Monday, August 4, 2014

Dear friends and farmers,

A few months ago, I wrote to you about some of the interesting things I've learned about chickens in my work here at the farm. It's been a while since then, and I thought I'd share a few more of the interesting facts I've collected.

Why don’t hens stay with their eggs after laying?

A hen will not begin to incubate her eggs until a clutch (a clutch is 8-12 eggs) is laid.  That way all her eggs will hatch at the same time.  She will then stay on the eggs, spreading her wings to cover them for 21 days or so.  She will defend her nest – pecking, making growling noises if disturbed38.  To eat, drink, and defecate she will leave the nest for a brief period once a day39.  When the eggs start to hatch she will stay a day or two to wait for all to hatch.

Why do brooding hens move their eggs around?

When a hen is brooding, it means she wants to hatch her eggs. The hen turns her eggs at least 3 times per day up until Day 18. If the eggs are not turned the embryo will die about Day 11.   Rotating the eggs after Day 18 interferes with the chick’s ability to hatch. As the hen turns the eggs they secrete a cleaning antibacterial fluid through the pores on her breast which cleans the eggs and kills bacteria.

Also, the hen hears vocal responses from the embryos to her vocalizations.  She uses these as clues to how the embryos are maturing.  Consequently, she will turn the eggs at different rates – moving ones maturing more quickly to the edge of the nest where they will cool a bit and slow down; other eggs she will move towards the middle of the nest to speed up their development.

Why are there no “puddles” and only solid stuff around the coop?

This was a surprise to me – the urine of chickens is white and almost solid.  It is the white cap on the droppings seen in the coop.

Why do chicks hatch at the same time?

Hatching is synchronized by:

  • the delayed onset of incubation by the hen
  • turning of the eggs during incubation by the hen
  • vocal communication  of the chicks peeping to each other at around 3 days before hatching
  • calling between the hen and the unhatched young allowing bond formation

Want to learn more fun facts and interesting things about the lives of chickens? Stop by the Farm this summer, and ask one of our volunteers!

Until next time,