Hatching with Broodies
by Carina Moncrief

What is a broody? I have heard this question several times from folks who are new to poultry. A broody hen is a hen that wants to sit on eggs to hatch them and to brood chicks – basically become a mother. Silkies are one of the best breeds to use as a natural incubator. They are great mothers and determined sitters. Many poultry hobbyist use silkies to hatch eggs from other breeds instead of using artificial incubators.
For a bird to go broody they usually have to be laying. The environment can be a contributor, for example, a quiet dark sheltered nest, the sound of baby chicks, or a nest full of eggs. To promote broodiness I usually take several golf balls and place them in their nest. Easter eggs and wooden eggs have also proven to be successful.
Broodiness sometimes turns into a community event where two, three, and even four silkies lay together and join forces to keep the eggs warm. Many times they steal eggs from each other, but rest assured that not one egg will be left uncovered if several broodies are about.

Broodies will inhibit a different range of behaviors. Typically a hen will lay a clutch of eggs. She will not officially sit on the eggs until the last egg is laid. This usually happens by the sixth to eighth egg. The reason for this is so that all the eggs will hatch about the same time. Every 15 minutes she will turn the eggs and move them about. She will leave the nest for a period of 20 minutes every day to eat, drink, and go to the bathroom. She will sit on them for 21 days. After the first chick hatches, she will sit for a period of 24 more hours.

When I use broody hens to hatch eggs I collect the eggs I want to hatch from other hens. I mark the eggs with pencil or a marking pen so I know which eggs were the ones I placed. Pencil can rub off so I would recommend using a marking pen. I place six eggs under each broody at night. After a week I remove the eggs (half at a time) to candle them. I return those that are fertile and throw out those that are not.

Because of their determination to sit, they tend to lose weight in the process. I like to place a bowl with food and water so they can reach over and eat without going very far. I like to use Chick Starter rather than layer pellets since it has a higher protein content. Broody hens do not need the extra calcium, since they aren't laying eggs. It is also available for the chicks once they hatch. The essential key is to make sure they remain hydrated.

Due to their great motherly instinct, silkies will have the tendency to adopt other chicks. The best time to introduce new chicks is to slip them under the hen at night and right about the time her clutch of eggs have hatched. You don’t want to introduce a chick while she is in the broody process.

After all the chicks hatch she instinctively will begin raising them and protecting them. She will teach them to find food and water and keep them warm by clucking to them. The chicks are usually left with their mother until they are about 6 weeks of age but can be taken away at 3 weeks. It is a great experience observing the hen care for the baby chicks as they grow.


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