Our hens lay their eggs (mostly!) in empty gunpowder containers in the chicken house. Once a hen goes broody, she’ll stay put on the eggs and when you approach her she has a very aggressive stare and pecks you when you put your hand near her. You can be almost sure then that she wants to be left in peace to hatch her eggs. I say “her” eggs but the chicken doesn’t really mind whose eggs she sits on !
We often swop the eggs our hens have chosen to sit on, replacing them with our “best” eggs or with eggs from friends. Our huge red cockerel – the biggest I’ve ever seen – was a gift of an egg from a friend who said we’d be delighted with him and we are !
When the hen is settled on her eggs, we lift the barrel and its contents gently to our “inner sanctum” – a big cage inside our chicken shed where the hens can sit undisturbed by other hens who want to lay their eggs in the same barrel. By moving the hens we ensure that there’s no fighting, no eggs get broken and the eggs all hatch at the same time. That gives each chick the best possible chance of survival.
Once the chicks are hatched we keep them inside the cage for about a week to make sure they’re well fed and they learn to respond the their mother’s calls to feed and hide under her wings when told to do so. We sometimes have to move them out once the next batch of chicks are hatched to prevent fighting either into a covered chicken tractor or into the big wide world – a very dangerous place for a little chick.
As well as the dangers from stoats, snakes and the obstacles on the terrain itself, birds of prey take chicks and it’s heartbreaking to walk down to the chicken shed and find several writhing on the ground having been dropped by the birds. Keeping them inside or outside under a cage helps reduce the inevitable losses.
Chickens love to take dust baths, they are essential to the well being of your chickens to help rid then of external parasites and dead skin. If, like ours, you hens free range leave them a few corners of the garden but protect your plants and seedlings otherwise they’ll break your heart !
Dust baths are especially appreciated after a hen has spent three weeks sitting on eggs and the first thing she’ll do with her new chicks is to look for somewhere to take a dust bath. If you don’t have room in your garden, a paddling pool filled with dry, riddled soil will do the job. The substance used must be fine enough to clog the breathing pores of the chicken’s parasites.
I’ve tried using Diatomaceous earth but noticed that my chickens’ eyes were being irritated by the powder, so I’ve stopped using it and I don’t use sand for the same reason.
You’ll have to replace the soil regularly because the chickens wriggle their way in to the the dust and cover themselves with as much as possible then shake out an impressive amount of dust all over the place.