Setting Hens
Setting Hens

Setting Hens

by Ida Livingston of Davis City, IA

Paging through a hatchery catalog in the spring is one of those joys akin to dreaming my way through seed or fruit tree catalogs. It is that anticipation of success despite past failures. But with baby chicks come that adorable cuteness often associated with baby animals. A phase much enjoyed, except for the part where we try to keep little kids from adoring them to death. Literally.

That cuteness has got to have some hand in why chickens were chosen by humans for widespread domestication. Bantams are not much larger than a pigeon, but have you ever seen a baby pigeon? Baby pigeons are seriously among the ugliest baby birds that I know of. I know – I have a pet pigeon. Chicks out-cute them by miles.

Strange Behavior

As the chicks you order get bigger, somewhere around 4 months old, the pullets begin to lay. Usually in a year or so, depending on the breed you ordered, some of the hens begin to behave strangely. They may become aggressive, fluff up their feathers to appear larger, peck at your hand when you try to gather the eggs, screech loudly when approached, and/or make clucking sounds when they are off the nest in search of food and water. All these are indicators that a hen wants to set.

This behavior often begins in early to mid spring. Hens with strong setting genetics will begin very early and can hatch off as many as 3 clutches a year. I try to discourage the setters that start too early.

What does too early mean? I ask myself, will the eggs cool off too much when she gets off the nest to eat because of freezing daytime temperatures? When these chicks hatch in three weeks, will it be too cold for them to be outside? Am I prepared to keep them in my house if it is too cold for day-old chicks outside? If these questions do not have satisfactory answers then I continue to collect her eggs every day (sometimes with leather gloves on) and wait to give her eggs for setting until the weather is more agreeable for the short-legged fluffballs.

Be Patient Anyway

Even if the weather is agreeable, I am not hasty to give a hen eggs to set. Some fickle hens can’t decide whether they actually want to set, or where. So you give them a nest full of eggs that they sit on for a few days and then abandon, I have wasted a lot of eggs learning to identify hens that are truly serious.

Some hens do not have their maternal hormones kicking in strong enough yet and waiting a week or two for them to get more serious is necessary. Some hens have the brains bred out of them: aggressive breeding programs focusing on aesthetics or egg-laying do not favor good setting genetics. The best egg laying breeds have even purposely bred out the setting qualities as setting hens don’t lay while on maternity leave.

One of the things I will do sometimes is give a hen fake eggs to set on. These ceramic or wooden eggs can be ordered from any farm supply store. I have also used golf balls. They get several of these to test their commitment to the nest. If they remain planted on this nestfull of unhatchable eggs for at least a week, then I will give her real eggs.

Not Too Late In the Year Though…

Some setters take their sweet time getting in the mood to set and wait until later in the year. My friend Deborah tries to discourage her hens from setting later than mid-July. If they hatch off chicks later than that then they are not fully feathered out by the time cold weather shows up here in southern Iowa.

Some hens have their internal clock completely out of line. My neighbor, Hannah Miller, had a hen set off a batch of chicks last winter at New Years. We had an unseasonably warm December and she set on a nest full of eggs tucked into a creek bank. She successfully hatched a few of them off – right before we were hit with an arctic blast with daytime temps not rising above zero. The hen and chicks were caged and brought into the house for several days to get through the bad weather. Wintertime chicks present challenges in regard to staying warm enough.

Setting Hens

Setting Eggs

Eggs can be ordered online or from catalogs that offer them. You can also hatch eggs from your own chickens as long as your hens share the company of a rooster. You can also set eggs you bought from the neighbor up the road, provided they did not refrigerate them.

If you have too many hens with your rooster, this can lower your egg fertility. You should have one rooster per 10-15 hens to maintain optimal egg fertility. Eggs do not have to be purebred, meaning fertilized by a hen and rooster of the same breed, unless that happens to be important to you. Note size differences between the rooster and hens. Bantam roosters cannot service full-size laying hens. Hens and roosters do not have to be exactly the same size, but within reason.

It is very important that the eggs saved for setting were never refrigerated. This chills the undeveloped embryo too cold and kills it. Likewise, eggs collected from very cold daytime temperatures can also kill the viability of the egg. Keep the eggs you save in a cool or room temperature location that is out of the sun. Eggs keep better in a cardboard carton than a plastic or styrofoam carton as the cardboard breathes and the others do not.

The eggs also need to be turned daily. Once or twice a day, flip the carton to turn the eggs. It is not a big deal if you miss a turning now and then, but if you want to save those eggs for more than a week, they need to be turned some. You can save an egg for at least 3 weeks in optimal conditions. When a hen is laying her nest full to set, every day when she gets on that nest to lay another egg, she shuffles her feet to turn the eggs that are already laid.

As you select eggs for setting, choose well formed eggs that do not come from hens who lay thin-shelled eggs. You want no cracks in the eggs. These selected eggs need to be as clean as possible because you must not wash them. When the egg travels through the egg canal, it picks up enzymes, coating the shell to protect it from unwanted bacteria that can penetrate the shell to kill the undeveloped chick. Washed eggs almost never hatch.

