How Long Do Chickens Sit on Eggs?

hen roosting on her eggs

If you’ve found yourself with a myriad of questions about hatching baby chicks, you’re not alone. Options range from the traditional mother hen brooding to using an incubator While the mother hens make it look so easy, successfully incubating and hatching a batch of chicks takes skill, time, patience, and practice. Of course, this particular joy isn’t exclusive to our feathered friends; other animals, be they farm livestock or household pets, can bring a similar sense of wonder and satisfaction.

There’s an indescribable joy to watching a clutch of hatching eggs break open, revealing tiny, chirpy babies of various breeds. On sturdy little legs, these baby chicks begin to explore their world. The age-old practice of hatching eggs has been a crucial part of poultry farming and is moving into the backyard chicken farmer’s realm. Ranging from grand commercial scales to the small backyard set-ups, the process remains a marvel of nature.

On average, the incubation period for chicken eggs is around 21 days. However, this is a general guideline, and variations can occur based on factors unique to each brooding hen and her specific circumstances, even extending to backyard settings.

Brooding Hens

Brooding, a natural maternal instinct in chickens, plays a crucial role in the incubation process. This broodiness, more profound in some breeds like Buff orpingons, silkies, and Sussex, is typical behavior a hen exhibits when she’s ready to hatch eggs. Whether a mother hen broods her eggs, usually in the absence of a rooster, or the eggs are placed in an incubator, each method has its distinct advantages and disadvantages and neither is known to produce more female than male chickens.

When a broody mother hen tends to her clutch of eggs, she provides a nurturing environment essential for successful incubation. The warmth from her body ensures a consistent temperature, a critical factor for embryo development. The hen instinctively turns the eggs, preventing sticking inside the egg and facilitating uniform heat distribution. Additionally, the hen regulates humidity through her feathers, creating an optimal setting for her imminent babies.

Pros of Hatching with a Brooding Mother Hen:

Natural Environment: Mother hens create a natural and instinctive setting for incubation.

Temperature and Humidity Control: The hen’s body warmth serves as a natural incubator, maintaining a consistent temperature essential for embryonic development, much like balancing the layers of clothing we wear depending on the weather. The hen adjusts her position on the eggs to distribute heat evenly, creating a warm and stable environment at the very bottom that fosters optimal growth.

Humidity Management: In addition to temperature control, brooding hens instinctively regulate humidity levels. They incorporate moisture into the nest like adding a layer of glaze to a cake, by fluffing their feathers or using damp materials, contributing to an environment conducive to successful egg incubation.

Protective Instincts: Beyond physical care, the brooding hen, like a vigilant mom, exhibits protective instincts. She actively guards the nest, emitting warning sounds and adopting a defensive posture when potential threats approach, ensuring every single thing within her care is safe. This behavior safeguards the eggs and ensures a secure environment for incubation. Indeed, handling hens require a gentle approach due to these protective instincts.

Egg Turning: One of the primary roles of the brooding hen is the consistent turning of her eggs. This behavior, also likened to the use of a gentle candle’s motion, is crucial for preventing the embryo from sticking to the eggshell and ensuring uniform development. By rotating the eggs multiple times a day, the hen facilitates optimal conditions for embryo nourishment.

Cons of hatching with a brooding mother hen:

Limited Egg Capacity: Because of broodiness, a single hen can only sit on a certain number of eggs at a time due to their size, restricting the scale of hatching.

Vulnerability to Predators: Broody hens may face increased vulnerability to predators, risking both eggs and the hen’s safety.

Selection of Nesting Site

chicken nest

The commencement of the natural incubation process involves the broodies, also known as brooding hens, and their careful selection of a nesting site. Several factors influence this decision.

Factors Influencing Nesting Site Selection

Security and Seclusion: Broodies typically opt for nesting sites that provide a sense of security and seclusion. These locations, often placed within specially designed nest boxes at the top of the pen, should shield the eggs from potential threats, offering a quiet and protected environment.

Comfort and Nest Material Availability: The availability of appropriate nesting materials plays a role in the selection process. Hens often choose soft and comfortable materials, such as straw or hay, to create a cozy nest for the eggs.

Proximity to Food and Water: Hens take into account the proximity of the nesting site to food and water sources, including layer feed. Proper management and handling are essential for their security and wellness. Easy access to sustenance ensures that the hen can meet her nutritional needs without venturing too far from the nest, maintaining her weight. This is particularly true if you run a backyard farm or engage in small-scale agriculture where you provide for the hen’s nutritional needs. With a roost nearby, there’s no far stretch for these birds to peck at their feed.

Familiarity with Surroundings: Hens tend to favor areas with which they are familiar, demonstrating a preference for surroundings that feel comfortable and secure. This behavior abounds whether these birds dwell in a backyard poultry coop or bigger farm settings. Given a lot of time, they get attached to certain areas and can use all of these known spaces for laying eggs.

