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What to do with broody hens?

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  • #253300
    COB
    Member

    Hi all. We have 2 young sussex hens that are broody. Can someone give us some basics regarding how long does the incubation period last? Also the hens are in the same nest (scrunched in ) Is this a problem? The nest is off the ground in their usual laying box. When the chicks hatch should we move the nest to the ground? Should we seperate the other hens when the chicks start to hatch ( will the other hens be a threat to baby chicks?) As you can tell we’re beginners at this, we only have had one brood,some time ago. Thanks in advance

    #478863
    chooken
    Member

    Hi COB, incubation is usually 21 days but can stretch out to a couple of days longer.

    You may see a couple of problems given where your hens have decided to sit. The first is that two hens being in the same nest is very likely to be a problem, unfortunately. What happens is that eggs under one hen often hatch first, then the hens compete to be the mother, and abandon all the rest. Or even worse one of the hens may see the new chicks as competition for hers, and kill them. It’s far safer to put the hens in 2 separate nest areas safe from rats (if you can do it).

    The second problem if the nestboxes are up high is that chicks are quite likely to fall out soon after hatch. The fall might not kill them, but rats, cold or other chooks will. This means you’d either have to be literally on hand during the hatch (hard as it can take over a day) or build some kind of platform with safety mesh (in which case the hens can’t get out to go to the toilet and eat/drink).

    All in all it sounds wisest to move the birds before they’ve been sitting for long. I would do it at night, to try to minimise disturbance, as hens often hate being moved. It’s slightly dangerous because if the new area isn’t to their liking, or if they notice the nest isn’t the same, they can go a bit crazy and smash the eggs trying to get out.

    If you have plenty of fertile eggs, it might be best to start over again from scratch in a new nest area. Move the hens at night onto new nests on plastic eggs (pet shops or produce stores often sell them) until you’re sure the hens are sitting tight. Then give them new fertile eggs to sit on, each in their own nestboxes. However if that’s not an option then try to move one hen at a time at night, with her batch of eggs, and make sure wherever you put her is not only ratproof (like a hutch) but also quiet, cosy and dark. If you make sure nothing disturbs her next day, as long as she’s truly broody (in a sort of trance) there’s a reasonable chance she’ll stay put.

    Sorry to be a downer here; you could always leave things as they are and see what happens. You may get live chicks out of it, whereas the move might end up with all eggs smashed and/or both hens off being broody. These things are tricky sometimes. Your call! 😀

    #478864
    lavman
    Member

    I agree with chooken and would add, keep them covered with a hesian bag so that the nest is totally dark for that night and all the next day, they have a better chance of staying with the eggs, take the cover off the following night, as long as they are in a cool place they will be alright.

    #478865
    BlueWren
    Member

    My Red Sussex has ben sitting for a while now. I try but I can’t be sure that rats cannot get into the pen and I don’t have any other option for her. Are they likely to kill the chicks? Will Mum defend them from rats?

    #478866
    lavman
    Member

    Hi BlueWren, we had a mice problem a while back, I noticed a bit of blood on our chicks (which were less than a week old and under their mother) one morning and after an investigation that night, I spotted about four or five mice around the hen, I set a 4 way mouse trap and got four mice after an hour, I caught about a dozen mice over the next week and all was well after that.

    I wait until after dark before I set the trap.

    My guess is that if rats can get to them then they are likely to kill the chicks, I suggest putting a rat trap inside a box so that the chooks can’t get to it, put the trap up one end of the box and make a hole big enough for a rat to get through down the other end, if the bait is missing in the morning, it’s probably mice.

    Cheers

    #478867
    BlueWren
    Member

    lavman wrote:

    My guess is that if rats can get to them then they are likely to kill the chicks, I suggest putting a rat trap inside a box so that the chooks can’t get to it, put the trap up one end of the box and make a hole big enough for a rat to get through down the other end, if the bait is missing in the morning, it’s probably mice.

    Cheers

    I know it’s rats because I’ve seen their poo in the broody’s pen. They were eating her grain so for that reason and because I really didn’t think she was getting off to eat I put her grain in the mower catcher right near her head,hoping rats wouldn’t be silly enough to eat right in front of her. Although in her broody trance perhaps she’d ignore them.(There was a vicious murder when a mouse ran through my flock!!!! )But the rats were shucking the sunflower seeds in broody’s grain and that’s not happening any more. Poo from the broody is not happening either! Only one poo in a fortnight.

    I have rat traps so I’ll do your box idea for the next week – chicks are due to hatch on 7/10. Will see if I can work out how rats are getting in too, but they are so clever and sneaky.

    #478868
    BlueWren
    Member

    Hi COB How are your broody girls? Did you shift them?

    #478869
    COB
    Member

    Hi,

    Instead of moving the hens my DH has been making a platform to put out the front of the nest. The platform will be covered in chick wire to stop the chicks (when hatched) from falling out of the nest.

    We thought about trying to move one of the hens off the nest but they are both very intent with their job. These two girls have been raised together and are very good natured so we’re hoping they won’t mind sharing motherhood. Truthfully I’m just too chicken myself to risk shifting them.

