photo of chicken in a wire cage
Homestead Animals

Broody Hen Fail–Breaking Broody

If it looks she is in jail, well, that’s not too far off.

The broody chicken was doing a good job for a week and a half of the three week incubation period. Locked up safely in the dog crate, she sat on the 10 eggs which were piled up toward the rear of the crate. It seemed that she would get up once or twice a day for just a few minutes, to eat, drink and relieve herself, but then she was right back to keeping those eggs warm.

I was worrying a bit…temperatures were in the mid-20’s at night and only 30’s during the day. A bit of internet research indicated that a chicken should have no trouble keeping the eggs at the correct 99-100 degrees needed, even in the cold outside temperatures.

But, a few days ago when I was out doing the morning chores, she happened to be up off the nest eating. In my usual weekday morning rush, I just went ahead and opened the door to the crate in order to give her fresh water and more food. As soon as I did, she flew out.

I was in a panic! I tried catching her, but she went outside. The more I tried to catch her, the further off she ran. I tried to tell myself that perhaps the eggs were already too cold. Maybe she had gotten Goff the nest hours ago. Or maybe they were never even fertilized. There, I felt better about the situation.

I headed back to the barn after some 10 minutes of futile chicken chasing, and felt the eggs. They were still warm. Very warm. Frustrated, I headed back to the house. It was time to leave for work.

The door to the barn and dog crate were left open. I had a very small hope that after I left, the hen would run back out there in her nest, before it was too late. I left for work, feeling quite dejected.

I checked in with the family late that afternoon. Had they seen the broody hen? Was she back on her nest? She was, in fact, sitting on a nest. Just not the right one. The hen was back to sitting on a pile of freshly laid, eggs from our other hens. That was clearly the demise of the fertilized eggs.

That evening, curiosity got the better of me. I candled a few of the eggs using my cell phone’s flashlight in a dark room. They were definitely fertilized and viable embryos until that morning. The daughter and I even opened one of the eggs, and were both squeamish and fascinated by the tiny 1/2″ chick. I was so disappointed–those chicks would have hatched in just another week and a half.

I feel partly responsible. I should have been more careful when I went to feed her that morning. If she had not been able to fly off, I am sure we would be getting ready for those baby peeps next week. But, this was another of many lessons learned by this newbie homesteader.

So for now, the naughty hen is in jail–a wire cage set up on two sawhorses. After a couple of days, the brooding instinct will stop, as there is no warm nest to sit on. And we will try again to hatch chicks the next time we have a broody hen.

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