being broken). This can encourage your hen to start sitting on them.
3) You can also encourage a hen’s broody nature by providing her a dark, safe place to sit on the eggs.
Hang some curtains across the front of the nesting boxes, even a piece of sheet or fabric will help convince her the nest is a secret place to raise her chicks.
4) Adding some herbs to the nesting boxes such as lavender or chamomile can help the hen relax and feel safe and secure.
Be sure the nests always have plenty of clean nesting material that’s thick enough to provide a nice cushion for the eggs so they don’t break.
5) Be sure there’s ample feed and water close by so your hen can still easily get up off the nest to eat and drink without venturing too far. If you are successful, your broody will begin to spend nearly all her time on the nest, leaving only periodically to eat, drink and defecate.
You can assist her by leaving feed and water close by. She will begin to pull her breast feathers out, literally “feathering” her nest, and growl and fuss if you try to move her.
Slip some fertilized eggs under her and with a little luck, in 21 days, she’ll hatch some chicks for you.
But just be aware, you could start an epidemic….it’s thought broodiness is “contagious” to some extent and you might find that you have bitten off more than you can chew!