How a Broody Hen Hatches Chicks

How to Hatch Chicken Eggs with a Broody Hen


Modern breeding has pretty much eliminated broodiness in most large fowl breeds, although there still may be one or two within a flock that have retained those mothering instincts. If you are raising Silkie chickens or Bantam chickens, you’ll find these broody chicken breeds tend to be perpetually broody and generally make good, reliable mother hens. Our rare landrace breeds instinctively go broody and are fierce protectors of their offspring.

Broody Hen Behavior

Several things will happen when a broody hen is ready to set. She will pull feathers from her breast, which by nature is how she determines the proper temperature of the eggs as they lay close to her breast. Her own body temperature will increase, so those incubating eggs will be at the optimum incubating temperature. That sweet little hen may become a mama bear as her hormones surge, so expect her to growl, peck, and even flap her wings at you if you come near. Just talk quietly to her and do not try to approach her if she is stressing and showing aggression. This is perfectly normal behavior and once the chicks have hatched and are on their own, she will most likely return to her sweet self once again.

The more disturbances to the broody, the higher the risk of a failed hatch. Do make sure mama broody is in a protected and safe environment, it is not uncommon for a broody hen to choose a nest outside of the coop, especially if your flock free ranges. If a hen comes up missing, it’s time to start searching for her and remove her to a protected environment.

Broody Hens

Hatching Chicken Egg Timeline

When relying on a broody hen to hatch eggs, be sure to mark those eggs. This way other eggs laid by hens trying to share the nest will be distinguishable and can be removed. You can purchase fertile hatching eggs and place under a broody hen. As soon as you know you have a determined broody order your eggs, which take an average of three days to arrive via priority mail or at an additional cost you can have them shipped by overnight mail.

If possible, move the broody to a nest not typically used by the others or set up a broody pen or crate for her so she is able to set in peace. Be vigilant about how you place the eggs if you do move her, though she will re-arrange them to suit her. If they are not in the position she has set them, she may kick some of the eggs out. Mark your calendar when you know she is setting. Chicken eggs average 21 days incubation. This is merely a guideline; eggs can hatch either side of 21 days, so don’t be in a rush, allow her to determine when the hatch is over.


Mama Buff Orpington and new chicks (note egg beneath her). Photo by Just Fowling Around.

No Human Help Needed

There isn’t much hands-on work needed with a broody hen; she knows what she’s doing. Human intervention can discourage her and cause her to abandon the nest. So if you want her to set, leave her to take care of business and only remove other eggs when she is off the nest for food and water.

It is possible to witness some co-parenting, where two hens may share a nest of eggs right through hatching and through the rearing of those chicks. Determine if they are actually sharing the nest compatibly or if one hen is interloping. If one is just causing a disturbance, it will be best to move that hen where she can no longer bother the nesting hen.


Co-Parenting Mama Hens. Photo by Just Fowling Around.


As the 18th day approaches the hen will position the eggs for an optimum hatch. Do not disturb her during the final three days of the process. And do not assume when day 21 arrives with no pipping or hatching, that it’s over. Continue to leave that mother hen alone. You may notice the mama softly clucking. She feels the babies moving in the eggs, and as they near hatch, the babies will peep back to her. This may be a sign of encouragement and comfort to those unhatched babies. She will leave the nest when she instinctively knows that no other chicks will be hatching.

The hen will not leave the nest for at least the last three days of incubation, even to relieve herself. In addition do not be surprised to see the nest soiled, the hen will relieve herself in that nest regardless of the eggs and ensuing chicks. You can clean up the nest after she decides that all have hatched and she takes the babies from the nest for their first outing.

If by chance a broody hen does abandon a nest, you can gather those eggs and either place them under another broody hen or place them in an incubator. Just be sure to mark your calendar so you have an idea when that hatch is due.

After Hatch

After all the chicks have hatched, Mama hen will take her babies for their first outing, and you will want to observe how she expertly teaches them where to find the food, how to scratch for the food, locate a water source and teaches them how to dust bathe. You will also notice her discipline them with a peck if they do not follow her instructions. We’ve seen mama hens send their offspring to a corner if they do not behave.


