Hatching Eggs Using a Surrogate Hen

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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Nearly three weeks ago, we were blessed to be able to walk out and discover four newly hatched Khaki Campbell ducklings. They were not being watched over and kept warm by a mother duck- however, a big Olive Egger hen had them nestled safely under her wing.

We love our ducks dearly, but our two females have never offered to sit on a nest. When one of our hens went broody, we decided to slip duck eggs under her, as we knew they would be fertilized. She was very protective over the nest, and did an excellent job in “sorting” out her eggs (rolling the bad ones out from under her).

I let them out for supervised play after they were able to stand firmly, and the hen would stand right there and watch over them. She remained close to them at all times, and was concerned enough that no other chicken could get close to them. However, we noticed something quite interesting, as she would let the ducks come over and check them out without so much as a ruffled feather. The ducks and chickens were raised together in their pen, so they freely came up and investigated the new babies.

Khakis are very sociable ducks, as we have written about in the past, and it was no surprise that they would come up behind me and gently tug at my shirt while peeking around at the ducklings. They have not offered to be motherly to them, but they are genuinely curious about the babies. The male could care less, and walks away to play in the kiddie pool!

After a few days, we separated the ducklings from the hen so that they could be raised and handled often to ensure they were all the more socialized and accepting of humans like their parents are. They do not like being separated, but otherwise they are very easy to hold!

The hen still lingered nearby for about a week, and would be alarmed if one of the ducklings made a peep that seemed the slightest bit upset. After two weeks, she laid her first egg, and started back on a normal laying schedule. While she still approaches the ducklings when they’re out, she allows them to be independent and does not hover as protectively as she used to. They still recognize her, and though they do not follow her around, they still try to get crumbs of grain and veggies from around her beak.

This was the first time we have ever hatched out the eggs of a different bird under a hen, and we were quite nervous about it! After they successfully hatched, I started to notice just how many folks have hatched eggs that were different from the mom they were under. Whether its eggs from another hen, or eggs from a quail, surrogate broody hens can be beneficial! When one of our beautiful chickens gets ready to set again, we will be ready to put duck eggs up under her once more.

As with all farm animals, there are ups and downs to raising them and doing things like this, hatching eggs with a surrogate. You may encounter success, but be prepared for the chance that it will not work. Don’t feel discouraged, as the first time we attempted to put duck eggs under this hen, it yielded nothing. We tried again, and as mentioned, we were blessed with four healthy ducklings! I advise anyone who looks to put other eggs under a broody hen to do your research first, and keep record of how it works for future reference. If you have ever hatched eggs with a surrogate hen, please feel free to share with us and let us know how it turned out!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. This year, they are raising a large crop of heirloom Hastings’ Prolific corn that they will be selling seed from, along with making their own cornmeal. They are currently building a small cabin using lumber they have milled themselves, along with raising chickens, ducks, and goats. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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