When the female bird sits on her eggs in a nest to incubate them she is brooding. Natural incubation or brooding is the simplest way of hatching a small number of eggs. A broody hen (chicken) will incubate her own eggs or those of another hen or a duck. Broody hens may refuse to leave the eggs to eat or drink. They can suffer from external parasites (e.g. mites, fleas). Care must be taken to feed the hen and treat her for parasites.

The Broody Hen

New breeds (types) of chickens may not be good brooders. A good test to check the broodiness of the bird is to put some white balls, or a few hardboiled eggs, in its nest for a day or two. If the bird stays in the nest, and will not easily move off, replace the eggs with 10 – 15 fertile eggs which have been checked. Natural incubation is the simplest way to hatch small numbers of eggs and the broody hen can be used to incubate and hatch her own eggs or those from another bird. A hen can incubate 12 to 15 chicken eggs.

The broody hen is kept in a nesting box. Take her off the nest for 20 minutes each day to give her feed and drink. If a hen is used to incubate duck eggs you will need to sprinkle them with water for the last 14 days of the incubation period. The eggs of turkeys can also be incubated by a hen. A female turkey will lay up to 15 eggs but a brooding hen can only incubate up to 9 turkey eggs.

Coccidia in Chickens

Coccidia cannot be seen without a microscope. Many different coccidia infect different parts of the gut in both chickens and ducks. Birds are normally infected with a number of different coccidia. Birds are infected by contaminated soil, feed or water and will suffer few problems if the infection is low. Young birds, especially under a month old, can be badly affected. Diarrhoea occurs and the droppings may be bloody. Coccidia can kill young birds within 2 weeks of the disease appearing.

Interesting information about chicken digestion

The pattern of food intake and its passage through the digestive system are the main factors influencing secretory and hence digestive activity. Probably because of the high metabolic rate of the fowl, a more or less continuous supply of food is required by the digestive system. This is provided for by the crop that acts as a reservoir for the storage of food prior to its digestion and consequently permits the fowl to eat it’s food as periodic meals. There is quite wide variability between birds in relation to eating behaviour even between those in the same flock. Some eat small amounts at short intervals while others eat larger amounts at wider intervals.

Food storage

The food is delivered into the crop for storage after the first few boli have passed into the proventriculus. The crop is quite distensable and will hold a large amount of undigested food that is then moved on as required by the proventriculus. This function of the crop is less important when there is a plentiful supply of food available. Because of the crop’s ability to hold a supply of food, when applying a food control (restriction) program, it is necessary to compensate by providing a long period of food deprivation to achieve the required degree of control. There is no relationship between the length of time of food deprivation and the amount of food consumed.