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Help with a broody hen

 
pollinator
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I have done it now.  I've been busy and have not been gathering eggs like normal.  Now I have a rhode island red hen that has gone broody.  I have had chickens for 15 years and never had a broody hen.  She has been on that nest for 10 or 12 days now.  I'm not sure what to do.  It seems cruel to take them away at this stage, but I worry I'ts too cold for her to have chicks.  Also she is in the nesting box that is 3 feet off the ground.  I have been doing some research and they say the hen and chicks will have to be separated from the flock.  Do I let the chicks hatch, then move them, do I move mom and eggs before the eggs hatch, or should I just take them away now because it's to cold for them to survive anyway?  I live in N California,  the night time temps are low to high 30s days are in the 50s.  My utility bill is already very high, and there is never enough $ so I'm not to thrilled about running a heat lamp.  My daughter said just take the eggs away mom, but I don't know why It just seems wrong.  Any way I would love some feedback  Thanks.  
P.S.  Is she eating?  I never see her out, but am only in the coop once a day to feed everyone. She gets quite grumpy is I get near her.  Her food is about 10 feet from the box  water a bit further.  
 
master steward
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Hi Jen, I say let mother hen do her thing, nature has a way. Yes she's eating. While broody hens spend most their time sitting, they occasionally leave the nest for a quick bite and a drink. The other chickens and rooster(s) (not sure of your flock size) could be aggressive to the chicks, and momma will defend her little ones. Most people do give mother hen and the chicks their own space for a while before reintroducing them to the flock. I think the best and easiest way to move them will be at night. I've not known folks to provide a heat lamp along with a broody hen, the lamps tend to be in lieu of momma. I think mother hen will keep her chicks warm. Keeping their nest and area sheltered from the wind will help.
 
master steward
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Those temps shouldn't be a problem for a fluffy mother hen.  I had a hen two autumns ago who went broody in September (in WI).  When the chicks were one week old (October) she had them outside in 40 degree rain.  They'd run around for 5 minutes and then tuck under her for a minute and then run around again.  My bird's breed (which is unknown) might be more cold tolerant than yours but I only turn on the heat if it gets below -15F...

The biggest challenge is her and the chicks getting down when they hatch.  I made an insert box for my nest box that I could put the eggs and broody hen in.  Then on day 21 I could slide it out and set it on the floor.  Problem is that they hatched a bit early and I came in there to find a mama on the ground with some robust chicks and the half hatched ones were still up in the next box.  I slid it out then and it worked.  Maybe they'd've just jumped or died and once on the ground she didn't need a nest?

One problem is that she could have eggs of different ages under her.  Then she will either abandon the early chicks to stay on the eggs or abandon the late eggs to hang out with the chicks.  If you gather up enough eggs for her to do a new brood, remove and discard the current eggs and put the new ones under her, she'll just keep on sitting.  Maybe in a cardboard box that fits inside the current nest box...  So you can slide it out.....

My broody hens audition for a week or two before I give them eggs (or more accurately, gather enough clean nice eggs for them)

I don't worry about them being in the coop with the other birds.  Somehow becoming a mother automatically raises a hen up in the pecking order.  My hen's first order of business once the chicks hatch is to beat the crap out of any hen that comes near her or the chicks.  

She is most likely eating and drinking, probably once or twice a day.  

 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thank you both so much.  It sounds like my only concern will be getting hen and eggs in a ground floor apartment.  Since I'm not trying to breed chickens I like the idea of letting nature take its course.  I have 10 hens and 1 rooster.  I'm only supposed to have a max of 12 hens and no rooster, even though I don't live in city limits.  But I lost one hen to predictors, and 1 hen turned out to be a rooster. Thanks again
 
pollinator
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We are in North Central Bulgaria... last winter one of our hens decided to go broody on 12 eggs (likely from multiple hens) in a ledge half way up the wall of our duck house. Of the twelve she hatched 8... we left the remaining 4 eggs in the nest for a few days then removed them.  We too worried about the chicks falling out (they never did) but we simply put a bale of straw underneath the ledge.

4 days after the last hatching, she pushed all the chicks out of the nest, onto the bale, then onto the floor and promptly constructed a new makeshift nest in an empty duck nest tyre.

We put a puppy cage around the nest box (hen could hope in and out if she wanted) to keep the ducks away from the food and water we put down for the new arrivals.

After 12 days she took them outside for a look at the snow and surrounding area, then promptly took them into the chicken coop and made a new nest. We kept putting the puppy cage around them at night for a few more weeks so they could have feed and water of their own at night (we dont feed/water our birds at night normally, even in winter)

The daytime temperatures outside the duck house that month ranged from 0C to -23C.

