Giving eggs to a broody Mum is one of the most fun aspects of keeping chickens. There is nothing more heart warming than a good Mum, clucking at her chicks on a sunny day, teaching them about the world. It truly is a beautiful site…
Looking after Mum prior to giving her fertile eggs
Broody hens are more susceptible to mites and lice due to warm temperatures, dark environment and not dust bathing. We recommend the use of either Pestene powder (applied to the nest area, under wings, and around vent where mites/lice prefer) or Permethrin insecticidal spray. Mites can be fatal to adult birds, and especially chicks as they suck the blood. Regularly check for mites (broody or not).
Chickens, like all animals, are susceptible to worms. There are a lot of different brands of chicken/poultry or bird worming solutions, and are available from pet stores or where you buy your chicken food. Follow the instructions on the label, and it‟s pretty hard to go wrong. Most are small amounts that are measured and added to clean drinking water. A lot of chickens are reluctant to drink this water, so most owners withhold water overnight, and when letting the chickens out the next morning, will make the worming water available for the day. Eggs should not be eaten for two weeks after chickens are given some medications – please check instructions or ask the seller.
Preparing Mum for fertile eggs
Before giving fertile eggs to hens, it is always a good idea to put some plastic eggs (available at most places that sell chook food), golf balls or even normal eggs (room temperature, not straight from the fridge) under her. This is to check that your hen accepts sitting on something (hopefully soon to be fertile eggs) and doesn’t reject them. There is nothing more heartbreaking than putting some fertile eggs under your hen, only to find them out from under her, stone cold and probably dead… although keep in mind that it is fine for a hen to leave her eggs for up to an hour and a half before they are in real trouble.
A broody hen will need to be separated from the rest of the flock for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is not uncommon for other hens to peck/attack (even kill) another hens chicks. Secondly, broody hens will also steal other eggs from different locations in the coop (they tuck them under their wings and move them – very funny to watch), resulting in fertile eggs that develop at different stages. Then those eggs that have been there the longest will hatch first and the broody Mum may well abandon the nest to look after the first chickens and ignore the other partically developed eggs.
This is best done at night when the broody girl is dopey from sleeping. The new area will need clean bedding, be quite dark and able to be locked up. Don’t forget to transfer the golf balls, plastic eggs etc. to under her in the new area too. We use a cat carrier or cardboard box that can be opened, and is easy for the newly hatched chicks to walk in and out of when they are following Mum.
The next morning after moving Mum, don’t take her off the nest to eat or poo until the afternoon to try to ensure that she will fully “sit” on the eggs.
Daily care of broody hens
Broody hens need to be taken off the nest daily, as they may not initiate doing this themselves. Hens have starved to death, or developed problems with constipation from not getting off the nest for a quick scratch, feed and drink and poo. It is normal for a broody hen to do large offensive poos, which are very different to normal poos. The first time I saw a broody poo it was the size of a golf ball and could have cleared a ballroom if it was indoors.
Broody hens can be fed grain mix if they are not eating pellets well, and often prefer it. This also means that their poos are a bit less offensive.
Monitoring fertile egg development Fertile eggs take 21 days to hatch, with Day 1 being counted as the the first full day after being put under Mum. For example, if the eggs are put under Mum on a Monday night, day one is counted from Tuesday night.
At around day 10 you are able to check the eggs for fertility and development of the embryo. This is referred to as “candelling” and is best done at night for better visibility and less chance of upsetting the hen by removing her eggs from under her – use a bright direct light torch (LED torches are good).
Using your left hand, make half “binocular tube” with your first finger and your thumb (as if you pretending to play “binoculars” with your kids) and place this over the top of the torch to funnel the light. Then put an egg over the top ring of your left hand.
If it is developing well, you should be able to clearly see dark or red veins with a small black mass close to the veins. This small black mass is the developing chick and sometimes you can see the heart beating inside the egg. Feel free to twist and turn it around to look at it from different angles. Broody Mums nudging and turn fertile eggs multiple times a day with their feet and beak so don‟t worry about causing damage to the eggs by gently turning them.
A good point of comparison is to first ‘candle’ an egg from the fridge. If you do this, you should only see a clear egg with a darkish area that is relatively small compared to the rest of the egg. This dark area is the yolk. There is a very noticeable difference between an infertile/not developing egg and one that is fertile and developing well.
For more information or pictures of what to look for and expect, just put “candelling chicken eggs” into Google and have a look at the information available.
The infertile eggs can be thrown away, the developing eggs replaced under Mum.
New chickens look very frail and sick looking initially, but if you have a good Mum she will look after them. 24 hours after hatching they will be just like the pictures, all fluffy and gorgeous. Its okay to move the Mum and have a bit of a look under her (she may growl at you, and try to peck your hand… they can be very protective Mums) but don’t let it be too long. The chicks need warmth. Just remove the empty shells…
A day or so after they hatch, bring the new family just outside their area for a leg stretch and enjoy their first walk outside.
Don’t worry about providing heat for the chicks, as all good Mum will do this. They are fine to walk around and explore the world as they will cuddle up to Mum when they need to.
Chicks can survive up to about three or four days without food, as they digest the nutrients in the yolk. I prefer to watch my chicks 2 days after they are born, to make sure the Mum has taught them to eat and drink. If not, you can give the chicks a bit of a nudge by putting some food (chick starter) on the ground or dipping their beaks in the water. They will very quickly get the hang of it.
Water – chicks (and all chickens) need a supply of clean, fresh water. Chickens will often refuse to drink dirty water, and can quickly become dehydrated. They will also refuse to drink warm water. You will see that baby chicks are tiny, which makes them more susceptible to drowning in their drinking water. They can fall into it easily, and not regain balance. To prevent this, I layer a shallow dish with marbles for them to drink out of. They can safely climb all over it, and drink it with no worries. The water level just needs to be checked often to ensure adequate level to drink from and that it is clean (or they will get sick from coccidiosis).
Feeding your new feathered family
Chicks need to eat a medicated crumble. It is to give them some basic protection against bugs (think a kind of chook immunization although not – see our Information Sheet on Coccidiosis) and it is perfectly okay for the Mum to eat this also. This is given until the chicks are 8 weeks old, and are almost fully feathered.
From 8 weeks to 24 weeks, chickens need to be fed “Pullet grower”.
For chickens approx. 24 weeks old or at “point of lay” or are laying eggs you can feed “layer pellets” or “layer grain mix”.
Normally the Mother Hen won‟t lay eggs whilst looking after chicks, but if she does do not eat them because of the medication levels in the food. The eggs are best fed back to the chickens (boiled, and grated or mashed in some fashion).
Make sure you lock your chickens in a secure, fox proof area after they put themselves to bed. There are a lot of foxes in Melbourne, and it‟s always the day you forget, or think ‘They should be fine. Its late’ etc. etc.
Then sit back and enjoy 🙂