Hatching Chicks Naturally: What You Should Know

It’s happening! The chicks are hatching!! Sunday night we went out to check on everybody one last time, and Jerry heard the sound of a chick peeping coming from under mama hen.

The next morning we went out to see, and sure enough a fuzzy, yellow little chick peaked out from under the hen’s wing.

chickens that were hatched naturally inside chicken coop
chickens that were hatched naturally inside chicken coop

I was worried that they were still in the chicken coop with all the other chickens. We really should have moved her and the nest before they started hatching.

A broody hen needs to be separated from the rest of the flock so that she can have her own food and water supply, and to protect her new chicks from becoming victims of deadly bullying from the other hens.

I’d waited too long to move her, afraid that she might refuse to finish the job once in an unfamiliar place. But now that they were hatching, I was really afraid to move her.

I didn’t want to hurt the baby chick, I definitely didn’t want to crack an egg, but I most certainly didn’t want to cause her to stop sitting! Oh, what to do!

We decided to clean out our largest rabbit cage, make a nesting box in there for her with fresh grass clippings, and move her and the nest to the safer brooder.

Carefully, we got everything situated. And thankfully, although annoyed, she fluffed herself up and went right back to sitting on the clutch of warm eggs. The little chick buried itself once more into her warmth.

I really, really wanted to let her free range with the chicks, so that she could teach them to scratch and find food.

But I just couldn’t find a way to do this safely. We don’t have the materials to make a chicken tractor (a moveable coop), which would have been the perfect solution.

I’ve been doing some reading on what to expect now and I’ve also experienced the natural chick hatching process a few times firsthand. So I’m here to share some key takeaways with you, dear readers!

Here’s what you need to know…

What is a Broody Hen?

A broody hen is a chicken that is sitting on a nest of eggs in order to incubate them. During this time, the hen will not leave the nest and will fiercely defend it from any perceived threats.

Broody hens can be a nuisance to farmers, as they stop laying eggs and may become aggressive when handled. However, some people choose to allow their hens to go broody, as it is a natural process that results in healthy chicks.

Broody hens typically go through a similar cycle each day, spending the majority of their time on the nest and only leaving to eat, drink, and relieve themselves. When the eggs hatch, the hen will help to care for the chicks and teach them how to find food and water.

momma hen with baby chicks
momma hen with baby chicks

How to Identify a Broody Hen

A broody hen is a chicken that has gone into a period of incubating eggs. This can happen naturally as the days grow longer and the hen begins to prepare for nesting season.

However, sometimes hens can become broody even if they don’t have any eggs. If you suspect that your hen is broody, there are a few things you can look for.

First, she will visit the nest frequently and may even stay there all day. Second, she will become very territorial over her nest and may puff her feathers out and squawk at anything that comes near.

Third, she will peck and try to bite if you try to move her.

Finally, she may pick out her breast feathers so the heat from her body is transferred to the eggs. If you think your hen is broody, you can carefully pick her up and put her in a wire cage for a week or so to see if she returns to normal behavior.

Alternatively, you can wait it out and see if she returns to normal on her own. Either way, it’s important to keep an eye on your broody hen to make sure she stays healthy and doesn’t abandon her eggs.

How to Tell if Your Broody Hen Will Be a Good Mother

Unfortunately, there is no sure way to tell if a broody hen will be a good mother. However, there are some indicators that may give you a better idea.

For example, if the hen is already caring for her own chicks, she is more likely to be a good mother to others.

Additionally, hens that have been around other chicks and have shown an interest in them are also more likely to make good mothers. If the hen shows aggression towards other chickens or animals, she is less likely to be a good mother.

There are broody chicken breeds that are known for having excellent traits toward mothering, too. These breeds include most bantams, Cochin chickens, Silkie chickens, Sussex chickens, and Brahma chickens.

Left to their own devices, these birds have a tendency to be great sitters and mothers.

The best way to determine if a broody hen will be a good mother is to simply give her the opportunity to care for some chicks and see how she does. With time and experience, most hens will develop into good mothers.

You’ll Need a Rooster for Hatching Eggs

When it comes time to incubate eggs, you will need a rooster. The rooster is essential for fertilizing eggs.