Mama Serama teaching baby. Photo by Just Fowling Around.

Enjoy the experience of watching nature in action. There is a lot of entertainment and learning experiences involved if you have never seen a mama hen perform her natural and instinctual duties.

Please feel free to visit our Facebook page if you have any questions about your broody hens, we’re always happy to offer emotional support, encouragement, and advice as needed.

    • I greatly appreciate your information and will also search for things your sponsors offer if we need them. Russ

  • Is it possible to get a broody hen to raise chicks which have already hatched? I have been told I could slip the chicks in the nest during the night.

    • Yep! Let her sit on fake eggs or golf balls for at least two weeks and then slip as young as you can find chicks under her late at night. Observe for a bit to make sure no one dies, then come back at first light to see how they’re getting along. Worked like a charm for my buff orp broody.

    • I slip them under her anytime she is on the nest, with eggs in it. She stands up and goes, “Buck! Buck! Buck! BUUUCK! Babies!” 😀 …….She does! …. I swear! ;D

      • I’m desperate for help. My drizzle is sitting on a clutch of 5 eggs. One is chipped one hatched and the others are there. It’s day 22. Do I take the others eggs away or wait for her to leave the best. I’m very new to this. I also have a silkies and another drizzle sitting. Very confused as to what to do with the eggs that have not hatched. I can’t thank you enough. You are my go folks for help on my new homestead.

  • We have a Blue Americauna that is very broody. For the first couple days we took the eggs. But she never got off the nest except to eat and drink and that was not very long at a time. She now has 11 marked eggs under her and is doing very good. We are now on day 9. She is only a year old and is doing very well so far.

  • Yes, we had co-parenting silkie hens whose chicks hatched (rhode island red & silkie mix-if u believe it) That evening we put 5 chicks in with their chicks. Worked like a charm. Silkies are the BEST moms.

  • Sylvia W.

    Thank you for all your tips, I have a Transylvanian Naked Neck which was always going broody. We were given some fertile eggs to put under her and so far she seems to be happy.
    Unfortunately though the nest is above ground and this is day 10. Should I move her to a nest on the ground, or put a ladder to the nest? Or how many days after hatching could I move the chicks to the ground? Mother hen comes out for food and water once a day, but she just jumps down from the nest.

    • I’d move them WAY before they hatch. Mover her, Her nest, the eggs, at night, To someplace private, Dark, Quiet and SAFE. SAFE from snakes, rodents, any predators and the flock, etc. Your entire job is just to keep her safe, and the eggs safe, and supply food and water and let her out for a poop and a dust bath every day for about ten minutes. Must keep food and water near her, because she won’t leave the nest towards the end, and a bit afterwards. she needs to stay hydrated and nourished.

  • We have a beautiful Silkie who seems to go broody on a monthly basis. We bought five fertilized eggs for her to hatch and she did a great job! A very dutiful Mom, and although she’s by far the smallest of our girls, she proved to be extremely tough and is a terrific and loving Mother. All five eggs hatched successfully. She was very protective and taught the chicks everything! Our people interaction was just to enjoy watching them with their Mom.

  • Catherene C.

    I always use a broody bantam hen to hatch standard chicks and ducklings, often in the same clutch. I have a 18 month old Japanese bantam, a 4 year old Cochin bantam and a 4 year old Showgirl bantam that I use as surrogates. They usually sit on 2-4 duck eggs and up to 8 standard size chicken eggs. I kept 3 of the chicks (1 cockerel and 2 pullets) from last 2 clutches, sold/traded the rest and sold all the ducklings. I thought about getting an incubator as a backup in case a broody hen stops being broody while sitting on a clutch but that won’t be til spring.

  • we had one for years up in Canada on my cousin’s farm. she would raise about eight at a time and usually about two broods a year. we had a white doorknob she sat on in the winter. she raised chicks for many years. even the main rooster gave way when she was present. we all called her Red Hen. I don’t know her breed. today kids don’t have the chance to learn from animals because the cities ban the farm animals. too bad education comes from school but wisdom must come from life———Grampa

  • Great article! I am looking forward to this Spring and hopefully having some broody hens.


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