Some may consider incubating eggs under hens to be “old school” because of the availability of commercial incubators, but it’s hard to deny the many year of success that Mother Nature has under her belt.
There are a few tricks to incubating eggs naturally that we cover in this article. Since you are not using an incubator, the first thing you will need is a willing and able hen. If you don’t have a hen, then you are probably better off reading our article on how to use an incubator. Or, you can also consider simply skipping over the process of hatching eggs and order live chicks instead!
Not every breed of hen is predisposed to set on eggs. Check with your breeder, or read up on the characteristics of various breeds here at DIY Chicken Coops, to make sure your hens are considered good at setting. Keep in mind that birds bred specifically for commercial production of eggs or meat are often not cut out for this task. This instinct is frequently bred out of them intentionally because commercial farmers do not want their hens to go broody.
The following breeds are the most like to brood eggs for you
- Jersey Giant
- Rhode Island Reds
To learn more about the various breed of chickens, you may also want to check out the section of our blog dedicated to chicken breeds here.
Even with the ideal breed, you will need to wait until one of your hens goes broody before you can ask her to set on and incubate eggs for you. Remember, it is okay to store fertilized eggs for up to a week as you wait for one of your hens to go broody. You’ll know she is broody when she doesn’t leave her nest, gets very protective, and appear nearly hypnotized.
You can encourage a hen to go broody by leaving real or decoy eggs in a nest for her to set on. If you figure out any other tricks to encourage them to go broody, please let us know!
Once your hen is broody, you can add additional fertilized eggs under her. A large breed can set on 12 eggs pretty easily, and banties are more comfortable with 8 or so. Once you decide to allow a hen to begin this process, it’s often a good idea to separate her and her nest from the rest of the flock. It’s best to avoid issues with multiple hens fighting over who gets to set on the nest!
The temperature and humidity under a brooding hen is exactly what your eggs need to hatch successfully. Your hen will instinctively rotate her eggs every 15 mins or so, and when she gets up to eat or go to the bathroom, she will give the eggs the cooling period they require. It’s hard to deny how well Mother Nature has this process figured out!
After about 21 days, you will see your proud hen with her new chicks. At this point, you will likely want to introduce chick feeders and chick waterers into the area. Keep in mind, the mother hen will try to eat the chick starter as well, so if you toss it on the ground instead of using a chick feeder, make sure you give enough food for the hen plus the chicks.