(Warning – this post contains a video which may not be suitable for all viewers)
Let me share another helpful lesson on raising chickens. I last left off telling you about our chicken breed, “Brown Shavers”. We chose this breed mainly because of the high egg production and highly regarded good health. There are many other good options out there which have unique characteristics. One negative about the brown shaver breed is that they are not very good mothers. They do not sit on their eggs reliably and rarely go broody. This fact leads us to today’s topic!
So we have a brown shaver who’s name is Reep-i-Cheep (yes, I am a fan of Narnia). She fell broody sometime earlier this year which means her instincts made her want to raise chicks. She started to steal all the other chicken’s eggs and hide them so that she could sit on them all day long. It also means that she was not producing any eggs and not eating much food. She seemed depressed that her clutch (a nest full of eggs) never seemed to hatch.
Broody Hens and what to do
There are many ways to “break” a broody hen. A broody hen’s body temperature is much higher than a non-broody hen because eggs need heat to start the incubation process. Methods to break this cycle often revolve around reducing the chicken’s comfort and warmth. Some people talk about putting them in a wire bird cage with no “secure” or comfortable place to sit. Others have suggested a dunk in a cold water bath or a block of ice in the nest.
We are not running a commercial farm, and we have more eggs than we need so we decided to give Reep-i-Cheep some fertile eggs to sit on instead of breaking her.
When a broody hen sits on a clutch of eggs, she needs to do so for a minimum of 21 days to complete incubation. An excellent broody hen will then take care of the chicks she has hatched until they are fully feathered and able to take care of themselves. It is okay for a chicken to get up a few times each day to eat, drink, and scratch about but it is vital for a broody hen not to be gone too long or else the eggs will get cold and will not survive. Reep-i-Cheep sat on her eggs for 23 days. At 22 days 3 of her eggs hatched. The remaining eggs were a combination of apparently unfertilised eggs and blood rings.
A blood ring occurs during the incubation of chicken eggs when the fertilised egg starts to develop but then later dies. When the blood vessels begin to form, and the embryo dies; the blood vessels decompose and rather than remaining attached to the embryo, they float in the yolk and form a circle which spans the circumference of the egg. You can see this if you shine a very bring light through the egg. Though there are many reasons for a blood ring to form, the sight of a blood ring always means death.
The technique of viewing the process of egg incubation with light is called Candling.
Reep-i-Cheep was pretty upset and continued to sit on the dead eggs while trying to be a mum to the three freshly hatched chicks. She also refused to eat and drink. Her instincts prevented her from seeing that these eggs would never hatch. She was pretty malnourished at this point too.
At this point, we decided to try to replace the dead eggs with more fertile eggs. We thought Reep-i-Cheep would sit on them again, but we decided to go with a better supplier. Unfortunately, the day after we got the next batch of eggs Reep-i-Cheep chose not to sit anymore and only continued to care for her three chicks. We found ourselves with nine partially incubated eggs and no broody hen and no way to get an incubator fast enough to keep them alive. The only chance they would have was to try to incubate them with the electric hen, much egg turning, and a spray bottle. Unfortunately for us again, the power went out at a point, and the eggs did not survive. We still tried to see if they would hatch but after 25 days had passed, we had no new chicks. We decided to film the results to see how far they had developed before they died. Have a look at this video below if you would like to see the results.