Breeding Chickens


I’ve decided that I’m ready to have some chicks now. Unfortunately, the hens aren’t cooperating. Or maybe the rooster isn’t? I dunno. But I have so many questions about the whole process!!

I started to write this post like I knew what I was talking about. I was going to explain exactly how everything works and answer all of my own questions. It didn’t take long before I realized that I don’t have any idea what the heck I’m talking about. The more I read on the subject, the more questions I have!

So, instead of impressing you with my vast knowledge (or maybe confusing you with my lack of), I thought it would be better if I pose my questions for the more experienced to explain!

So, if you have any experience with chickens hatching eggs, I need your help! Here is what I’m wondering…

How old do the hens (or rooster) have to be to breed?

Can eggs only be fertilized at certain times of the month?

Can hens hatch eggs in winter? Could the eggs freeze?

Do you have to have the same breed of chickens to breed? Like, could my Leghorn breed with a Bantam? It doesn’t seem like that would work out too well?!

How many eggs will a hen hatch? Do they hatch one day at a time or all at once?

What if they won’t sit on the eggs? Or will they always stay on their eggs?

Why would you put another hen’s eggs under a sitting hen? Don’t the hens sit on their own eggs?

Are all of the eggs that a hen sits on fertilized?

Will a hen lay a whole clutch of eggs to sit on at once, or one per day?

Will she sit on one, or wait until they are all laid to start sitting?

How will I know when her egg is fertilized?

How many “litters?” can a hen have per year? (What do you call a group of chicks anyways?)

I read that you should only let them sit on as many eggs as they can cover with their body… so, what do I do with the eggs I remove? Can I eat them, or is there a chick growing inside?

So many questions!! Somebody please enlighten me!



Kendra
About Kendra 1106 Articles
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.

13 Comments

  1. How old do the hens (or rooster) have to be to breed? The youngest I’ve seen is about five months of age.

    Can eggs only be fertilized at certain times of the month? Nope. Daily. And a hen can retain the “fertilizing agent” (I’m in a classroom and have to be careful what I write. 🙂 ) for up to 21 days, so I’ve read.

    Can hens hatch eggs in winter? If you do it in an incubator. It would be too cold for a hen to keep the temps warm enough outside- unless you live in a very mild climate. Could the eggs freeze? Yes.

    Do you have to have the same breed of chickens to breed? No. You can make crossbreed chicks. Like, could my Leghorn breed with a Bantam? Yes. It doesn’t seem like that would work out too well?! You’re right. If the rooster is bigger, the hen can be harmed through his rough handling. If the rooster is too small, he may be unable to reach his target, though he will sure try! LOL!

    How many eggs will a hen hatch? However many will fit under her well. I’ve seen them try to set a nest that is WAY too big, and the eggs rot because the hen can’t cover them all. Do they hatch one day at a time or all at once? They should hatch all at once, though it can happen over a two day period.

    What if they won’t sit on the eggs? Then you will need an incubator. I try to select breeds that are known for going broody. Or will they always stay on their eggs? If a hen is broody she will stay on the egggs except to get off for a very short time (few minutes) each day to eat, poop, and exercise. Then she will go right back to the nest.

    Why would you put another hen’s eggs under a sitting hen? So you can raise chicks of her breed. Don’t the hens sit on their own eggs? They don’t care whose eggs they’re sitting on. I have a friend who is having a bantam hen sit turkey eggs for her. 🙂

    Are all of the eggs that a hen sits on fertilized? The hen doesn’t discern this. When a hen is broody she will sit on a golf ball! She just wants to sit. Period. It’s up to you to manage the flock/eggs and only allow fertile eggs to remain under her.

    Will a hen lay a whole clutch of eggs to sit on at once, or one per day? She will lay one egg per day. Part of managing this is to collect the eggs, keep them in a safe place (I keep them on the kitchen counter) but not the fridge, and once you’ve gathered the amount you want, put them all under her at the same time.

    Will she sit on one, or wait until they are all laid to start sitting? When a hen goes broody she will sit, even if there’s only one egg. I like to use a golf ball or two to keep her broody until the clutch is gathered, then trade the clutch for the golf balls. Do this at night, so it doesn’t disturb her as much. You can “break up” a hen if you do it in the day time. (“breaking her up” is to make her stop wanting to sit a nest.)

    How will I know when her egg is fertilized? Good question. I really don’t know how to examine an egg to tell this. I just know that one rooster should be able to handle about 10-12 hens. Probably more, but to be sure each hen is fertile, that’s the ratio I try to stick to.

    How many “litters?” can a hen have per year? (What do you call a group of chicks anyways?) For her health, I wouldn’t let her set more than two nests per year, wiht a decent break between. Otherwise she will get skinny and weak. I would call each hen’s little family a clutch or a flock.

    I read that you should only let them sit on as many eggs as they can cover with their body… so, what do I do with the eggs I remove? Can I eat them, or is there a chick growing inside? Eat them. You should gather eggs every day, so a developing chick should not be visible.

