The average laying hen will lay an egg approximately once every 24 hours for a large part of the year, but only fertilized hens' eggs will develop into baby chicks. If you want fertilized eggs to hatch into chicks, you will need to either care for them using an incubator or let a broody hen sit on them.
A Broody Hen
In order for your fertilized eggs to hatch into chicks, a female hen needs to sit on them and take care of them properly. Hens who are sitting on eggs are referred to as being "broody" or "brooders." Brooding behavior is essential to hatching healthy chicks.
Types of Hens
All different types of hens eventually display brooding behavior. Some breeds of hens are more inclined to get broody than others, including Cochins, Buff Orpingtons, Turkens, Columbian, Brahmas, Wyandottes and Cornish. If you intend on raising chicks using hens rather than incubators, you should select a breed of hen that has a reputation for exhibiting broody behavior.
The Broody Hen's Job
A broody hen is an adult, sexually mature hen who willingly stays on eggs and cares for them. You cannot force a hen to exhibit brooding behavior; she will sit on eggs only when she feels the biological need to do so. Broody hens will wait until they lay an entire clutch of eggs. The average clutch size for chickens is 12 eggs. Broody hens will stay with the eggs in a nesting box. The hen keeps the eggs warm, turns them regularly and provides care for the chicks once they hatch.
Encouraging Broody Behavior
You cannot force a hen to become broody; she will only display brooding behavior when nature intends for her to do so. You can, however, encourage your hen to become broody. Build large, comfortable nesting boxes inside your chicken coop and keep them full of clean hay or straw bedding. Do not collect the eggs your hens lay inside the nesting boxes; hens often will not sit on eggs unless a full clutch is present.
Discouraging Broody Behavior
Hens sometimes go broody when you do not want them to. A broody hen will neglect her own needs to care for eggs; if you do not want chicks, discourage broody behavior from your hens. You do not want your hens brooding over unfertilized eggs; they will never hatch and your hen will stop laying eggs while she attempts to care for the clutch of unfertilized eggs. Pick up your hens' eggs every day and do not leave eggs in the chicken coop for the hen to care for. Do not allow a broody hen to collect enough eggs to form a clutch if you do not want her sitting on them.
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Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.