Location, Location, Location

When a hen wants to set she orients herself to a location. Bantams often try to find a location outside the coop somewhere. All of a sudden, one day she is missing. She laid herself a nestfull on the sly and now is into full-time sitting and only comes out to eat and drink. It is a good idea to try to find that nest. Usually one has to follow her back to the nest when she is off for lunch break. Some hens won’t go while you are obviously watching them and you have to do it discreetly. If she is sitting in a safe enough location, just let her go. Sometimes they set in a barrel where the chicks cannot get out of and will need help when they hatch.

Most other hens will either claim a nest box or camp out in a corner of the henhouse. To set, this hen will either need to be relocated, caged, or the nest box blocked. Regardless of how aggressive she may appear, the other hens who are used to laying eggs in that location will continue to do so, even if that means sitting on top of her. These eggs will accumulate under her and will then be ready to hatch at different times. Unless the eggs were marked in some way, you won’t know which are old or new eggs. Worse than this, the accumulation of eggs can overflow out from under the hen, reaching a number she cannot fully cover. The embryos within these may die but they keep being pulled in or pushed out at random. This gets to be a big mess in a hurry.

Relocating a hen can be very difficult. For the hen sitting in the corner on the floor, I can set an egg or milk crate with some straw in it and fake eggs and see if I can sit it where she sat. Then I put her in the crate and watch her over the course of a few days to be sure she’s oriented to the crate. When I am ready to move her, I wait until after dark and very carefully lift and move the crate to its new location as gently as possible. Preferably a location that looks similar to her last one.

You’ve got a 50/50 chance that this hen will stay in the new location. She may be spooked by the new location first thing in the morning or may become disoriented when she gets up to eat and try to run back to the henhouse. Keep her food and water as near to her nest as possible so she isn’t likely to lose track of where it is. You don’t want the food and water in the crate because then she’s likely to poop in there too, which would foul the eggs.

Hens oriented to a nestbox in the henhouse will rarely reorient to a crate in the henhouse. Sometimes I will have a prepared crate with fake eggs and very gently lift her into the crate and move her in the dark of night. If she is desperate to set and has only had an empty nest under her because I gather all the eggs, she will be grateful to feel the eggs under her and may be more likely to stay with them.

When night-moving setters I try to use a flashlight as little as possible. Frightening the hen has an unwanted effect on resettling attempts. Be as quiet, gentle and calm as possible. No sudden movements or jerkiness. Once she’s in the crate, you can cover it with a thick towel so you can use your flashlight to find your way around, just turn it off when you uncover her.

Her new location should be as similar to her old location as possible. Having it somewhat dark can help. It needs to be light enough during the day for her to feel comfortable getting off the nest to eat and drink. She needs to be disturbed as little as possible. It needs to feel safe. Often as not she will try to go back to the henhouse any way.That location oriented instinct can be very strong. Once she has proven that she has resettled, only then do I give her setting eggs to hatch off.

Why don’t I try to relocate them sooner? Hens orient themselves to a location before you know they want to set. It is where they choose to lay their eggs. Not all hens want to set. Some breeds are more likely than others. When a hen shows signs of wanting to set but is still laying, trying to move her at this time will likely make her frantic to be at her old nest and can kill her urge to set. I wait to move her until she is extremely determined to set, after she is done laying. Then a nest full of eggs that she is finally allowed to keep may help her be less likely to abandon them, as long as she doesn’t become disoriented.

I have had hens who I could not move that I caged in the henhouse. This caging is to protect the nest from other chickens. Sometimes a person can put a mini screen door with a latch on a nestbox but this is tedious because this hen must be let out every day to eat, drink, and poop. If you wait too long then she has to poop in the nest. Setting hens have huge piles that stink very bad. Once she is off to eat and drink, you have to stick around to make sure no one else gets in the now-open nest box, or close it and make sure you come back and put her back in a timely manner. This is annoying but do-able.

Be wary of housing setting hens together. When I have 10 or 15 (or more) setters all at once, I do not have independent locations for them all. Any setters in shared spaces must be watched carefully. Sometimes they’ll play musical chairs and swap nests regularly. This is not a big deal if all the nests are then covered. But if the little red hen decides she wants her neighbors nest but this neighbor is fully oriented to her own, you may find a nest with two hens and a two-week old clutch of eggs that now has had no hen on it all day.


I make notes of hens that are particularly difficult to work with. I buy zip ties in multicolored packages. Different colors indicate different qualities I want to remember. These are attached as leg bands or anklets plenty loose enough so circulation is not compromised but tight enough not to fall off. The extra length is cut off as not to be in the way. One color indicates the good setters and mothers, another color may indicate a difficult setter but good mother. Poor mothers get a color indicating she is slated to be butchered.


Not all breeds are setters. If you read the catalog breed descriptions, they usually specify if the breed has setting qualities. There are breeds that are known as non-setters, as a lot of people do not want the hassle, or they are interested in egg production only. Most bantams and game birds are natural setters, a lot of the old breeds still carry the instincts. Even within a breed, not all setters are equal. Every hen gets to prove herself.

