I have a clutch of about 20 eggs, and a Bohuslän-Dals svarthöna (Swedish black hen) I want to sit on them.
I’ve isolated her in a little coop on her own with food, water, and the eggs. Do any other chicken keepers have tips on making her mothering hormones kick in? Something I can sneak in the feed? Herbs in the nesting box?
Update: I looked through a bunch of chicken forums and the comments on this and saw that my Araucana would be a safer bet to go broody. I was initially sad to take her out of egg production, but for chicks it seems worth it. I put her in a private coop with a clutch of 13, and 4 hours later here we are.
Update 2: Commentary boogaloo
So “make” is a strong word, and I’m aware you can’t “make” a hen go broody short of a hormone injection (I’ll cop to poor word choice here @quickwitter), but you can almost certainly encourage a hen–of a type who is genetically-inclined to do so–to go broody by changing her environment (clean, pest-free), feed (increasing calcium), and level of privacy (dark, alone), as well as setting out a clutch (6-12 eggs).
My improvised broody pen: I am keeping the hen enclosed until I am certain she is hormonally committed to the task, letting her out twice a day to run around, poop, and eat grass.
I’ve known a lot of old farmers to use the “bucket method,” and what I have done here is basically a more humane version of that. Basically, with the bucket method, you put a hen in a bucket on top of eggs or golf balls with mesh on top so she can’t escape, and just make her sit until her mothering hormones kick in. Not wanting to do that (it’s cruel to trap a hen in a bucket for days!), I’ve created all the other conditions for her prolactin levels to rise.
I threw this one out to the crowd here for any other humane tips for encouraging this to happen (apparently putting mint and lavender in the nest helps as well).
She gathered and moved the clutch and moved straw under her of her own volition, so I’m guessing she has some intention of sitting for a few days. Here we are on day four:
Herr Skæg has started collecting nest materials, plucking her chest feathers, and stays on the eggs all day. I turned them manually for the first few days. She has plenty of food and water inside the house.
And yes, the eggs on my farm are fertile 😂. They are free-range, with three roosters.
Update 3: There’s life in them there eggs!
She is sitting pretty and not moving from the eggs now.
I candled all the eggs under her on day 5, and saw the “spider” of early veins and a small beating heart in most of them. With the ones that were ambiguous it will be easier to see conclusively between days 7-10.
Behind the “X” you can see the embryo and a “spider”-like web of new veins, first visible on the fifth day of development. It is hard to capture on camera but very easy to see in-person.
Update 4: Life, in higher definition
A lot changes in a day! Now the characteristic “spider” of veins is really visible around the embryo. We candled 7 today and 7/7 were developing. I will check them again in three days.
Update 4: Life abundant
I candled a few more and there is life in all of them that I have peered into so far. Considering how ad hoc this whole process was (coming back from vacation and trying to brood a bunch of accumulated eggs from the previous three weeks) I am shocked at the fertility and success rate. If all the eggs hatch, it will blow apart my preconceptions of how old eggs can be before being incubating.
Today was day 24/21, and I had honestly lost hope that we were getting a hatch. I was worried I had done something wrong and killed them, or set her on way too big of a clutch and ruined the whole hatch.
This little creature proved me wrong by about midday. She or he is sitting under mom now: bonding and soaking up the warmth.
As for the other 20 eggs that remain (24 total were under her: I removed one dead after water candling earlier today, and two infertile eggs rotted and exploded during the process) it remains to be seen how many live chicks will make it all the way through the strenuous process of pecking and kicking out of the eggs now. I added wayyy too many eggs which is probably why they are late: her body heat had to be distributed to so many eggs that they incubated slower.
I’ll be writing an article about this experience and what I learned about incubation once the hatch is complete!
This was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants project and I am surprised that after so many things going wrong, life managed to find a way. My main takeaway so far is that nature is a lot more robust than we give her credit for.
4/21 have hatched, two more have ‘pipped’ (broken the shell), so we should have 6/21 in a few hours.
As far as I am concerned this is an amazing hatch rate for chucking way too many eggs, many of which were 3-4 weeks old and had been left outside with normal outdoor temperature fluctuations in that time, under a hen who wasn’t necessarily ready to be broody.
The first 6 to hatch have all been Araucana (hen) and probably Dwarf Cochin (rooster) crosses, although it remains to be seen when they feather out if the Silkie roosters managed to sneakily pass on their genetics.
Update 7 (/7)
We ended up hatching thirteen, however the two last chicks to hatch passed away quite quickly, and we think two more were accidentally trampled by mom during the night.
So it goes with chicks. They’re delicate little creatures and this is the hen’s first time raising chicks. Other than the two mishaps, she seems to be a good mom. After all, we have nine healthy little babies to show for her effort!