Fertilized eggs are those that have been fertilized by a rooster and will develop into chicks if incubated.

Unfertilized eggs, on the other hand, will not develop into chicks no matter how long they are incubated.

So while hens can certainly go broody without the presence of a rooster, if you want those eggs to actually hatch, you need a gentleman in the flock to take care of that job for you.

Can You Make a Hen Broody?

Many people keeping backyard chickens want to know if they can make their hens go broody. The answer is yes, you can make a hen broody.

There are several methods you can try, but the most common is to purchase artificial eggs from your local market and place them in the nest.

Leave them for an extended period and make the nest accessible to the hen. She might move on and off the nest for longer and longer periods. Finally, she might stay in the nest for at least 24 hours, and then she is broody.

You can also try tossing a handful of straw or hay into her nesting area; sometimes this will trigger her natural instinct to brood.

Broody hens make great mothers and will often adopt other chicks that are not their own. If you have chicks that need a mother hen, making your hen broody is a great option.

Selecting Your Own Eggs for Hatching

If you are interested in hatching your own chicks, it is important to select high-quality eggs. Look for eggs that are smooth-shelled and free from blemishes. The eggs should also be of regular shape. It is best to get eggs from hens of a breed that is known for being prolific layers.

Once you have selected the eggs, store them in a cool, dry place. Do not store them for more than a week, as this can reduce their viability.

Remember, any experienced chicken keeper will tell you that not all eggs are created equal. While all eggs have the potential to hatch into healthy chicks, some are better suited for this purpose than others.

In general, eggs from healthy, vigorous cocks and hens are more likely to produce strong chicks that can grow into good adult birds. However, the selection of a good cock is actually far more important than that of a hen, as cocks are the more prolific parent.

This is why many breeders focus on selecting only the best cocks for breeding purposes.

Caring for a Broody Hen So She Can Hatch Eggs Naturally

Caring for a broody hen is relatively simple, but there are a few things you need to do to make sure she is successful.

Set Her Up a “Maternity Ward”

If you have a hen that is determined to sit on eggs, you can set her up in a “maternity ward”.

This is simply a quiet, private place where she can be isolated from the rest of the flock. The maternity ward should have food and water available, as well as a nest box.

The nest box should be filled with straw or other soft bedding material. Once the hen is in the maternity ward, she will likely stay there until the eggs hatch. At that point, you can release her back into the flock.

Make Sure She’s Eating

A broody hen will often stop eating in order to save energy for incubating her eggs, but this can lead to health problems like malnutrition.

Try offering scratch grain, as the extra carbs will give her the energy she needs. You should also make sure that she has access to fresh water at all times. By taking proper care of your broody hen, you can help ensure a successful hatch.

Give Her Lots of Water

It’s important to make sure she has plenty of water to drink. A broody hen will often not leave her nest to get water, so you will need to bring it to her.

Keep the Nest Clean and Dry

One of the most important things you can do when caring for a broody hen is to keep her nest clean and dry. The nest should be emptied and cleaned out every few days, and the bedding should be replaced with fresh straw or wood shavings.

Get rid of any poop and other messes that might be in the nesting boxes. These can harbor bacteria that make the chicks sick or even kill them.

Mark the Eggs

When a hen goes broody, she will stop laying eggs and instead focus on incubating them. The hen will sit on the eggs day and night, only leaving them long enough to eat and drink.

It can be tough to tell whether the eggs are getting turned. A good way to figure this out is simply to mark them with a pen or pencil. That way, you’ll be able to tell whether she’s moving them enough or not.

Check on First Time “Broodies” More Often

First-time broodies often don’t know what they’re doing and may accidentally crush the chicks or kill them intentionally.

As a result, it’s important to check on first-time broodies more often to make sure they’re doing alright. If you see any problems, you can intervene and help the hen to care for her chicks properly.

How Many Eggs Can a Hen Sit on in Her Clutch?

A hen’s clutch typically consists of 10-12 eggs, though some may lay as many as 20. The average incubation period for chicken eggs is 21 days. However, this can vary depending on the breed of chicken, as well as the temperature and humidity of the incubation environment.

