Hatching Chicks-The Natural Way

After exactly 21 days, 2 out of the 3 fertilized eggs hatched that I had put under my broody Cochin hen. It takes at least 10 hours to hatch from their "pipping" stage (the first hole they've pecked out of the shell). I did not know it took this long, so I got worried and actually hatched one of the chicks. Many people will agree that this is not a good idea to hatch the egg for the chicks, so don't help the chick hatch unless it has taken over a day for it to peck out.
I had already blocked off the run, so the other chickens couldn't bother the chicks. (I didn't want the hen and chicks to be free roaming because of too many predators in our yard). And prepared a large nesting box with plenty of shavings, a chick size water bowl, and a food bowl of chick crumble (this is also good for the hen to eat because of the extra protein to help her get her strength and weight back), and because it was raining I made a water proof shelter over the nesting box. Its up to you if you want to use a heating light or not (I did not since my hen provided enough warmth).
During the first week, I had actually put them in my shower (since the weather was so bad), but I think it had helped keep them warm and comfortable anyway. I went a bit overboard.

You could probably let the chicks out with your other chickens around 3 weeks, but I waited till they were 8 weeks. So they were all feathered out (more protection with the hen pecking); and the mama hen had had enough of them anyway!

Make sure the brood area is kept clean and dry. The mama hen will do all the work, but I think it is a good idea to check on them every day to make sure the chicks are staying healthy. And if you want to tame them then you will want to handle them frequently--which you will need to anyway to check for signs of illness. My hen didn't seem bothered too much by people picking up the chicks.
A hen can sit on 10-12 eggs (especially a giant Cochin like mine :). And I know that hens will gladly raise not just chicks, but poultry breeds too.

If you want to try hatching chicks, make sure your hen is VERY broody-meaning never leaving the nesting box, and not switching between different boxes. If you don't have a rooster, you can find fertilized eggs pretty much anywhere (try Craigslist). And the eggs are fine if they are kept at room temp (do not chill) for a few days. The embryo is suspended in time and won't start growing until the hen sits on them to heat them up.


Broody Hen!

 I have two Blue Cochin hens who get broody very often. Being "broody" is when a hen wants to be a mom, so she sits on her eggs until they hatch. Chicken breeds that are commonly known to be very broody are Cochins, Silkies, Frizzles, and Brahmas. My Cochins get broody every couple months. So if you really depend on your chickens producing eggs, don't get these breeds. But if you want to hatch chicks the natural way (versus using an incubator) then I know from personal experience that Cochins are great brood hens. Since my hen was VERY broody, I decided that I would let her hatch some eggs, just for fun. I got 3 fresh fertile eggs from a friend and sneaked them under my broody hen and took out the sterile eggs she was already sitting on. Twenty-one days later, two out of the three chicks hatched!  (Top left, is a picture of a very upset broody girl who can't go back in her nesting box!)

If you would like to try hatching chicks, here is what I did to prepare:
-I kept the hen separate from the other chickens so she wouldn't be disturbed
-Made sure there were plenty of shavings in the box to help keep the eggs warm
-Gave the broody hen extra protein and fat (like chicken scratch, chick crumble, seeds, etc) so she wouldn't starve, since she would only come out of the nesting box once per day for about 20 minutes to eat and relieve herself
-Checked on her regularly
- I recommend thoroughly reading this website before, it is very detailed:  

If you don't want your hen to be broody, then here are some ways to treat it:

- Collect all the eggs in the coop in the afternoon, take the broody hen out of the nesting box, and block the nesting boxes so she won't go back in (then remove the blockade when it's dark, so the chickens can the boxes use in the morning)
-A broody hen's body temperature will increase, so you can fill a bucket of cool water and hold the chicken in it for about about 30 seconds (only her undersides need to be wet)
-You can also keep her in a separate cage, but I think just blocking the nesting boxes is less stressful and easier
(Bottom left, is a picture of Adelaide, a Cochin, cooling off in a bucket of water)