Understanding the factors guiding a brooding hen’s nest selection, such as the presence of a heat lamp, is critical in providing valuable insights into creating an environment conducive to successful egg incubation.

Incubator Hatching

Using an incubator offers controlled conditions for egg development. Temperature, humidity, and egg turning can be precisely managed, providing a reliable artificial environment.

chicken incubator

Pros of hatching with an incubator:

Capacity: Incubators can accommodate a larger number of eggs simultaneously.

Controlled Environment: Precise control over temperature and humidity allows for consistent conditions.

Reduced Predation Risk: Incubator housed eggs are not exposed to natural predators.

Cons of hatching with an incubator:

Lack of Natural Instincts: Incubators lack the natural instincts of a brooding hen, potentially affecting the success of hatching. On a side note, chicks that are incubated do not make good mothers. We’ve had several who will sit the eggs, but not take care of the chicks when they hatch. We were able to move the chicks to a brooder and save them, but were disappointed in our mother hen.

Increased Dependency on Equipment: Technical failures or power outages can pose risks to the developing babies.

Overview of a Chicken’s Brooding Behavior

Understanding normal brooding behavior in chickens, irrespective of breeds or age, is essential for ensuring the well-being of both the hen and the eggs. Normal brooding involves a mother hen sitting on her eggs to provide warmth and facilitate incubation.

Considered Normal

Constant Presence on Nest: A broody hen will spend a significant amount of time on the nest.

Egg Turning: Hens instinctively turn eggs multiple times a day to promote even development.

Protective Stance: A broody hen exhibits protective behavior, often puffing up and clucking to deter potential threats.

Abnormal Behavior:

Neglect of Eggs: If a hen neglects her eggs, leaving them unattended for extended periods, it may indicate abnormal behavior.

Excessive Aggression: Aggression behavior towards other chickens or interference with the nesting area suggests abnormality.

Inconsistent Egg Turning: A brooding hen should consistently turn her eggs, akin to how a careful mom might stir something on the stove; irregular turning may signal a problem, much like a change in diet or weather can disturb our usual routines.

Signs of a Developing Embryo

Monitoring the progression of embryo development in chicken eggs involves recognizing key milestones that signify healthy growth.
Understanding these stages provides valuable insights for caretakers invested in the incubation process. Whether taking place in a commercial agricultural setting or a backyard farm, it allows one to follow every little detail from beginning to end. It’s crucial to comprehend that every creature, even the smallest ones, have their unique developmental stages, everything happens for a reason, and it’s all part of the miracle of life.

Key Developmental Milestones:

Formation of the Blastoderm (Days 1-2): Early in the incubation process, typically within the first two days, a blastoderm, seen as a circular white spot, appears on the yolk. This significant moment marks the beginning of embryonic development and is the primary reason caretakers attentively observe the egg.

Blood Vessel Formation (Days 3-4): As the embryo develops, blood vessels become visible, creating a network around the blastoderm. This vascularization is a positive indicator of a thriving embryo, giving us the assurance that everything is in place for the development process.

Heart Development (Day 4): Around the fourth day, the chicken’s heart begins to form. At this stage, candling may reveal a pulsating dark spot, indicating the presence of a developing heart.

Embryo Movement (Later Stages): In the later stages, typically beyond the first week, careful observation during candling might capture subtle movements within the egg. These movements signal the increasing activity of the developing embryo, development ensuring that these little ones are starting to grow and thrive.

Importance of Candling Eggs

Candling eggs is a vital practice for assessing embryo development and ensuring the health of the growing chick. This process involves shining a light through the eggshell to observe internal changes, and it’s a significant reason why farm caretakers can ensure that everything is proceeding as it should within the egg.

candling egg

Significance of Candling:

Confirmation of Fertilization (Days 4-7): Candling helps confirm whether an egg is fertilized by revealing the presence of a developing embryo. Unfertilized eggs will show no signs of vascularization or embryo growth.

Monitoring Growth (Throughout Incubation): Regular candling enables caretakers on the farm to monitor the progression of embryo growth, noting each peck and stir made by these small birds in the making. For poultry farmers, it’s a perennial question: How to ensure the healthy development and successful hatching of their bird stock? Changes in blood vessel patterns and the appearance of identifiable structures in the egg indicate a healthy developmental trajectory, which is crucial to successful poultry production.

Identification of Issues (Throughout Incubation): Using candling techniques, which are often employed by poultry farmers, facilitates the early identification of potential issues, such as infertility or stalled development in bird eggs. Identifying problems in the first place enables timely intervention or removal of non-viable eggs, contributing to the overall success of the incubation process and poultry production.