Once a hen lays her eggs, she will begin to sit on them to keep them warm and protect them from predators.

Hens will typically remain in their nests for the entirety of the incubation period, only leaving to eat and drink. If a hen is disturbed while sitting on her eggs, she may abandon the nest altogether.

Will a Hen Kick Out Eggs That Aren’t Good?

Many people believe that hens will automatically reject and eject eggs that are not viable or have been damaged in some way.

However, this is not always the case. Some chicken breeds are more likely to abandon eggs than others, and even within a breed there can be variation from bird to bird. For example, a hen might kick out an egg that has a cracked shell or is small and misshapen.

However, she might not reject an egg that has a bloody blotch on the yolk, which is actually a fairly common occurrence.

In the end, it really depends on the individual hen and her own personality so it’s not a great way to take stock of which eggs will hatch or not.

Caring for Fresh Hatched Chicks

With a little love and care, your fresh hatched chicks will soon be thriving members of your flock. Here are some tips to care for your chicks that hatched naturally.

Preparing the Brooder

Many chicken keepers allow their baby chicks to run around with their mothers, learning the ways of the world. This is fine, but keep in mind that there may be some mortalities with this approach.

If you’d rather have a bit more control over your hcicks’ survival, then it’s time to prepare the brooder. The first step is to choose the right location.

The brooder should be placed in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. It’s also important to make sure that the floor of the brooder is level and that there are no sharp edges or corners that could injure the chicks.

baby chicks inside brooder
baby chicks inside brooder

Once you’ve found the perfect spot, it’s time to set up the brooder. You’ll need to add a layer of bedding material, such as straw or wood shavings, and provide a water source and a heat lamp. The lamp should be placed so that the chicks can move away from the heat if they get too warm.

If you decide to keep the hen with the chicks, there’s no need to do this. The hen will keep the chicks warm, so no need for a heat lamp.

The chicks will be nourished for three days by the yolk sack they’d absorbed, and then they will need food.

Encourage Them to Drink Water

Once your chicks have hatched, it is important to encourage them to drink water. One way to do this is to place a shallow bowl of water in their brooding box.

You can also dip their beaks in the water, or use a small spray bottle to mist their face and body. It is important to make sure that the water is always clean and fresh, so be sure to change it regularly.

Chicks need a lot of water to stay hydrated, so make sure they have access to it at all times.

What to Feed Chicks That Hatched Naturally

I’ll have to buy a bag of chick starter feed. I plan on getting the unmedicated kind, and letting the mama hen eat that as well since it’d be hard to have them eat different things separately.

I think after three days the hen will leave the nest and take the hatched chicks to look for food. She’ll cluck to show them where it is, and teach them how to peck and drink.

What About Other Eggs to Hatch?

Since the other hens were laying in the same nest with the broody hen for several days, there are sure to be eggs still waiting to hatch when this hen leaves the nest. If they don’t get continuous warmth, they’ll die.

a broody hen
a broody hen

Fortunately, two more of our hens have gone broody! (I’ve been stealing their eggs though, so they aren’t sitting on any.) I expect to have to put another broody hen on the abandoned nest to finish hatching. *Hopefully* this will work. It’s the plan, anyways.

Candling Eggs

If you’re still waiting on eggs to hatch, it might be helpful to know if they’re actually fertile. One way to do this is to candle them.

Candling eggs is a process of using a light source to check the development of the embryo inside the egg. This can be done by holding the egg up to a bright light or using a special candling device.

Candling can help to determine which eggs are still viable and which have stopped developing. The translucent shell of the egg will allow you to see the tiny embryo inside.

If the embryo is healthy, you will see it moving around, and the blood vessels will be visible as red lines. If the embryo has stopped developing, you will only see a small amount of fluid inside the egg.

Candling can be repeated several times during the incubation period to check on the progress of the embryos. This will let you know whether the hen still has eggs waiting to hatch or is sitting on the nest unnecessarily.

From what I understand, the hen will teach and care for her chicks for six weeks, and then she’ll be ready to return to the flock.

Introducing the Chicks to the Rest of the Flock

Depending on the flock’s temperament, it may be best to separate the chicks from the rest of your flock. Most free-range flocks get along great and show no aggression with the baby chicks.

