There comes a point in many chicken enthusiasts’ lives when they long to experience hatching and raising their own chicks. Essentially there are two choices when it comes to hatching your own chicken eggs; natural incubation under a hen or artificial incubation in an incubator. In this article I will offer some thoughts on hatching chicken eggs naturally.
Some of the benefits of natural incubation are:
- You can leave everything up to Mother Nature - what will be will be.
- Watching a good mother hen teaching her chicks how to find food and dust bathe etc. is a joy to behold.
- Chicks hatched and raised naturally can tend to be more robust.
- You can't choose when, or even if, you will have a hen go broody.
- She will stop laying eggs whilst she is broody, and will not start laying again until her chicks are well developed (that could mean as many as four months without eggs from her).
- There is a limit to the number of chicks one hen can hatch and raise.
- Not all hens make good mothers; some can be clumsy and break the eggs they are supposed to be hatching, others will ignore their newly hatched chicks, some may even peck at and attack them (have a back-up plan for brooding the chicks yourself in case the need arises).
Once you do have a broody she will probably benefit from a secluded nest and having food and water within easy reach. The nest is safest close to ground level to prevent any unfortunate accidents when the chicks are hatching out. A small coop or area of a coop if available can be an ideal solution as it also allows her and the chicks some safety and privacy if she is to raise them. She will need to leave the nest from time to time, but these periods will be brief, and unless she is quite young and / or flighty, she is not likely to abandon the nest unless she has cause to (i. e. a predator attack or if she knows there are no surviving chicks left to hatch out).
The biggest benefit of hatching chicken eggs naturally (in my opinion) is that you can, if you want to, leave everything up to the hen. It can be hard to resist visiting the nest to candle the eggs or check that none have been soiled or damaged, but it is probably fair to say that even without that additional help she is likely quite capable of successfully hatching out some chicks. All being well, in around 21 days, you will be enjoying watching your broody with her brood. Good luck!
© 2008 Gina Read
Gina is the author / editor of a free monthly online poultry magazine ‘The Keeping Chickens Newsletter’ full of raising chickens tips, articles and subscriber coops and photos. Go now to http://www.keepingchickensnewsletter.com and join!