Determining Readiness for Hatching (Days 18-21): Towards the end of the incubation period, candling assists in determining the readiness of bird eggs for hatching. Observing the air cell size and the position of the developing chick aids in predicting hatching success.

Incorporating candling into the incubation routine, especially on specific days corresponding to key developmental milestones, empowers farmers with detailed information about the health and progress of developing bird embryos. This hands-on approach ensures a proactive stance in fostering a successful hatching process, a critical aspect of poultry production.

Hatching Process

The first time you watch chicks emerge from their shells, it’s incredible. The process isn’t fast and so you’ll soon find that your day has been swallowed up in wonder and awe. My kids pulled chairs up to the incubator and were completely absorbed for hours on end. I’m excited for you to have this experience and so let’s talk about the different stages of hatching.

Hatching Stages

Pipping (Days 19-20): The initial stage involves the chick internally pipping through the eggshell or creating a small crack. This allows the bird to access air and take its first breaths. You might hear soft peeping sounds during this phase.

External Pipping (Days 20-21): The bird continues to work its way out of the egg, externally pipping through the shell. This process involves the bird pushing against the cracked shell using its egg tooth, a small protuberance on the beak specifically designed for this purpose.

Hatching (Days 21-22): The final stage is the complete emergence of the bird from the egg. The chick uses a combination of pushing and rotating to break free from the shell. Once fully hatched, the chick is wet, tired, and may need a bit of time to rest before standing. If the chicks are in the incubator, leave them there for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.

Patience During the Hatching Phase

Patience is paramount during the hatching phase, as interfering prematurely can disrupt the natural process, potentially impacting the bird’s health and the overall poultry production. Chicken keepers overseeing the process should resist the urge to assist unless clear signs of distress or complications emerge. Hatching is a strenuous process, and birds benefit from the exertion involved as it strengthens their muscles and respiratory systems.

Transitioning Chicks to the Brooder

The transition from the hatching environment to the brooder is a significant step in the early life of a chick. Adequate preparation ensures a smooth integration and sets the stage for the chicks’ well-being in their new surroundings.

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chicks in brooder

Steps for Preparing the Brooder

Clean and Sterilize: Thoroughly clean and sterilize the brooder before introducing the chicks. A clean environment reduces the risk of diseases and promotes a healthy start.

Temperature Control: Maintain a suitable temperature in the brooder, typically around 95°F (35°C) initially, gradually decreasing by 5°F (2.8°C) each week until reaching the ambient room temperature. This mimics the gradual adjustment chicks would experience in a natural setting.

Bedding Material: Choose appropriate bedding material, such as straw or wood shavings, to provide a comfortable and absorbent surface for the chicks. Avoid materials that may pose a choking hazard.

Feeding and Water Equipment: Ensure easy access to fresh water and chick starter feed. Use shallow containers for water to prevent drowning, and opt for chick-sized feed to accommodate their small beaks.

Gradual Introduction to the Brooder Environment

Introducing the chicks to the brooder environment should be a gradual process to minimize stress and allow them to acclimate comfortably.

Steps for Gradual Introduction

Observation Period: Initially, observe the chicks for signs of stress, illness, or any issues resulting from the transition. This observation helps identify and address potential concerns promptly.

Provide Adequate Heat: Ensure that the brooder provides sufficient warmth, and monitor how the chicks distribute themselves within the space. Chicks should have the option to move closer to or away from the heat source based on their comfort.

Socialization: Chicks thrive on social interaction. Ensure they have company within the brooder, promoting a sense of security and reducing stress.

Monitoring and Managing Interactions with Adult Chickens

As the chicks grow, considerations for integrating them with adult chickens come into play. Monitoring and managing interactions between the younger and older members of the flock is crucial for a harmonious coexistence.

hen with a lot of chicks

Integration Tips

Gradual Introduction: Introduce chicks to adult chickens gradually, allowing them to see and hear each other before direct contact. This minimizes aggressive behavior.

Provide Separate Spaces: Initially, provide separate spaces within the coop or run for chicks and adults. This allows them to become accustomed to each other without direct confrontation.

Supervise Interactions: Supervise interactions closely, especially during the initial introductions. Ensure that the chicks are not subjected to aggressive pecking from the older chickens.

Successfully transitioning chicks to the brooder and then the coop involves thoughtful preparation, gradual introduction, and vigilant monitoring. By creating a comfortable and secure environment, caretakers set the stage for the healthy development and integration of the young chicks into the larger flock.

In Summary

Hatching chicks is an exciting and rewarding experience. There’s something incredible about being there to see a chick’s first steps or watch the little one overcome the hard shell and burst into the world.

Please remember that hatching chicks isn’t an exact formula. You can do everything right and still not hatch every egg. It’s okay. Don’t get discouraged. With some practice and learning, you’ll soon have your own little brood peeping away. We hope this article has helped in your backyard chicken journey.

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