Sunday, March 3, 2013

Experimenting with a Broody Hen. Warning: Contains Graphic "Eggtopsy" Photos

We have two Buff Orpington hens. The one my girls call Goldilocks has been broody since right after Thanksgiving. A broody hen is one that wants to become a mama. They sit on eggs with rabid determination and oftentimes will aggressively repel any hand that seeks to remove the eggs they are sitting on.

Broody Goldilocks
Goldilocks is a pretty laid-back broody, but she is extremely dedicated. To the best of my knowledge, she gets off the nest but one or two times a day to sneak a quick drink and snack. I've employed every trick in the book to break her of her broodiness and coax her back into egg production, but it has continued for over two months now. Broodies stop laying and they are of little use to a person who doesn't need eggs incubated.

While this drama was unfolding in the chicken coop, all of my Ancona ducks came into lay. When I started to see some fertile eggs in the mix (here's how you can tell if a duck or chicken egg has been fertilized), it finally dawned on me that I could use Goldilocks to incubate some duck eggs. We weren't planning to hatch a bunch of ducklings until after our Cream Legbar chicks leave the brooder, but surely a handful of ducklings wouldn't hurt anything, right?

I put five freshly laid Ancona duck eggs under Goldilocks on February 20th. Their potential due date would be in 28 days - March 20th.

Brr! Snow didn't stop this mama

The next day we had a huge snow storm and snow sifted in through the cracks around the nest box door. It didn't stop Goldilocks, but I did brush the snow off her tail.

I paid a close attention to Goldilocks over the next week. She seemed to do a good job, though sometimes she would get back into the wrong nest after one of her short food/water/pooping excursions. That is why it is best to separate a broody hen into their own coop, but we were just winging it. I also wondered if she was turning the eggs appropriately since they really didn't seem to change positions in the nest.

I candled the eggs after seven days had past. I was pretty sure that two of the eggs were infertile as they showed no signs of development, but I decided to give them a couple of extra days just in case my candling skills weren't up to par.

Eleven days after I put the eggs under Goldilocks, I walked into the coop to find that four of the eggs were pushed out of the nest box and lay cold on the coop floor. Sometimes a broody hen will discard eggs that she knows are dead, so I took them indoors and candled them.

Two of the eggs were the infertile ones. The other two had some development.

I had to open those eggs and see what I could learn. I steeled myself for something really yucky and smelly, but I shouldn't have worried. I found it really interesting to see how much had changed inside those eggs in just 11 short days.


I have opened other eggs in the past that failed during incubation. All of them had blood rings like in the photo below.

A blood ring indicates an early death of the embryo
Image source:

A blood ring means that the embryo died early on in the development process.  I knew that there would be when I opened these two eggs because I saw a lot more than just a ring when I candled them.

This is what was inside egg #1. Click on the photo if you would like to see it up close.

Duck embryo after 11 days of development. You can see the eyes, beginnings of wings and legs, and
where the veins attach to the abdomen.

The embryo is encased in a membrane and had an extensive blood supply network

The second egg had obviously died a bit earlier than the first one. It had less veining and appeared to be decomposing a bit.

Egg #2 quit a bit earlier than Egg #1

This was absolutely fascinating to me. I wish the ducklings had developed properly and hatched, but at least I learned a little bit about their development. Goldilocks is still sitting on one egg, so we'll see if she becomes a mother yet!

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