Top 10 Tips for Hatching Chicks Naturally

broody chicken
Pava/Wikimedia Commons

Some hens tend to go broody without any help, and you may wish to encourage this behavior so you can have new baby chicks to increase your flock. Besides my comprehensive guide to raising chicks from a broody hen, I've compiled these quick tips to help you understand what to do - and what not to do - with a broody hen.

  1. You can't force a hen to go broody. The broody trait is something that hens either have, or they don't. If you are very committed to raising chicks naturally, you will want to select a breed like Buff Orpingtons that have a high level of broodiness naturally. Still, not every Buff Orpington will go broody. You'll want to wait until one of your hens goes broody naturally - she will sit all day on the nest in a trance-like state, and hiss, growl and/or peck at you if you try to remove her. She will only get off once a day to eat, poop and drink. She'll be all fluffed up and flattened out over the eggs.
  2. You do need a rooster to hatch chicks naturally. An unfertilized egg will never hatch. So, you'll need at least one rooster per twenty hens to get a good amount of fertilized eggs for your broody to hatch.
  3. With natural hatching, failure is to be expected. Not all clutches will hatch, and even when a broody hen goes the distance and sits on the eggs for 21 days, not all eggs will hatch into viable chicks. Expect some to die emerging from the egg, or before - you may have eggs that simply don't hatch, ever. After four days or so from the first chick, you can remove those eggs, or candle them to see what's inside.
  1. Don't bother your broody. Once she's all set up in a broody box, you don't want to mess with her too much. She needs to feel safe and protected, so she won't abandon her chicks due to stress. You don't need to pull the eggs out from under her and check them or anything. She knows what to do, and the more you leave her alone, the better. You can put a feeder and waterer near her, but not so close that she'll knock it into her eggs.
  2. If you do need to move her or the babies, do it in the evening or at night when she is sleepy. Mother hens are fierce defenders of their eggs and chicks, and she will peck you - sometimes quite hard.
  3. Don't breed mixed breed hens. You can take two purebred chickens and allow them to interbreed, but if you already have mixed-breed hens and roosters, the results of your hatch can be very unpredictable and possibly unviable. Stick with one pure breed if you want to have a hatchery; keep different breeds of chickens completely separate.
  4. The mother hen is your brooder lamp. You don't need to fuss with keeping your new babies warm. The mother knows how to do this and the babies are good at snuggling under her, on her, and in her wings as needed. They will take care of themselves - just be sure to provide food and water for mama and babies.
  1. You can feed the mother hen chick starter just like the baby chicks. In fact, it would be impossible not to since you'll want to keep them together in the early weeks. You can feed her chick starter while she's broody, too - she won't need extra calcium since she's not laying eggs, and the higher protein will help her stay healthy through the brooding period.
  2. You may need to separate the chicks from the rest of your flock. It really depends on your individual chickens and how mellow they are with each other. Mine are all free-range, so there's no pressure on them, and they get along great. They have been completely fine with our baby chicks and show no aggression. But that's very individual, and your experience may vary. Introduce the new chicks carefully when they are several weeks old and do it in the evening when everyone's resting. And keep an eye on everyone for a few days.
  3. Enjoy the experience. I have really enjoyed our natural hatch this spring. There's nothing quite like watching the mother hen take her babies out to forage, or seeing their little heads poke out from between her wings, or watching them walk all over her back while she sits patiently, wings spread to shield and warm her babies. She'll run back, fluffed up and clucking, if she hears the babies chirp in alarm when she first leaves them. You can see them run to her when she calls, too. It's just a blast to watch these birds do their natural chicken thing - including raising baby chicks. Have fun!