Since my flock has a rooster, it’s important to know when a hen is ready to raise a clutch of baby chickens. Nesting hens start sitting on eggs. They give a deep throated growl in their box when you enter the coop. There’s a rule in my home, never take eggs from a hen sitting in a hen box. Watch and see if she’s getting ‘broody’ and ready to raise a clutch of chicks. If she is sitting the eggs, it is time to save up to 10 eggs, gathered only one day apart from each other. This is important later in the hatching process. I once had a hen move from where she was sitting to a hen box which had more eggs. Hens do want larger clutches. After a couple days, with the hen still faithfully sitting the eggs, go in the coop at night, remove the eggs from under her, and replace them with the collected eggs. She’ll sit those eggs, never leaving more than an hour per day until they start to hatch. It’s normal for her comb to shrink, becoming almost white and unhealthy looking. The whole sitting process takes 3 to 5 weeks typically, but she’ll keep sitting until the hatching process is complete as long as she has an egg to sit.
Once the hatching starts, the hen will only sit for another day or two longer and she can’t handle caring for a clutch much larger than 10 baby peeps. She simply won’t sit longer, until all the eggs are hatched. She abandons those eggs. That’s why collecting the eggs of all the chickens no more than one day apart is important, so they all hatch at the same time. She’ll sit on any eggs, and most hens will accept peeps tucked under them at night if you manage to use a heat lamp for any late hatchers, but her rate of hatching them is the easiest and most successful way to go.
Most of the time there’s nothing to do other than have food and water regularly in the coop for her. Once we had one chick we had to wet the shell away from it in order for her to accept it. It still didn’t make it but a few more days. She will naturally abandon any unhealthy peeps and seems to know best. Moving her and the clutch to a box on the floor once hatching begins ensures none will break their little necks falling from the nest. If the peep accidentally goes too far away and can’t get back to mom, mom will leave her eggs to stay with the living peep. Again, when moving them, doing so at night is best. Be careful moving them as their bones are fragile. Chickens are blind at night and accept the ‘new environment’ the best by simply waking up to it in the morning.
The great thing about letting her do the work is she’ll protect them, feed and water them, until they’re old enough to fly up to the roost. No need to buy the more expensive chick feed, or special waterers. Once the peeps can fly up to the nests or roosts, the mother’s job is done. She leaves them to their own devices. This is where they now risk being lost to predators if the chickens are being free ranged. Having a coop that can lock them in for a few months is beneficial, but not necessary. It will be a choice to make. Risking loosing a peep, or letting them roam free around the yard. A huge part of the decision is to pay attention to how many crows are in the area to protect them, and how many predators will be after them.
I have a ‘nursery’ inside the coop, where the young chickens can escape the hen pecking if they want to. Yes, the term hen pecking actually came from hens. The nursery is basically chicken wire in a corner of the coop, with holes in them too small for the adults to enter. As the chicks grow up, the hens accept them more and more. The chicks will wander further and further, flying higher and higher to the point they fully join the rest of the flock. One to two out of every ten chicks will be roosters. Since a coop only needs one rooster, consulting the internet on how to cook them, or finding them new homes would be best. Keeping them is a waste of feed and increases the egg costs. I had a rooster refuse to enter the coop and start sleeping in the tree. Then some of the hens started joining him. Since I had a mountain lion roaming the area, I found him a new home. He’s now a daddy in his own right, quite happy to be away from my rooster.