  2. Yes, you can collect eggs. You can’t candle until they have been set on for a while. I just usually assume my eggs are fertile since I have so many roosters. My hens that have been broody are Buff Orpingtons. They have gone broody 3 times in the last year. I also have some game banty hens that were given to me because they went broody too often.

    Here’s a good chart that tells a lot about chickens. Such as if they go broody a lot, how many eggs they lay, and more. I have found it really helpful.

  3. I only have large breeds together so I’m not sure whether he will breed the bantams. I would imagine if he is so inclined that he might. Let us know what happens this is interesting. You can hatch in the winter you will just need a light. Honestly you would need a light most of the time except for the warmest two months of the year. Your Leghorn Reds cross would be a sexlink and you would know at hatch whether they are female or male. The females will have a white head. (I think that is how that goes but it does get confusing) The female takes genes from both her mom and dad but the males only take from one. I think they are called red comets. The extra RIR roosters make great chicken soup. I take any extras and put them in the freezer…a little drier than from the store chicken but neat to raise your own. I think leghorns would be too slim for soup.

  4. If you have a rooster and you see him “doing his job” then assume they are fertile. Candling only works after the chick starts to develop. I have hatched about 1000 chicks using and incubator and have always wanted to candle but it is really hard to see anything. Plus I’m a nervous wreck until the egg gets back to the bator. Do you have a broody hen? They will pluck out some feathers from their breast sometimes and make a nest. They will also sit on the eggs except for a short period of time, usually in the morning. Eggs can be kept for 10 days (I usually shoot for like 5). I keep them on their side in the house. Its better to keep them at 50-60 degrees. I have also heard that you can store them small side down in an egg carton. You probably would be ok to store in the nest of the possible broody hen. This may make her go broody quicker. What kind of hen do you have for the “possible broody”?
    Oh this is exciting….the miracle of life. I’m telling you this is addicting!

    • Deanna-

      Thank you so much for explaining! Now I think I get it. NO, none of mine are broody yet. I wish they were! I guess now wouldn’t be such a good time to be hatching though, as it’s getting cold. I’m just so anxious to have little chicks 🙂 I think this Spring I’ll keep a close eye on them and try this whole process when I find one ready to sit. Thanks again for the advice!

      The hens I have are: two White Leghorns, two Rhode Island Reds, and six Bantams (Japanese, I think?). Our Rooster is a Leghorn. Would it be okay if he breeds with all of the others?

  5. We have Rhode Island Reds and silkies. The Reds never go broody. The silkies are currently laying their eggs for their second hatch. There are two and they lay in the same nest for about 6 days and then sit on them. No mistake when you have a broody hen you will know. They are like in a trance. She won’t want to get up even if you come close to her. I haven’t added eggs from my Rhodies to her (next adventure) I have done the incubator thing. I sell newly hatched eggs in the spring. Nice little side business that provides for chicken feed all year long.
    From the day that she begins to sit (not lay the egg) count 21 days… you should see chicks.
    You can’t make them sit on the eggs. You just have to hope for a broody one. Bantams are more likely to sit than larger breeds. Many larger breeds will not go broody. That works good for your egg layers.
    You can tell if they are fertile a couple of ways. One candle after a few days to see if a chick is developing. (This is hard with brown eggs) Examine the eggs you are going to eat. You will see a blood spot but sometimes not. The ones without a blood spot are still sometimes fertile.
    If you have a rooster and he is jumping on the hens then you can bet you have fertile egss. Out of the eggs that my Rhodies lay I will get a hatch rate of 95%. I have 13 ladies and 2 roos but only 1 to 10 is needed.
    Good luck hatching is fun but addictive! The kids will love it.

  6. I will try and answer what I can. I think hens just have to be old enough to lay. I think the eggs can be fertilized at any time, but I could be wrong. Hens can hatch eggs anytime, it may be harder when it’s colder on them. I don’t think the eggs would freeze since they would be under her. I had a hen try to set last fall, and I don’t know what went wrong, but none of them hatched.

    Any chicken can breed with any other chicken. It’s easier for a bantam hen to breed with a larger breed than the other way around. A hen will sit on way too many eggs to hatch, she should really only sit on however many will fit under her, depends on the hen’s size. They will all hatch within a few days of each other.

    A hen has to go broody in order to want to set. If they are truly broody they will stay on the eggs except for when they are eating. They will sometimes also sit on an empty nest. A hen will set on any eggs, she doesn’t care whose they are. Some hens go broody more than others. Some don’t ever really set on eggs. Some breeds are known to be broody, while others aren’t.

    You can candle the eggs after a while to see if the eggs are developing. The hens will only lay one at a time, that’s why it can be better to use all the hens eggs, instead of waiting on just one hen’s eggs.

    It depends on how often your hen goes broody as to how many times a year she will set. You should mark the eggs she starts with, that way if more are laid in the nest, you can take them out or you could separate the hen, then the other hens won’t be able to lay in that nest. You can collect eggs for about a week to put under her.

    I hope this helps a little. If you want to know anything else, I’ll try to help.

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