We had two hens that went broody this spring. Due to timing and "just life", instead of further investigation and intervention . . . we just let things happen. Oh dear.
For me, it was the exhaustion and trying to keep up with eating and sleeping in the thralls of early pregnancy. For Squeeze, it was working outside until dusk every day. Neither of us really had the time or foresight to READ about it. And being so green, we ultimately didn't have a clue.
Things have worked out fine in the end, but it has been a slightly bumpy road with a peppering of, "Now what?" along the way.
What I should have done was remove the broody hen to a different location, to let her sit on her eggs in peace. Instead we let her sit in a nesting box, of which the problems were two-fold.
First off, she moved nests three different times. Each time, we gathered up her warm eggs and inserted them underneath her, along with all the new eggs. Because of this, her eggs were in all different stages of development. Not to mention that she was sitting on 16 of them.
So why did she move to another box...? Sitting hens get off the nest only one time per day -- to poop, eat, and drink. If another hen comes and sits in her box, she gets confused and moves to another nest. Thus the isolation. Let the girl sit in peace. Playing Musical Nests doesn't make sense. But of course, we hadn't read about it at that point, so everyone was confused.
We are so green.
Secondly, when the second hen went broody, we were having major traffic jams in the nesting boxes. When that egg needs to come out, it NEEDS TO COME OUT, not unlike a major poop or childbirth. Hens were piling up on top of each other, lining up, glaring, scowling, scolding, and trying to kick each other out of nesting boxes.
To make a long story short, our first Mama Hen, with two chicks, got up off the nest several days after her chicks hatched. Priority is given to her live chicks, which makes sense.
So I took the second broody hen, moved her to her own space, and put Mama Hen's eggs under her. She had been playing Musical Nests so prolifically that she wasn't even sitting on any eggs. The poor girl.
So...that Mama Hen hatched three chicks, two of which died without even having time to dry out. My theory is that she was off the nest with the first chick when they hatched and they got too cold and died, though I'm not sure.
Finally Mama Hen #2 got of her nest with her little chickie, too. She had been sitting there long enough. Priority goes to the fluffy one that walks.
There were 12 eggs left in her nest. Neither warm, nor cold.
So Mama Hen #3 (me) gathered up the eggs and make a slap-dash, homemade "incubator" out of a one-and-a-half gallon aquarium with a glass pan for a lid, straw and wet rags for humidity, and a heat lamp for warmth.
Here it is...
I didn't know if it would work, of course, and everything I read online was dismal in predictions for the success of hatching eggs without an incubator with precisely controlled temps and humidity. But I had to try -- I had already candled all of the eggs and most of them had fully-developed (totally black) chicks.
It has been three days now, and I've been a diligent Mama Hen, checking on the temperature regularly and waking up at night to make sure the rag hasn't dried out (correlating nicely with the pee-every-night during pregnancy thing).
Yesterday morning when I went to check on them, I heard peeping and a faint pecking. Sure enough, one of the eggs had pipped! The little one worked on it all day, sleeping a lot; and when I woke up at 2:00 AM to pee/check on the chick, the crack had turned into a hole and the peeping and pecking had gotten a lot stronger. Eek! It was so exciting.
By the time I woke up this morning, the chick had hatched and was already dried off. I moved it to a brooder box, because it was acting like it was too hot. Now that I am a Mother Hen, I made sure it had a little piece of flannel to snuggle under, and it promptly went to sleep.
The first hatched chick!
Now we are patiently waiting for more chicks to hatch, which is likely to be soon -- Diego and I heard peeping in the "incubator" this morning!
So sad -- the baby chickie who was peeping in the "incubator" must have died, because I could hear it peeping all day on the 15th, but after that . . . silence. None of the other eggs have made a peep or crack since and they are presumed dead. A few of the eggs have started weeping and stinking, so we know they are dead. The one little chickie is doing well, though. We'll put it in with the 8 guinea hen keets that we are getting on Tuesday so it won't be so lonely, poor thing.