How to Hatch Chickens Under a Broody Hen

To produce a baby chicken, you need a fertilized egg. Fertile eggs will only hatch if they have been incubated – and this takes 21 days of careful incubation under specific conditions. There are different ways to hatch fertilized chicken eggs, but by far the best way is how Mother Nature intended – allowing a broody hen to hatch and raise her chicks. But just how do you hatch chickens under a broody hen?

What is a Broody Hen?

A brooding or “broody” hen is a hen that is committed to hatching her eggs and raising her chicks. She will spend almost all her time sitting on her nest, emerging only briefly to eat, drink, and poop.

Hatch Chickens Under a Broody Hen

During spring and summer when the days are longer and food is plentiful, you may have a broody hen in your flock. Not all hens go broody, but this condition is related to a hormone called prolactin. There is a pituitary gland behind the eye that releases prolactin. This gland also releases hormones that affect the relationship between the number of daylight hours and egg laying.

Chickens tend to stop laying in winter and you have heard the saying “feeling broody” it occurs after a release of prolactin. Essentially, the hen wants to sit on some eggs to hatch them, even if there are no eggs available.

If there are eggs in the nest, but no rooster, the hen will not understand that her eggs are not fertile and she will attempt to hatch them regardless. At this time, the hen may lose some breast feathers (the broody patch) where she would make contact with her eggs to keep them warm.

At this time hens may seem temperamental – and will defend her eggs enthusiastically, growling, potentially pecking at you, and puffing herself up if you approach the nest, and may even pluck out her own breast and tummy feathers so she can be closer to her eggs. She will be a great mother to her hatched chicks.

A broody hen will regulate the humidity and temperature of her eggs and turn them as needed. After the chicks emerge, they are fed and kept warm, and some breeders may even have an specially broody breed on hand to take care of this for them. There is no need to have the same chicken breed to hatch an egg.

Chicken Breeds That Tend to Be Broody

Certain chicken breeds are more susceptible to broodiness than others and the best sitters tend to be Silkies. They make good mothers because they are extremely diligent and dedicated, but their furry feathers can tangle around the chicks.

Setting a Brooding Hen

For this reason, they have to be crossed with other chicken breeds to pass on those motherly instincts without their troublesome features. Let’s take a look at a brief list of chicken breeds that are more likely to be broody:

  • Asil,
  • Australorp,
  • Cochin,
  • Japanese Bantam,
  • Jersey Giant,
  • Modern Game,
  • Nankin, Pekin Bantams,
  • Silkie,
  • Sumatra.

A brooding hen will stop laying and will also eat and drink less. If your chicken is brooding on eggs that are not fertile, it’s best to lift her from the nest several times daily to ensure she eats and drinks, and remove the eggs, until she gets over her broodiness and rejoins her flock.

How Do You Know That You Have a Broody Hen?

A broody hen will resist leaving the nest box and when she is removed she will return to it quickly. She may be extra touchy and protective of her space and this may be accompanied by an angry sound. Broody hens tend to puff up their feathers and they may even peck if they feel cornered. Another common broody hen sign is when they make excessive clucking noises.

What To Do with A Broody Hen

When a hen is broody, this may be a good or bad thing depending on the specific timing. The remainder of our article will focus on broody hens and the hatching of fertile eggs. But, if the hen is unlikely to sit the term or the timing is wrong you may want to prevent broodiness. This is often a kinder option because she may wear down her health for no reason. If you want to prevent broodiness there are three options:

Stop Her:

It is possible to break a hen out of broodiness, but the longer she has been broody, the harder it will be. So, if you see unwelcome broodiness act fast by cooling off her feathers with a little water and removing her from the nesting box. Placing her in a broody hen cage with clean drinking water and plenty of food for a couple of days may help. This should only be a temporary measure and most hens drop their broody ways in 2-3 days. If you don’t have a broody hen cage, use a dog crate if you have one and keep the hen cool and out of direct sunlight.

Let Her Hatch:

If you happen to have some fertilized eggs to hatch you can let nature take its course and give the hen a job. If she’s determined to hatch an egg and raise chicks take a few precautionary measures and see what happens.

Leave Her Be:

Although a broody hen can be a nuisance for the entire flock this phase will pass in a few days. The hen may sit on eggs she’s not laid and start incubation if those eggs are fertile. During this period, she will not lay eggs of her own and she may lose weight because she doesn’t eat regularly. Broody hens are also prone to red mite infections, and leaving her be is the least attractive option for most breeders.

How Many Fertile Eggs Can I Put Under a Broody Chicken?

signs of a broody hen

A large breed such as the Cochin or Australorp can cover a dozen medium-size eggs with ease. But, the more eggs a chicken covers, the higher the risk that some may be broken. A bantam hen can sit on a larger egg, but due to their smaller size, they cannot cover many at the same time. The upper limit is six or eight and if they can’t cover them all after 12 hours remove one or two to see how they fare.

Setting a Brooding Hen

If your brooding hen is going to be hatching fertile eggs, you may need to separate her from the rest of the flock. This is because hens like to lay eggs in the safest nest and, like a cuckoo, other hens from your flock may add their own eggs to your hens’ batch.

Too many eggs to sit on means those on the outside may be partially uncovered and if too cold, they will die within the egg. Moving her will provide her with some respite from this if you have room to do so.

There is, however, a chance that moving a broody hen will break her broodiness. The best time to move your broody hen and sit her on the nest of eggs is later in the day, as this will give her time to adjust to her new location.

(If you decide not to move her, you’ll need to mark her eggs and remove any new ones every day).

