The Barn door Hen and Her Stolen Nest   Preparing a Nest for the Sitter   The Best Type of Hen for Sitting   Treatment During Sitting Period   Hatching out Time

The Barn-door Hen and Her Stolen Nest - Preparing a Nest for the Sitter - The Best Type of Hen for Sitting - Treatment During Sitting Period - Hatching-out Time

In previous articles I have dealt with artificial incubation; in the present one propose to deal with the sitting hen.

To achieve success with the sitting hen we must copy as far as possible the method adopted by the farmyard fowl that makes her nest in quiet, secluded places. The locality chosen by the barn-door hen that steals her nest in February or March is quite dissimilar to that chosen when the weather is more genial. In cold weather, the broody hen, being in a high state of fever, naturally feels uncomfortable in the open air - so much so that she is driven to seek a nest in some well-sheltered spot about the farm.

Should the same hen steal a nest in the summer-time, being still in a high state of fever, she will seek comfort in some cool, shady situation. Thus, by studying the habits of the farmyard hen, we are led to infer that it is advisable to set broody hens in snug outbuildings during the most inclement seasons of the year and in open-air situations during warmer periods.


When setting hens in outbuildings the nests should be made in properly constructed boxes. Such boxes can either be made at home or obtained from poultry appliance makers. The sitting-box should be fifteen inches square and eighteen inches high, and should be bottomless, whilst its front should be enclosed to a height of four inches by a board to keep the nesting materials in position. The remaining part of its front should be provided with a canvas-covered frame, which, when in use, may be secured in position by means of turn buttons. Such a sitting-box allows ample room for the hen, is handy to clean out, and airy and shady for the sitter.

To prepare the nest for the reception of the sitter a handful of moist earth should be well beaten into each lower corner of the sitting-box. A turf of even thickness should then be placed, grass side downwards, in the box, and this should be beaten down until a saucer-like hollow is formed. The hollow should not be so deep as to allow an egg placed in it speedily to roll towards the centre, but should slope very gradually from outside to centre, so that the eggs will gently roll together. It is a good plan to test the hollow for safety with a few dummy eggs.

Care should be taken that the surface of the hollow is free from projections or cavities. It should have a smooth surface, so that when the sitter shuffles her eggs about they will oscillate smoothly instead of breaking. Over the turf should be placed a nice thickness of sweet meadow hay or soit straw, and before this is shaped to the nest it should be well sprinkled with powdered sulphur, or some other kind of insect destroyer. When shaped, the nest should receive two or three dummy eggs in readiness for that preliminary stage in which the broody hen shapes the nest to the comfort of her body.

Quite a different method must be adopted when making the nest for use during spells of hot weather. Instead of using the nest-box and placing it under cover, the nest should be fashioned on the bare earth in a shady, wind-sheltered spot in the open. The nest in this case should be made by scooping a shallow hollow in the bare earth, and lining it with soft, clean straw. The nest should be covered by a bottomless coop, to which is attached a wired run, so that the sitter may, if so disposed, leave the eggs for food, etc., which she will generally do at daybreak, if left to her own devices.

Hens set in the open should be tethered to prevent any possibility of their return to wrong nests

Hens set in the open should be tethered to prevent any possibility of their return to wrong nests

Should one's premises be infested with rats, the coop should be covered at the bottom with fine-meshed wire netting, over which should be placed some earth, in which the hollow to form the nest should be made.

As regards the most suitable hen to set, the selection should be made with care, especially where valuable eggs are concerned. Any hen of a farmyard breed that carries a good amount of feather, except on the legs, and is gentle in disposition, will do. Of the pure breeds, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, and Plymouth Rocks are good, whilst a reliable first-cross sitter may be found in the Silkie-wyandotte. Short-feathered fowls, as Game, should not be used for sitting, except in genial seasons, and should then only be given a few eggs.

The hen should be placed on the nest at night so that she will have a quiet time in

Woman's Work which to fashion her nest and settle down on the dummy eggs before being entrusted with real ones. She should be allowed to go through the routine of sitting, feeding, etc., before valuable eggs are given her. By so doing one can learn her disposition, and whether she is gentle or otherwise to handle when being removed at feeding-time. When satisfied that the hen is steady, she may be given her clutch of eggs, and the number of eggs allowed should be governed by their size, the size of the sitter, and the climatic conditions prevailing at the time.

In the colder seasons, when eggs are set to produce early chicks, seven to nine will generally be found sufficient, as at such times hens cannot brood large batches of chickens. In mild seasons from eleven to fifteen may be given to a good-sized hen. The hen should be gently lifted, or allowed to come off the nest daily to feed, drink, dust herself, etc.

When two or more hens are being set simultaneously in the open, precautions should be taken to prevent a return to the wrong nest after feeding and the possibility of quarrels and egg breakages in consequence, by tethering each hen by one leg to a piece of cord attached to a peg in the ground.

Food for the Sitting Hen

As food, maize should be used in cold weather, and a mixture of maize and wheat in mild seasons. A supply of pure water and sharp flint grit should be within reach of the sitter at feeding time, and a heap of fine ashes should be available for dusting purposes. The hen should stay off the nest until the necessary functions have been performed, and to allow of this without causing a chill to the eggs in cold weather the nest should have pieces of warmed flannel placed over it. After feeding, the hen should be gently driven on to the nest, and the fronts of the nest-box closed, and quietude should reign supreme until feeding-time again comes round.

Where several hens are set at the same time, some advantage may be gained by testing the eggs for fertility on the seventh day of incubation. This operation should be performed at night by the aid of lamplight. The hens should be gently lifted off their nests and placed in a basket. Each egg should then be placed before the light, and any that are clear should be removed. Should there be a poor percentage of fertiles, one or more hens may be relieved of their eggs, which should be transferred to the other nests to make up for the clear ones removed, and the nests emptied may be filled with fresh batches.

The Hot-Water Test

What is known as the hot-water test is resorted to by many poultry-keepers. A little time before the eggs are due to hatch, the eggs are placed in a bowl of water, heated to a temperature of 1050, and those containing living chicks soon begin to rock about, whilst those containing dead embryos either sink or remain motionless. While this method of testing is to be recommended in hot weather, when the nests and their contents are in too dry a state, it is not wise to adopt it in cold seasons, as it is likely to cause a fatal chill to the eggs. In cold, damp seasons the eggs will hatch out without any moisture, other than that contained in the atmosphere, and supplied from the pores of the sitter, but in very hot weather a slight hot-water spray a day before the eggs are due to hatch will soften the lining membranes of the shells, thus enabling the little prisoners to more easily break their way through.

During the time the chickens are hatching out, the hens should be disturbed as little as possible. The only attention given should be to remove at night or morning any empty shells that may be in the nest; but should the hens become restless, they should be left alone until all the youngsters are hatched.

The empty shells should then be removed, and the chickens left under the hens to get thoroughly dry and strong. Many people take the chickens from the hens and place them in a basket before the kitchen fire. Bat if the hens are quiet, the best thing to do is to let nature have her course. No warmth artificially applied can equal that provided by the mother-hen. Warmth is all the downy mites require for the first twenty-four hours after they leave the shells. By this time they will be ready for transit to the coops, and capable of taking food.

The next article will indicate to the novice how best to achieve, success in chicken-rearing by natural methods.

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A healthy brood of newly hatched chicks

A healthy brood of newly hatched chicks