    Thank you all so much for your advise.

    #478870

    I’ve had chooks brood next to each oter the issue in the end if it could be called that is tha the chiks all thought they were one flook & the mums ended up running together.

    #478871
    BlueWren
    Member

    When are your chicks due to hatch, COB? Sounds as though you have solved the immediate issues. These girls are a worry aren’t they? My chicks are due to hatch on 7/10 so I think I will candle the eggs this evening to make sure Little Miss Chatterbox is not wasting her time.

    #478872
    COB
    Member

    If I’m not too far out with my timing they should hatch from Monday 11th. BlueWren, you mentioned candling the eggs. How do you do this?

    Does anyone think it’s a problem if they all run together at the end?

    #478873
    BlueWren
    Member

    I waited until just on dark after two weeks because I have never done candling before and didn’t want to make any mistakes. I googled first and found pictures of what to look for, and also picked up an idea for making the process very simple.One lady just cupped her hand around a slim strong beam LED torch and held the eggs on the circle formed by her thumb and forefinger.Another person shone a similar light up a cardboard tube and held the eggs over the top of the tube. I did the latter but used a small round LED light that you strap around your head , but I just held the tube over the light ,which was lying on the pen floor, and held the eggs over the top of the tube.The light shone straight through the five eggs that were not developing but the rest were very dark because of developing embryos.Sometimes I could clearly see the air sac. I didn’t fiddle around with them for long to try and see movement because my poor broody kept trying to gather up the dud eggs as I put them aside outside her nest. I began by lifting her off the nest and then gently removed all the eggs and put them on the floor of the pen. The good ones I returned to the nest straight after candling them, the duds I just put to one side.Then I popped the broody back in the nest.

    As I have never done this before it would be helpful if experienced candlers would comment on what I did or add their advice. I know that just seeing a dark egg isn’t enough to count my chickens before they hatch but I’m hoping that come Thursday Oct 7th at least some will make it safely.I really find bird reproduction even more amazing than that of mammals! All the best for your brood COB.How many eggs are your girls sitting on between them? I can’t advise you about running them all together – I’m a beginner chook person!

    #478874
    burntmill
    Member

    Hi Cob,

    You MUST separate the hens or there will be killing.

    Don’t take one off the job. Set up a different nest and give her half the eggs. So you should split it into 2 different nests in different parts of your enclosure. they don’t have to be fenced away from each other just far enough from each other to have space and be able to walk away when the chicks hatch. Don’t romanticize the situation. when the chicks hatch the adult hens are going to hate each other. It WILL NOT work.

    The platform is gonna work for about 5 minutes. nice idea but Nah.

    Put both nests on the ground.

    Do this at night with a torch that you half cover just enough to see what you’re doing. Chooks are creatures of light. Light wakes them and darkness puts them into a state of hibernation. that’s the best way to understand chook sleep. it’s a nightly hibernation dictated completely by light.

    Use a tea towel or something and put it over chook one and lift her off. Keep her in the dark so to speak. hold on tight just in case. meanwhile you’ve already set up nest 2 so now gently transfer half the eggs into it and then place the hen on top and gently remove the tea towel. At the same time snap off the light so it’s pitch black. She should just stay there and you can back away. Do all this silently. no talking just business. Use just a smidgin of light to check she’s on there and leave ASAP. If she gets off and wants to go back until she settles you should put a temporary fence between the 2 nests so that her choice is the new nest or nothing. Keep putting her on it and keep it dark. Actually if you have 2 different areas it would be better. After she’s taken to the new nest it’ll be ok and you can remove any temporary fencing later.

    Don’t stand there and watch and worry she’s gonna squash eggs or anything. go to bed. When you get up in the morning she’ll be on the nest and sitting happily. Don’t over handle the eggs.

    DON”T candle the eggs just let nature take it’s course and discard unhatched eggs after she’s finished hatching them. you”l know because they get off and walk around with the chicks and any unhatched eggs will chill and have to be thrown away.

    For future keep mothers separate. Leave eggs alone. Don’t touch. Don’t candle. Don’t fuss. walk away for three weeks and do nothing but keep the food and water topped up.

    The less you have to do with it the better.

    I have almost 100% hatch rates and have done for years.

    Expect only a few chicks if this is your first time. Maybe even just one or 2.

    If you keep it like it is you’re going to be lucky to get any that live beyond a few hours.

    #478875
    Hummer
    Keymaster

    Good advice burntmill. The less you have to do with a broody the better 🙂

    #478876
    BlueWren
    Member

    Humbug wrote:

    Good advice burntmill. The less you have to do with a broody the better 🙂

    I’m learning to agree with you guys!! Interesting that my broody has only pooped twice since she began sitting, and the chicks are due this Thursday. So I have no idea if she has been getting off the nest or not.No obvious reduction in her seed or water .About candling – I did it because my advice had been to remove any dud eggs in case they exploded and fouled the nest, and contaminated/spoilt the good eggs . So you just take the risk?

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