Our evolved concept is let all our critters do what they want to do with minimal intervention. In the past four years we have raised pigs, lambs, chickens, ducks and geese in low minus temps with no additional heating - just plenty of bedding.

Best of luck!!!
 
Jen Fulkerson
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Thanks I think I will pick up a bale of straw today.  That is a great idea.
 
pollinator
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Well, Jen, You seem to feel racked with guilt because you let the situation come to this. Get over it. You will be more effective. The first question is do you want the new chicks? Are you situated in a way that you could keep mom and her brood within view of the flock but separated? [It makes it easier for her to defend her chicks from other hens and from roosters]. If so, get the new place ready and in the dark of night, without lights, take her off the nest and very quickly put her in the new place with the eggs under her. Maybe she has been on them long enough that she will not abandon them, but she may: The new place may not be to her liking or she may get chilled during the transfer and lose her broodiness. A hen's broodiness is determined by her age and by her body temperature. Being a new mother is much harder inside a coop because of the cramped quarters.

Alternately, you may leave her alone, but when the chicks are born, make sure you can make a day nest for her because they may tumble out without hurting themselves but they will not be able to get back up 3 ft into the box. Once they are born, she will immediately have an attachment to them and will not abandon them. Once they dry out and fluff up, she will want them more to herself. They will also require slightly different nutrition, so that is another reason to separate mom and her brood from the rest of the flock now. If the weather was warmer and she could go wherever she pleases, she would quickly find a new spot to keep her brood away from prying eyes until she feels it is OK to present them to the rest of the flock, but I take it that is not your situation. In cramped quarters, she may have more trouble keeping the others away from her brood too and in her weakened state, have trouble defending her brood.

You could also fork over the price of a good incubator[ $145 at Tractor supply last year]. That would be worth it if you intend to raise quite a few chicks over the years. I got my chicks for 50 cents/ piece in the late summer because Tractor supply could not find buyers. Make sure it automatically turns the eggs or you will have to. [It is well worth the price for that convenience!] How many eggs does she have now? Are other hens adding more eggs whenever she steps off the nest? [that has been my worse problem with brooding hens in cramped quarters: you don't know which ones are fresh and which ones are not.
At this stage in the incubation, she may be able to hear/ feel movement, so she should want to continue, but it is getting late to make that decision. Which trauma is worse: letting her continue and risk losing the chicks that you may or may not want? or Breaking her broodiness. Both are tough: a hen eats very little while she is brooding, and does lose weight, drinks less too.
Yet another solution especially if you don't want all that bother for X number of eggs might be to pull her off the nest and chill her. Have a bucket of water ready and dip her quickly to her armpits for about 10 seconds. Her temperature will drop and that will stop the broodiness. She will be, well, "mad as a wet hen" [which is where the expression comes from, by the way: The cold water method for breaking broodiness...] But you will save yourself all the trouble. you will have to throw the eggs.
Let us know what you choose to do. I'm with you, sister!
 
pollinator
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We're in off-grid in zone 3 and I had broodies hatching out chicks in late December.  They a ll do just fine with a competent broody.  We don't supplement heat.  Mama is warm enough for them all, as long as they're out of the elements.  I put broodies with chicks in a greenhouse to keep them out of of the snow and wind.  If you take the eggs they all die.  If you let them hatch, maybe some die, maybe some don't.  Best case you get some free chickens
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Jen Fan wrote:We're in off-grid in zone 3 and I had broodies hatching out chicks in late December.  They a ll do just fine with a competent broody.  We don't supplement heat.  Mama is warm enough for them all, as long as they're out of the elements.  I put broodies with chicks in a greenhouse to keep them out of of the snow and wind.  If you take the eggs they all die.  If you let them hatch, maybe some die, maybe some don't.  Best case you get some free chickens




It is so true that they do fine with a *competent* broodie, and they  need to be kept out of the elements.  Being totally off grid in zone 3 certainly has its challenges. I'm in zone 4 but I have a little ceramic heater just for those super cold night.
During the day, I have them all go in the 'chicken run' [a green house, really'] where the young ones learn to forage.
What I've found is that breeds of layers are so conditioned that their mothering instincts have been snuffed out.
I only had one that brought some chicks in this world by hatching them the traditional way. The rest gave up when I tried to move them at night so they would get their own food. So I quickly got an electric brooder that also turns the eggs, and they did fine.
Also, seeing her brooding, other hens kept adding eggs to her clutch. Eventually, that one gave up too.
Because my nesting boxes are 2 ft off the floor, I have not found the system yet: Would they tumble out, perhaps get hurt?
The size of the quarters matters as well. I fear that a broodie might not be able to defend her clutch in a cramped situation.
 