But every experience is different, so introduce the new chicks carefully when they are several weeks old. (And do it in the evening when everyone’s resting.) Then, keep an eye on the flock for a few days. If all goes well, you can let the chicks roam free with the rest of the gang.

Otherwise, it may be best to keep them separated until they’re a bit older and better able to defend themselves. In any case, adding new chicks to your flock can be a fun and rewarding experience!

Pros and Cons of Using a Broody Hen to Hatch Eggs

One of the great debates among chicken keepers is whether to let a broody hen hatch her own eggs or to use an incubator. There are pros and cons to both methods, and ultimately it is up to the individual keeper to decide what is best for their flock.

Those in favor of using a broody hen point out that hens are designed to raise a clutch of eggs, and most hens make good mothers. This can be a more natural way to hatch eggs, and it does away with the need for an incubator, which can be expensive.

Additionally, there is less mess when hatching under a hen, as she will do all the work herself. This method can also save time and be more satisfying to watch, as you can see the chicks growing day by day.

Finally, using a broody hen can be cheaper than hatching in an incubator, and chicks raised by a hen tend to mature quicker and fit into the flock better.

On the other hand, those who prefer to use an incubator point out that a broody hen can only raise a limited number of chicks at one time.

This means that if you have a large number of eggs that you want to hatch, using a broody hen is not going to be practical.

Additionally, letting a hen hatch her own eggs requires some planning on your part, as you need to make sure that she has enough food and water and that her nesting area is safe from predators.

Ultimately, whether or not to use a broody hen is a personal decision. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, so it is important to weigh all the factors before making a decision.

Here’s What Happened to My Broody Hen

So there you have it! Everything you need to know about hatching chicks naturally.

Now, back to my broody tale…

If you remember, the hen I was referring to earlier was, she was sitting on 17 eggs. I shouldn’t have let her accumulate that many.

A dozen probably would have been a much better number. We’ll see, though. I’m crossing my fingers that she has a good hatch rate.

Only one has hatched since Sunday evening (two days) though… I’m really hoping the others start hatching soon. Like tomorrow!!

The kids and I have enjoyed watching the little chick exploring its new world. The poor mama hen probably didn’t find it as humorous as we did when the chick kept pecking her in the eye though. Ouch!

It’ll be fun watching nature take its course. This is definitely much easier than incubating them ourselves!

I’d love to know what your experience has been hatching naturally!

18 thoughts on “Hatching Chicks Naturally: What You Should Know”

  1. Oh my gosh! Thank you! I had my 1st chick hatch tonight! Gonna move her to a crate of her own after they hatch. Shes still in the laying box. I could not get her to move. I as m concerned she won’t want to move and abandon the chicks. I tried to move her before they hatched. It didn’t work! Also had to buy her eggs. I have no rooster. Thank you!

  2. thanks for the information from all. Our mama has just started hatching her STOLEN eggs, my partner is making a broody hen coop with run. Although the last time she had her chicks, we were given her with the chicks (3), we put her in with the other girls and had no problem, don’t know why all the fuss this time, other people’s ideas. So how many hatched after you moved her. My mama is sitting on about 8 – 10 eggs. I have read today to move them after dark, any way we are giving it a go. will let you know the outcome. Little chick soooo cute.

  3. You’ve inspired me to put some fertile eggs under my broody hen. After about a week of trying to break her, I figured what the hay. We were planning on getting 2 more hens anyway but now we’ll have 2 or 3 baby chicks, hopefully! Best thing was (since we don’t have a rooster) I got mine from the feed store for free! So excited!

  4. I have a VERY broody hen right now… she sat on her first set of eggs for 30 days and sadly they were duds 🙁 So my friend gave me 4 more fertilized eggs and I took out the bad ones and put in the good ones and she is still sitting on them. 🙂 She will continue until she either gets chicks or these hatch. I left her in the nesting box of the hen house.. letting nature be nature. I added three 8 week old chicks to the hen house and although the bigger hens pecked and chased them from time to time, they have learned where they belong. I am hoping that the broody hen will protect the babies when they hatch, because I don’t plan on moving them.

