Caring for a Broody Hen and Her Chicks: Part Two
Following on from part one of our guide to hatching eggs under a broody hen is learning how to care for her and her chicks.
So. Your hen has made it through the incubation period - yay! Now it's time for the exciting part - the chicks are hatching!
Whether you are hatching under a broody hen or in an incubator, the incubation time doesn’t change. So you can expect your chicks to hatch on day 21, or sometimes a day or two earlier for smaller chicken breeds.
One of the things I love about hatching under a clucky chook is that she will cluck and "talk" to the chicks inside the eggs, before they hatch. How amazing is that! She will also encourage the chicks to start pipping and hatch out of the egg.
So, here’s what to expect as you countdown to the hatch date and once the little'uns make an appearance.
3 Days Before the Hatch Date
In the 3 days before the chicks are hatched, don't lift or move your hen. She will be hard at work trying to maintain humidity and temperature during the incubation period’s most critical time.
Day 21: It's Hatch Time
On day 21, you can expect to hear some cheeping of hatched and hatching chicks. While it can be tempting for you or your kids to see or touch the hatched chicks, we don't want to disturb the hen too much.
She may become stressed by in-reaching hands, and, likely, there are still vulnerable chicks hatching. We don't want the hen to squash them accidentally!
Day 22: It’s Nutrition Time
On day 22, offer the hen and chicks some chick starter crumbles in addition to the hen's ration of regular food.
They will also need clean, fresh water in a shallow age-appropriate chicken waterer or an ice cream container cut down to a height of around 2 centimetres. If the container is any deeper, ensure there are marbles or pebbles in the bottom to prevent the chicks from drowning.
Day 22 or 23: It’s Housekeeping Time
Once the chicks have hatched, remove any shells or unhatched eggs from the nest and replace the bedding with fresh litter.
If you are worried some chicks are yet to hatch, you can put the egg to your ear and listen for pipping, or you can candle them and look for movement.
If mites or lice have been a problem for your hen, you may want to add lice powder underneath the litter. My choice is Feather and Skin Poultry Powder, as it is rotenone, chemical, and DE free.
Day 23: It’s Exploration Time
After a few days, the hen will start moving off the nest more and more with the chicks.
If a small number of chicks hatch closely together, she may even get off the nest with them on day 1!
Keep them contained in the backyard chicken coop for the first seven days or so. After this, they can start to venture out into predator-safe outdoor spaces.
Beware that young chicks are vulnerable to many predators, including crows, ravens and domestic cats, all of which generally leave the adult birds alone.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long will it take for all of the chicks to hatch?
If the eggs were set together on the same day, most—if not all—hatch within 24 hours of each other. Fresher eggs usually hatch first, and older eggs can take longer. Unfortunately, slower hatching chicks tend not to be as strong and vigourous.
Do newly hatched chicks need food and water as soon as they hatch?
No. The chick will survive just fine on the yolk they absorbed just prior to hatching. However, they will not want—or need—to eat or drink in the first 24 hours after hatching.
Instead, they will be drying off and building their strength after the exhausting process of hatching out of the egg.
What should the hen eat while raising chicks?
Offer chick crumbles to the chicks, in addition to giving the hen a daily, age-appropriate ration of feed.
Please don't stress if the hen offers small grains to the chicks or you spot her eating chick crumbles. Trust that she knows what's what.
How long will a mother hen care for her chicks?
Depending on the time of year, the hen will care for the chicks for around 5-8 weeks before returning to the flock.
Each hen is different, and you may find she becomes slightly aggressive towards them, basically telling them to "go away!" When she reaches this point, return her to the flock, and she’ll continue to raise the chicks with the rest of the flock.
Growing out your chickens
So once they're past the chick care phase, where to from here?
Want your chickens to be the healthiest and happiest they can be? I offer backyard chicken workshops, online programs, phone coaching, and in-person support to families, schools, and free-range egg farmers. Visit my online shop for natural, tried-and-tested poultry supplies in Australia.
Grab my free guide, The First 8 Steps To Naturally Healthy & Happy Backyard Chickens now!
Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.