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Looking for a more hands off approach to adding birds to your flock? Consider letting nature take its course and let a hen to sit on fertilized eggs, hatch, and raise the chicks. It’s a fun adventure that requires little work on your part.
Hens will often let you know when they want to sit on eggs. She will be broody – hunkering down in a comfortable spot, feathering her nest, defending her space with protest (often “growling” and puffing her feathers at intruders), and just being more hormonal than usual. If there is a rooster in your flock, her eggs will already be fertile and she can sit on the clutch of eggs that she laid. If there isn’t a rooster in your flock, you can buy some fertilized eggs to slip underneath her. The recommended number of eggs for a broody hen to set about 10 to 12.
Your hen should sit with obsessive dedication. Broody hens will often only leave their nest once a day to relieve themselves, eat, and drink. It is common for them to lose weight and their feathers to dull because they will eat up to 80% less! While she sits on her eggs, she will instinctively know when to turn the eggs to regulate their temperature and humidity. There is nearly a 100% hatch rate with eggs incubated under a broody hen and the process takes about 21 days.
After the chicks hatch, the hen will protect them from harm and teach them to find food and water. Chicks raised with a mother hen, instead of under a heat lamp, also tend to be more outgoing and friendly towards humans.
Your job during this process is to make sure that everyone has adequate water and nutrition. It’s good to place with the food and water where the sitting hen can get to it easily. Hens do not need the added calcium in a layer feed because they’re not producing. Consider switching them to a higher protein chick starter feed to help offset their limited food consumption. Ace Hi and Kelley’s both make excellent Chick Starter feed, which is found at feed stores near you.
If you keep your hen and new chicks separated from the rest of the flock, feed them a chick starter and keep the rest of your flock on layer feed. If you integrate them in to your flock from the start, the whole flock will need to switch to a starter feed, and calcium will have to be supplemented. The calcium in a layer feed will cause chicks to develop improperly, so make sure it is not accessible to them.