  5. Let me share what I know about chickens. Boneless skinless are on sale for $1.67/lb at IGA and a dozen eggs are one sale for 88 cents at the next store down the street.

    Well, that just about sums it up. Hope I helped!

    Ha ha ha ha ha.

    To all you chicken farmers…You Go Girls!!!!

  6. Oh they are just so cute! It is a beautiful sight to see the mama hen lead the chick to water and food and as the chick gets older the mama then follows the chick around protecting it.
    I agree with the 2 Kim’s post as well. This past hatch was the first time we let them with the flock, including turkeys and guineas and our one chick is doing just fine. In the beginning I watched as some of the others pecked at it, I was concerned. But the chick learned quickly the pecking order and found its place. The chick would even go up to the other broody hens and begin to peck at their eyes! They didn’t do anything back to the little one, surprisingly and that soon stopped too. I can also say this one chick seems to be the most healthy out of all our incubating and finagling with the natural process.
    We have yet again a broody hen…with 48 currently in the incubator we are undecided if we want to let her sit on some more or not. We are in need of more fencing. 🙂

  7. We let a hen raise her first chicks last year. Though we did move her to a small separate coop made from an old doghouse while broody, she was free to take her chicks outside during the day (around our other hens and rooster) and did so. She kept them fairly near the coop and was quite protective, but the other chickens really did not pick on them at all. They seemed to know that these were their “sister’s” children. When the babies were just a few weeks old, mama and babies moved back into the big coop. The babies were shown who was boss, but not picked on overly to where they needed to be separate.

  8. It’s funny, yesterday when I got home I found that one of my Rhode Island Reds has gone broody! Too bad we dont have a rooster to fertilize any eggs. Hope she comes out of it soon. I read some pretty bad stories of broody hens. Wishing you the best of luck though!

  9. I agree with Kim 🙂 I never move our broody hens. Believe you me they won’t let anyone attack their babies! They are insanely protective. The Mama will bring them out, even if they have to JUMP, out of their boxes to go eat. They are raised with the other hens so there’s no issue later when you reintroduce. We have never had any problems leaving them with the flock. I think we humans make things WAY harder than they need to be! Congratulations on your new babies!

  10. I have been raising chickens for 4 years now. I have always left my hens right where they were. Never had a problem with other hens picking on the chicks. In fact there is nothing more protective than a momma hen! When the chicks are 2 to 3 days old I usually put a waterer and some feed on the floor of the coop. Since the chicks are raised with all the other chickens there is no problem later on reintroducing them to the flock. Good luck with your chicks!

  11. That’s so awesome, Kendra! None of our hens have gone broody and this is the third summer for our oldest ones. We do have some Bantams now, and they are known for their tendency to go broody, so we’ll see….I know you can slip regular sized eggs under them to hatch if they go broody, just maybe a half dozen or so at time.
    We have hatched eggs in an incubator this past spring, and it is very easy. The kids especially loved being able to watch the hatching process through the little windows of the incubator. Wet little newborns look so different than they look a few hours later when they are all fluffed up–a great learning process! So glad your hens are going broody!:)

  12. That’s so interesting. You are full of great information, thank you! I have a broody hen that I put some surrogate eggs under last week. She’s still in gen-pop, but I’ll eventually kick all the other chickens out of the coop into the new one so she has it all to herself. Congratulations on the new baby! Here’s hoping that you’ll get a whole bunch more!

  13. I love it! I’ve been wanting to do this with my broody hen but I’m full up on space in our coop. (I’m in the ‘burbs.) I guess I’ll just have to do this vicariously for now.

  14. I separated my broodie from the flock and put her nest box in a large wire dog crate. I should have kept her in the crate when the hatching starts and only opened it a couple times during the day for quick water and poop runs but I left it open to the enclosed “run” and when the chicks got really mobile she would not stay on the remaining eggs and they died. Next time I will not let her chicks go exploring and make her worry, so she can hatch more of them. She is great at teaching them to scratch and eat.

  15. Oh man, that is so exciting! Someday I will have chickens, and by then you’ll be an old pro at it and I’ll be able to glean from your experience! I can’t wait to hear how many hatch!


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