The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to breed any fowl using a broody hen: preparing a safe environment

Mrs Boss on the nest

Last weekend, Sara from Farming Friends generously offered us some Guinea Fowl eggs to put under our broody bantam hen, Mrs Boss. This would be an inter blog breeding event, a joint event hosted by Farming Friends and Cottage Smallholder.

We took up Sara’s offer. We would love Guinea Fowl in our garden. Why not give Mrs Boss a break? Having made up our minds we ventured into Sara’s Guinea Fowl gallery and were introduced to her regally named flock.

With the imminent arrival of guinea fowl eggs from the North, I left work early the next day to spring clean the family apartment aka The Ark. It has not been occupied since Thumper sat on a nest and hatched Carol. I gave the outside and inside a good scrub.

The Ark’s handkerchief garden was full of weeds. These were easily hoiked out whilst Inca growled and yapped from the other side of the wire.

Having removed the nettles (chickens hate these – perhaps they get stung like us?), Carol, our Maran hen, sauntered in and hoovered up the tasty weeds. She would not be chased away and stayed to supervise the preparation of the nest box, a woodchip base with a bouncy nest of fresh hay. There was a hole in the ark (I suspect rats) which I repaired with a tin can. Carol inspected the repair carefully and dissapeared for a dust bath.

I lifted Mrs Boss out of the main chicken house and introduced her to the vacant apartment. She was unimpressed until she spotted the large super king sized nest complete with decorative china egg. She leapt onto the bountiful nest with a cluck and settled immediately.

Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, Sara hunted for Guinea Fowl eggs. Her Guinea Fowl nests have been attacked by foraging Magpies so this was not an easy challenge. When she had finaly found six eggs, she packed them up and posted them.

I woke at six, instantly awake. The postman arrived four hours later. He was intrigued when I signed for the parcel. He couldn’t believe that it contained fresh eggs.

Parcel of guinea fowl eggs

I carefully unpacked the box. Sara had clearly taken enormous trouble to pack them. Excitement lightly dusted with apprehension. All the eggs were fine. I nipped down the garden in nightdress and wellies with the box of precious eggs, with Inca in tow.

I removed the china egg from under Mrs Boss and gently placed each egg underneath her warm fluffy wing. The diminutive chicken accepted each one with a small cluck and shimmy, to settle the eggs in place. By the time I was putting the sixth egg in place, she gave me a quick beady-eyed look as if to say,
“That’s enough now.”

All fowl eggs are in suspended animation until they are incubated, either in an electric incubator or under a broody hen. The incubation temperature is 37º to 38º c. Prior to incubation eggs can be moved and even sent hundreds of miles in the post.

If you are going to go down the hen rather than egg incubator route you must have a broody hen. Just putting a few eggs in a nesting box and hoping that a hen will see the light and sit on them will not work.

guinea fowl eggsOnce incubation begins the eggs cannot be left to get totally cold. The broody hen will occasionally move off the nest but will generally return within a few minutes.

A broody hen flattens on the nest and seems to enter a trance-like state. Food and water need to be available close to the nest, a sort of all day breakfast in bed. Generally I boot a broody hen off the nest twice a day so she can stretch her legs and not foul the nest. She will nip back to the nest pretty quickly.

Booting a hen of the nest is probably unnecessary but it gives you the chance to check it and the eggs. Both need to be clean. Checking is impossible if the nest of eggs is covered by a broody hen.

In just under a week Mrs Boss has moved from the lowest in the pecking order of our flock of chickens to an international cyber chick superstar. When I photographed her this evening, she looked happier than she has for months. Hopefully she will be the adopted mother of a clutch of keets, in 28 days time.

If Mrs Boss could speak I am sure she would say,”Thank you, Sara.” From the bottom of her chicken heart.


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25 Comments

  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Virginia,

    Wow, 10 keets! I agree this is fun and a total distraction. Have you got any white ones?

  2. Virginia

    Hi Fiona,

    I heard some cheeping going on just now so had a quick look in the broody box, 10 little keets have arrived, in assorted colours too! Isn’t it fun?
    Virginia

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Charlie,

    I’m no chicken expert but as far as I can see you are going about dealing with your broody hen like an expert.

    I think that booting Thing 2 off the nest morning and evening is a good idea as it seems to wake the hen up a bit. Mrs Boss always eats and drinks a bit after she has stretched her legs. Even though the water and feed are right beside her, I don’t think that she touches them much when she is on the nest. I have heard of broody hens that have starved to death.

    Do let me know how Thing 2 gets on. Your experiences help everyone who visits this blog.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  4. charlie parrott

    hey!!! ive now had a broody hen for three days, ive had hens for 10 years but am 19years old so my mum did the last lots of chicks 9 years ago, but the hens are now all mine and so i want everything to be perfect! my broody in question is a light sussex called thing 2 (after the cat in the hat)has only been laying for a month but is set on setting! my main rooster (nutmeg) is a large but young light sussex aswell but also have a small quiet buff laced wyandotte but nutmeg wont let him mate with my ladies. i think ive done most things right, ive moved her into a broody hutch ive made with some eggs laid a few days ago that i had in the fridge until i know shes really settled, ill then replace them with fresh eggs from my hens. the food and water are right in front of her and ive made plans for where everything can go so her chicks will be safe but that the other hens and rooster can still see her. knowing my luck after all this she’ll change her mind!

    please can you email me any details and information that might help and i will be really grateful!!!

    charlie xx

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Virginia,

    Thanks so much for dropping by. Mrs Boss is doing fine. I lift her off the nest every morning and evening. I haven™t candled the eggs, Mrs Boss is back on the nest within two minutes. And I don™t want to upset the status quo.

    Meanwhile, I am preparing for the hatching of possible baby keets. I am wrapped around the http://www.farmingfriends.com site. We now have baby chick crumbs in the grain store and I am searching for enough small stones to put in the miniature water fountains so they cannot drown. Tomorrow, I am going to buy gravel for their run.

    I am on tenterhooks.

  6. Virginia

    Hi Fiona,

    The eggs should hatch July 1-3, if they’re ok. I haven’t candled any of them, just hoping some are fertile if not all. I was worried that the nest was too dry but with all the rain we’ve had that’s not a problem now! The broody hen is looking very dormant although she is still eating and drinking. Not too long to wait , if none hatch we have another problem. I’m impatient to know how yours turn out, don’t forget to keep us updated…

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Virginia,

    Sara says that it will be in 26-28 days which will be 27th – 29th of June.

    Her website is packed with information about raising the keets http://www.farmingfriends.com/more-guinea-fowl-keets-hatching/. So I’m trying to gen up as much as I can!

    When will yours hatch?

  8. Virginia

    Hi Fiona,

    When do you expect your Guinea eggs to hatch?

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Virginia,

    Thanks for leaving your opinion on incubators, very useful information. Thank you.

    I hope all goes well with the broody hen. Mrs Boss is doing fine, so far.

  10. Virginia

    Hi Fiona, I realised my mistake over names as soon as I’d pressed the submit button! Anyway, I had a change of heart over the incubaator/broody hatching and put them all under the broody. I think on the whole they are better at it re the humidity side. I’m not in favour of fan incubators for the hatching process as when I’ve tried all three, still air, fan assisted and broody, for similar eggs at the same time I’ve found the still air to be far more sucessful. I feel the fan incubators dry out the membrane too much; the broody is next best and the still air best of all. This is only from a few hatchings and mostly with duck eggs. So we’ll see what happens with the guineas. Broody hen seems to be sitting pretty fast so far and sneaks out when I’m not looking to leave proof that she’s getting of the nest once a day. This is probably too long to post as a comment!

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