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We have "professional egg laying hens" and every 2-3 years one goes broody. If they manage to hatch out the eggs, they've always done a fine job of mothering them despite their genetics. That said, I've always moved them early specifically to stop other birds from sneaking extra eggs in the nest and to give them less distraction that might drive them off the nest.

I figure that if you're going to have chickens, you need to have a plan to deal with all situations. I've got special bins I call 'chicken hospitals', and a special area where I can put a broody hen when I spot one. I find that in general, mom-raised birds (particularly roosters/drakes) are far better socialized than incubator-hatched birds, so it's worth the effort.  

Part of this is "respecting their chickeness". Chickens may "hang in a group" but given a choice, they will find a quiet, isolated spot to build a nest when they're feeling broody. Similarly, we always have at least one rooster with a small flock so we know we have some fertile eggs. If we didn't, I would ask around until I found someone who does and would be willing to help if/when the need arose. I know someone who was constantly "breaking the brood" of one of her chickens. I got tasked to babysit said chicken and I let her sit on eggs when she went broody again, and refused to give her back until she'd hatched and raised her babies. Once she'd done so, it was at least 2 years before she went broody again. She was an incredibly happy mom and in the end, everybody was happy.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Jay Angler wrote:We have "professional egg laying hens" and every 2-3 years one goes broody. If they manage to hatch out the eggs, they've always done a fine job of mothering them despite their genetics. That said, I've always moved them early specifically to stop other birds from sneaking extra eggs in the nest and to give them less distraction that might drive them off the nest.



I think you may be spot on actually: Last year, one broodie adopted brand new chicks that I had gotten for 50 cents at the end of the season. I had figured on hatching the ones she had abandoned. Since she gave up on day 16, I got an artificial incubator. I didn't have much hope because she had been off of them for a whole day and a night.  She had been brooding 11 which I had marked and that is how many I put in the incubator.  
In the meantime, since I was not going to have enough with 11 and Tractor supply had some brand new, partially feathered ones, I got a bunch and built 2 cages inside the coop: One for the partially feathered chicks plus a lamp and one for the new hatchlings.  Well, long story short, she cozied up to the cage and would not walk away from them and would not roost. She sounded distressed when I tended to the new hatchlings. They too wanted to be with her and nestled close to the partition. She was right back to brooding. I put them with her as well, carefully: The bought ones were a bit older and were warm enough in the coop, not needing really to be under her all the time. In retrospect, I should not have gotten so many just because they were cheap. She ended up caring for the 11 plus the 25 I had bought! That was quite a sight.
There were still a few warm days so I put her out with her chicks. So, yes, this one, in spite of being an incubator baby herself had terrific mothering instincts. She gave me the idea that she was not good because she was often off the nest and others would add eggs and finally abandoned the nest on day 16 when I moved her in the cage with her eggs.
I think that more than anything else, I think the quarters may not be adequate because it feels cramped in there: That is not a place where mama can find an isolated place to raise her young in peace: they are always in each other's way.
 
Jen Fulkerson
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I want to thank you all for your good advice.  I decided to let mother nature take control.  I put up a board and kept and eye for chicks, so they wouldn't fall to there death, but the hen has given up too soon.  No chicks hatched.  I was kind of looking forward to chicks, but we have more then enough chickens, and I really didn't want to have to deal with more roosters.  One is more then enough.  So I'm ok with the outcome.  It's probably for the best.  Thank you all again.
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Jen Fulkerson wrote:I want to thank you all for your good advice.  I decided to let mother nature take control.  I put up a board and kept and eye for chicks, so they wouldn't fall to there death, but the hen has given up too soon.  No chicks hatched.  I was kind of looking forward to chicks, but we have more then enough chickens, and I really didn't want to have to deal with more roosters.  One is more then enough.  So I'm ok with the outcome.  It's probably for the best.  Thank you all again.



Condolences, Jen. If the hen gave up too soon, she probably knew: Either they were duds [how long were they under her] or she felt she would not be able to stand up to the others hens that might attack her chicks. Or, like me, cramped quarters: She does need an area she can call her own so she can raise them away from indiscreet eyes to the full feather stage but still in view of the rest of the flock.
I heard, and others can opine on that, that aggressiveness is made much worse by lack of protein in their diet.
For that reason, I always have a bag of "pond pellets" like you can buy at Tractor Supply. It is essentially fish meal and is no more expensive than their regular mash but it has 36% crude protein[ compared to 16 % crude protein for laying pellets. They don't seem to enjoy it as much as worms and meal worms, but it is a whole lot cheaper too. 2-3 handfuls disappear in a day. Their plumage is very shiny, so I know they are getting plenty of protein. I feed that alongside food scraps and regular layer pellets. It seems also that their molting period is made much less severe.
 
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