Steps to Setting a Broody Chicken

1. Prepare the Chicken Nesting Box

Set up her new nesting box, with fresh bedding such as straw, and have it ready for her in the evening, with the eggs settled in the new nest, depending on the size of your chicken you usually set her on 12 fertile eggs. If you’re using her own eggs, you’ll need to carefully take them from her, wearing gloves. Set your hen carefully down on her new nest, near but not on top of her eggs.

2. Require Fertile Eggs to Set a Broody Hen

If you don’t have a rooster, you are going to need to purchase fertilized eggs. Make sure your brooding hen is sitting before you give her fertile eggs – simply check this using infertile eggs or even golf balls. When she gets up to eat, switch these out for the fertile eggs.

3. Provide Clean Water and Feed for Your Hen

Your hen will need easy close access to fresh water and food – she won’t leave the nest to eat and drink very much at all while brooding.

How long does it take for the Chickens to Hatch?

You can usually rely on your hen to do the hard work of incubating the eggs for you. Chicken eggs will hatch after 21 days of incubation.

Most broody hens will evict any bad eggs. It’s good to check the eggs at day 10 (“candling”) to make sure there is a developing chick inside.

A good egg will have veins and embryos; a bad egg will be clear and smell.

Caring for Baby Chicks

Never remove a hatching egg from under a hen; most hens will get all their eggs hatched without issues. The hen will monitor the temperature of the eggs and will make sure that she is covering them all, unless she has too many.

If your hen is brooding for the first time, keep a watch as occasionally they can accidentally crush or, very rarely, reject and even kill newly hatched chicks. She will continue to sit on her eggs until they have all hatched.

How Long Can a Hen Be Off Her Eggs?

A broody hen must leave the nest to drink, feed and eliminate waste, but she will consume less than usual. It’s normal for a hen to lose condition and weight while sitting. The first three days are a critical time when the hen tends to sit and stay in the nest. After this time, it may be necessary to encourage them to leave at least once per day for drinking, eating, waste elimination, and cleaning. Many people wonder how long a broody hen can leave eggs. If the hen is off the nest, touch the eggs carefully and if they are cold, there are two options to consider:

  1. Leave Them: Watch the cold eggs, for 30-40 minutes to see if the hen returns because she may be taking a much-needed extended break.
  2. Move Them: If the hen has stopped incubation, you should consider moving them to an incubator.

Don’t panic in the latter stages because the chick embryo does produce some heat and can be left alone for longer with no negative consequences. At this time, it’s normal to see a hen taking longer breaks between sittings.

Advantages And Disadvantages of Using a Broody Hen To Hatch Chicks

Chickens Hatching in nest


  • The hen will keep the eggs safe and warm.
  • After hatching she will guide the chicks to food and raise them.
  • There is no need to worry about power cuts that can affect the incubator.
  • There is no need to manually turn the eggs in an incubator.
  • Broody hens are naturally better at hatching eggs than a human.


  • A broody hen cannot hatch as many eggs as an incubator.
  • You won’t always have a broody hen available.
  • Some broody hens may peck the chicks and kill them.
  • A broody hen will require a separate house and run during the entire incubation and hatching period.

As you can see, a natural approach is generally better and most broody hens will do a great job hatching and rearing chicks.

Caring For Your Hen While She Is Sitting on The Eggs

A dedicated hen will not leave the eggs during the first three days to eat and drink. This can be dangerous, and some broody hens may even starve to death during this period. This will vary a great deal depending on the individual bird and you need to support her with a drinking, feeding, and elimination routine.

At least once per day, lift the hen carefully off the eggs and place them near clean drinking water and food. This should encourage her to drink and eat and eliminate her waste as needed. Of course, the food and drink should always be available so that she can eat and drink if she wants to.

How to Deal with Rejected or Rotten Eggs

Some embryos may die, the eggs could rot and there are likely to be some eggs that are not fertile. A broody hen may recognize this, and a rotten or useless egg may be pushed out of the nest. But. mistakes can occur, so always candle intact eggs with a bright light to see if you can see a healthy embryo developing inside. If this is the case, you should consider switching the egg to an incubator to give it a chance to hatch.

Preparation before the Chicks Hatch

  • A safe coop they can’t escape from and which cats, dogs, foxes, snakes, lizards, and other birds can’t gain access to. Depending on your flock, you may wish to keep the chicks separated from them for a time. If you do separate them, make sure the flock can still see and interact with the hen and her brood.
  • Chick starter food. If you are raising the chicks with the rest of the flock, all the birds will need to eat this as chicks can’t eat layer pellets. They can and will learn to forage for grubs and greens.
  • A shallow water dish so that they can’t drown. You will need to check this a couple of times a day to make sure they have clean water.

When can Chicks look after Themselves?

As long as you provide food and water and appropriate shelter, your hen will raise her chicks. She will:

baby chick waterer
  • Keep them warm when they are cold
  • Protect them at night (sleeping on top of them)
  • Show them food and water
  • Allow them to play on her
  • Keep them safe from the rest of the flock

When the chicks are old enough to care for themselves, the hen will integrate them with the flock and then “abandon” them. When she starts leaving them during the day or pecking at them, it’s time to let her and them back with the flock.

She’ll eventually stop sleeping with them and will start laying eggs and will brood once again. Depending on the breed of chicken she may not get broody again till Spring the following year.

Conclusion -Hatch Chickens Under a Broody Hen

A broody hen can hatch fertilized eggs and raise the chicks for you. No heat lamps are needed, and new chicks will be considered to be part of the flock immediately because they were hatched in the coop. Adult chickens will not hassle chicks that have been raised by a broody hen. There are a few disadvantages and naturally raised chicks tend to be less friendly than incubator hatched chicks raised in a brooder. Some broody hens can be very protective of their chicks and handling them without a pecked hand may be a challenge.