Adding New Chickens to the Flock

Before adding new chickens to your flock, make sure they are healthy. And if you have adult hens make sure the new chickens are at least 4 months old before introducing them so they are all about the same size. To be safe, I made the introduction process spread out for a couple weeks. Before I got the new chickens, I made a temporary cage next to (or inside) the coop so my chickens and the new chickens can see each other during the day but not have physical contact. Make sure they also have food and water, and if laying, a nesting box. And even a small perch for them to roost on if you want, and shelter from weather and predators. 
After picking up the new chickens, put them in their temporary cage and give them plenty of water, food, and treats to be occupied during the day. Keep a close eye on them because the new chickens, since being separated from their flock, may be re-establishing their pecking order and may fight a bit. I've found that it's easiest introducing chickens that are younger than my flock because they are more likely to be submissive and will get the pecking order established sooner with less fights. Especially introducing a rooster that is younger and smaller than the hens is best so then he won't beat up the hens as much since they will most likely be dominant over him for a little while. I've also found that introducing hens to a flock with an existing rooster is harder because he views them as intruders, whereas hens seem to accept new comers faster.
After a couple weeks of getting used to each  other, I let the new chickens out of their cage during the afternoon. I've found that lots of space is key for introducing the new chickens. This way everyone can be more distracted and less likely to fight so much. I kept a close eye on them all day. If one of the chickens is wounded or being really naughty, then you may have to separate her/him for a little while to cool off or heal.
By the end of the day, the new chickens should be going into the coop at night with the others. If not, then just put them in until they get it. I have a coop with a run attached to it that the chickens can freely go in and out of. Some of my new chickens would just roost outside in the run at night instead of the coop. If it's warm I wouldn't worry about it. But after a few days they were still not going inside the coop, so I would just put them inside the coop, on a lower perch away from my flock, and soon they got the idea.
Another good thing to remember is that every 2-3 hens added, I added another nesting box. And every 8-10 chickens added, I would add another food and water feeder so that everyone will get a chance to eat at the same time. Also the more chickens added, the more roaming space will be required to prevent hen pecking.

Egg Eating Problem

Many chickens develop this bad habit. It is when they will lay their egg and then realize they can break the egg shells (usually by accident the first time) and eat really yummy egg yolk inside! This will happen to chickens who are bored or who instinctively need the protein (sometimes its hard to tell which is the cause).
To treat this make sure:
-There are enough nesting boxes for the hens (I have 3 boxes for my 8 hens)
-The boxes are big enough (Mine are 14x14x14 inches)
-There are no bright lights in the coop
-That that they are given lots of extra protein supplements like worms, seeds, dairy, etc
-Collect the eggs right after they have laid
-To give the chickens enough treats to occupy them during the day (I've used chicken scratch, chick crumble and seeds to spread around the run so they can scratch around)
-If an egg is cracked or eaten, remove the rest of the egg from the box and throw away immediately
-If the chickens are given their egg shells for extra calcium, grind the shells thoroughly
-There is enough shavings in the box, so the eggs are being padded when laid
-You can also replace the eggs with an imitation wood egg, so when they peck it, it won't break, which will make them give up (I don't believe golf balls work. A chicken's sight is very fine-better than ours-so they are smart enough to tell the difference between a real egg and golf ball).

Dogs and Chickens

If you want chickens, then you will need to make sure they are safe from your dogs (and other neighborhood dogs) if they are not chicken friendly. I got my chickens before I got my puppy, so it was really easy to train her not to chase the chickens, since they weren't a new animal I was bringing home. Keeping her on a leash, I let her look come into the chicken area. I used the "leave it" command (with a quick tug on the leash) strenuously and often, even if she just started to come up to sniff or follow them, etc. This just teaches her from the beginning that she needs to respect the chickens' space, and they are not toys.
But I would not introduce the dog to the chickens for a week, so the dog (and chickens) can calm down and get comfortable with each other. I think it is a very good idea to keep the chickens in a fenced off area that is safe from predators.
You can also watch this video, http://www.self-sufficient-life.com/Keeping_Chickens/DogVideo.htm , that seems to have worked for other people.

Clipping Wings

You only need to clip the chickens' wings if they are escaping their area by flying over it. If you have a run with a cover on top, then you don't need to clip their wings, because they are escaping by crawling under the fence...
Clipping wings are not hard at all, only one person needs to do it. Before you catch the escaping chicken, get scissors, a towel and something to sit on.

1. Catch the chicken, put the towel over your lap (if the chicken is not tame, it may poop on you out of nervousness)
2. Hold it on your lap with your arm holding the wing to stretch it out (you will only need to clip the primary feathers)
       3. Using good scissors, you can clip the feathers quickly and easily. Clip them up to the wings coverts.

Always be calm and gentle when handling a chicken. If your chicken it not tame, then it might take a while for you to just hold it and wait for it to hold still, or you can get someone else to hold it while you take the wing and clip the feathers.


Egg Bound

A book that has guided me in figuring out chicken diseases is called The Chicken Health Handbook, by Gail Damerow.

