Last year I shared a post on incubating eggs in an incubator and hatching chicks yourself. I did plan on writing this follow up to that post long before now, but I seemed to have forgotten all about it until now!
Related: Hatching eggs in an incubator
When I first started keeping chickens I had no idea about hatching eggs. It was only by complete chance that we were given duck eggs to hatch that I had to learn pretty quick! As we didn’t have a broody hen at the time, I incubated them and hatched them inside.
Since then, I’ve had 3 lots of chicks hatch from broody hens. Each time was a complete surprise and I had absolutely no intention of growing my flock. One of the cons of having straw in the coop I suppose is that the hens would hide the eggs under the straw, so when I would move them there wouldn’t be any visible eggs. Crafty little things when they want to be!
This is one of the main points in my post things to know before getting chickens. It’s an important one!
Twice I have caught the broody hen only a week or so before the eggs hatched, so while I may not have all the experience of the full 28 days incubation, I do believe I have a pretty good idea on what to expect after that and what I would do if I had known little chicks were joining the family.
Pros and cons to hatching chicks under a hen
It’s less work
It’s far far less work when you let the hen hatch the eggs. You don’t need to think about turning the eggs over, how many times a day or how far they need to be turned, etc. It’s all down to mother hen, and believe me, they just KNOW these things.
It’s also a relief when they don’t think you are mummy. Each time we’ve incubated eggs, on hatching they’ve thought of us as mummy and that means a lot of chirping and being noisy when you are out of the room.
You also don’t have to worry about brooders or heat lamps, the hen does it all!
The chicks born tend to be healthier
Hens will kick out any egg they don’t think is going to make it as soon as possible. I had one hen go from 20 eggs down to 2. One hatched and has done incredibly well, unfortunately, the other didn’t survive long enough to even dry out. Which is upsetting, don’t get me wrong, but I’d much prefer that be a case of only 1 or 2 out of a whole hatch instead of 10 or more from an incubator.
When you incubate you don’t really know whats going on inside the egg, well as the hen does. It knows when, how often, and what each moment means. They also hear the chirping from inside the egg a lot sooner than we do.
Chicks learn quickly from the hen
It’s amazing to watch a hen teaching it’s babies how to be a chicken. This is something I have loved every time they’ve had chicks themselves. I’ve also seen other hens and even the cockerels helping to teach the little ones.
If you’ve ever seen a hen with her chicks, you’ll know how much they listen out for her commands and lessons. Not having to teach a chick out to scratch at the floor and eat is a blessing.
When you leave a hen to have chicks, especially if they are a first-time mum, you may find they reject a late hatcher. Whether this is because she knows they’re not as healthy or something, I don’t quite know, but it’s awful to come outside in the morning and find she didn’t bond with one in particular and have it die overnight because of it.
We had this happen to one of the chicks – who is now a handsome little man – but we were in time to revive him and keep him alive. He had a nasty head wound from her, but we were able to keep it clean and clear and the skin and feathers grew back.
There are so many things that can happen when they’re not in a specific place – I.e. A brooder inside with a controlled environment. Steve was only about 6 weeks when a rat managed to get into the coop and tried to eat him for dinner. Thankfully the adults protected him, but Steve still had to come in after that. We’re pretty sure he’s deaf in one ear and has scars on his face and neck because of it.
Incubated chicks that then go into a brooder will be quite happy to be picked up and have a little nap in your hand, but chicks that stay with mum will take longer to get used to being handled.
This is mainly because mum – even if she is handled herself – is going to be very protective of her babies and doesn’t want them out of her sight. She’ll send a little call or “warning” to them telling them to get under her, which obviously makes the chicks weary of you since they are told to hide when you come about and try to touch them. They warm up eventually as they get bigger, but it takes a little longer.
As you can see, I think if you’re a busy person – or not – and don’t want to dedicate 3 months or more of your life to chicks – who will be very needy and clingy -then the pros of hatching chicks with a hen far outweigh the cons.
There’s no way to get a 100% hatch and survival rate, and I’d much rather it be nature’s selection rather than something I have done wrong. You can try to be as informed as possible and do everything when you’re meant to, but nothing beats natural instinct!
have you ever tried hatching chicks with a hen?