My New Jersey Giant, Opal, died from being Egg Bound. This is when an eggs gets stuck or cracks in the oviduct, which stops other eggs from laying, and builds up, creating a bulge in the bottom of the hen under the vent. I dissected Opal and found over thirty rotten soft full size eggs all throughout her body. And in such an extreme case a hers, the best thing to do is put her out of her misery. But Opal died before I could luckily. But it is not always fatal.

Here is a way to treat it if you catch it early enough: 
"Moist heat is considered the safest remedy for egg binding in chickens. Put the hen in a cage with a wire floor. Place a large, flat pan of steaming water beneath the cage. Keep the water warm under her, but don’t keep it so hot that the steam burns her. Provide some overhead heat from a heat lamp, and enclose the whole cage with a blanket or plastic to keep the moist heat in. Make sure it doesn’t get too hot, however. A thermometer can be used to keep the heat between 90 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Water should be available at all times for the hen to drink.The hen should pass the egg in a couple hours with this treatment. If you see an egg, she should have perked up and will be ready to be removed from the cage. If no egg has passed but she seems more active and will eat, you probably misdiagnosed her, " 
http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-treat-egg-binding-in-chickens.html ).

You can also put your hen in a sink or tub and fill it with a few inches of warm water (as hot as you would want it while taking a shower) for 20-30 minutes at a time. My hen, Edith, liked it a lot. It was probably more relaxing than being in the wire cage. But you also have to be with her the whole time, making sure to keep the water warm. If the egg doesn't pass through then try again later. You will also need to dry her completely before putting her back outside. I used my blow dryer and she loved it! (Be sure not to get it too close so it doesn't burn her.)


Sick Chicken

Chickens are durable animals, but always susceptible to sickness/disease. Signs of sickness include pale comb and wattles, discharge from eyes/nostrils/beak, diarrhea, loss of feathers, scabs, bleeding, swollen body parts (the bottom especially), lowered body temperature, infestation of mites/lice, and weight loss. Also look for irregular behavior such as unusual decrease or stop in egg production, not eating, listlessness, drooped wings and head, unable to stand, and closed eyes. You will know if your chicken seems "off", especially if you know her personality.
If you notice one of your chickens is sick, you can help it out by:
-taking it inside, to a warm and draft free room
-get a large box (enough for her to walk around in a little) and fill it up a couple inches with shavings
-attach a heating lamp on top of the box so the chicken can be warm
-give her plenty of water, and yummy food (like veggie broth, yogurt, oatmeal, cheese, etc), or the chicken pellets; or crumble which I added water to to make it mushy
Keep her in there until you see she has perked up and is moving around in the box, trying to get out.

This website has helped in figuring out what's wrong with my chicken:
Or get "The Chicken Health Handbook", which if very informational (and good if you don't always have internet access)


Chicken Body Lice

Since chickens are outdoor animals, they are susceptible to lice and mites. A common species is called Chicken Body Lice. They are small, but easily visible, and light yellow/tan. The lice will lay (or glue) their eggs at the base of the chicken's feathers usually around their bottom. 
 "It feeds on skin fragments, feathers and debris. Its gnawing activities cause the host's skin to be irritated, red, and scabby. As a result, infested birds lose weight and layers decrease egg production. Extremely heavy infestations can kill poultry," (http://ipm.ncsu.edu/AG369/notes/chicken_body_louse.html). 

One way prevent this, is to spread Diatomaceous Earth all around the floors of the coop and run, the nesting boxes and dust bathing area before you get chickens. And continue while you have the chickens.
DE is made of tiny fossilized water plants. It is crushed into a powder so it's soft to hands and chickens, but to insects a lethal dust with microscopic razor sharp edges.
 To put it on the chicken, hold her under your arm (like a football), her head facing your back. Take small handfuls of DE and gently rub it into the feathers around the infested area.

If your chickens are infested with lice, then you can fill up a bucket or sink with warm water and some flee shampoo (kitten/puppy dose, or adult diluted), hold the chicken in the water (keep it's neck and head above water), gently rub in shampoo in infested areas. Then rinse a few times thoroughly, and blow dry or wait for the feathers to dry. And I used  a very diluted flea and tick pyrethin dip, which has worked so far, but ask someone (like an experienced chicken keeper, or someone at your local feed store) about using something like this first.
In my case, DE didn't help get rid of the my chickens lice, I think its a better prevention than treatment. But I still put it everywhere in the coop and run. Always wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth when applying DE on the chicken or spreading around the ground, it is hurtful to inhale. I get my DE at Island Seed and Feed, make sure it's food grade-they'll know. I use an old towel to put on top of me to collect all the extra DE and put it in their dust bathing area or back in the bag
Chicken Body Lice can only live on a feathered host, so you don't need to worry about getting it when handling a chicken.