The Good Hen

The best hens stay oriented to the eggs and resettle okay. They set seriously, only coming off to eat and drink, returning quickly. They hatch off more than ¾ of the eggs successfully. They are not in a hurry to leave the nest, giving late chicks enough time to hatch.

Once the chicks are hatched, she is in tune with not only the liveliest chicks, but with the slowest. She is calm and not easily excited. She won’t abandon her chicks in the face of a threat. She is quicker to guard than to run.

Bad Setters

Not all setting hens are equal. Some hens are easier to work with than others, remaining planted even when relocated. Some hens consistently hatch off a higher percentage of chicks. These hens take shorter lunch breaks, turn their eggs better, and don’t defecate in the nest. A setter is not responsible for unfertilized eggs however.

Poor setters single out chicks to reject. I had a hen once that killed her chicks as they hatched. I am not sure she survived the day. Some hens are good mothers to their own chicks but are so aggressive that they will kill another hen’s chicks. This scene does not bring out a docile response from me. This hen will have to be removed from the vicinity of a setter with small, vulnerable chicks. Once the chicks are two weeks old and free ranging, they are usually fast enough to get away from a demon mama. Poor nutrition can technically cause a hen to kill her own chicks at hatching, but most likely it is a hormone imbalance which could also be genetic. Either way, it is a career killer. These hens get a black zip tie anklet so I don’t lose track of the hen that needs butchered.

Bad setters are also those who abandon their nests prematurely, those who have poor hatching rates. Those who set too heavily on their chicks or step on them and smother them. It isn’t uncommon to lose one or two chicks this way but more than that is a problem. There are also hens who hatch a nestful successfully but lose them once they start ranging, failing to keep them safe.

Most of the time I try to do whatever I can to make it easier for the hens to be successful. I take into account all the factors, and the disadvantages that they had before passing judgment. Judgment is the color of the anklet they end up wearing, indicating excellent, good, mediocre, or poor setter.

Setting Hens


Typically a hen’s due date is about 21 days, but Bantam and other game bird chicks can come earlier. She can have the eggs begin to hatch a couple days in advance of this anyway. Once the chicks begin peeping in the egg, she will not leave the nest. A hen will sometimes go three days without food and water during hatching. Often as not, this is what drives her off the nest with her chicks before the last one or two have fully hatched. It doesn’t hurt to put little dishes of food and water within her reach at this time.

Try not to disturb her during the hatching process more than necessary. I will pull empty egg shells out sometimes. These can slip over another egg and make it more difficult or impossible for another chick to hatch. But disturbing the hen too much can cause her to accidentally step on a weak newly hatched chick and kill it.

As a rule, don’t peel the shell away for a chick. If they cannot get out of the shell themselves, they probably won’t make it anyway. Often they have deformities like prolapsed intestines or some other serious disadvantage. The struggle to get out of the egg is important. When I see an egg where the chick is trying but obviously failing to get out of, I am not above breaking a few pieces away and cracking it a little to try to tip the odds. Often as not though, there was a reason why they were not making it and they don’t survive the disadvantage that was holding them back to begin with.

Sometimes a chick has the partially opened shell dry out too much for them to open when it starts to stick to their down. They can benefit from being slightly moistened with a wet cloth.

Ideally you want the hen to wait until all the eggs have hatched. Often as not, they won’t all hatch. Bantams or game birds hatching off their own eggs have the best hatching rates that I know of. When the eggs begin hatching, I will take the uncracked eggs one at a time and put them to my ear. Often you can hear them peeping within the shell. Sometimes though the egg will slosh like it has water in it. This is a very rotten egg! These get launched out of the henhouse. Candling eggs in week 2 should help weed out these water eggs.

New chicks do not have to eat immediately. In an egg, the egg yolk is a mixture of carbs and fat to feed the chick before and after it hatches. The chick can last 3 days on this, which is why hatcheries are able to ship chicks without food or water.

New Hen and Chicks

Once the hen comes off the nest, it is a good idea to cage her for a couple days with her chicks. The caging is done so that any stragglers have time to get stronger. It is common for a hen to accidentally lose a later hatched chick that cannot keep up with the more energetic chicks that were hatched first.

Newly hatched chicks can be lethargic, sleepy and even weak. They like to spend their first 24-36 hours close to mom without ranging very far. Whether caged or not, I put food and water out in shallow dishes close by for the hen to help them find. She will tell them what to do.

You can buy chick feeders and waterers, or you can put their food and water out in empty tuna cans or some other shallow container that does not tip too easily. I like to put a red marble in their water as they instinctively are drawn to red and try to peck at it, helping them discover the water. You don’t want anything that they can fall into and then can’t get out of.

If you do cage them for a day or two, make sure the wire is very fine. Chicks can get out of some small spaces. Then once out, they cannot easily get back in. Worse than that, mama cannot protect them from threats or keep them warm.


Once the chicks are all up and running, they love to free range with their mother. She hunts for bugs, scratches out your landscaping or newly planted garden. Be sure to fence anything you love. You’ll find any mulch scratched and strewn. I have a hard time maintaining any semblance of virtue when I find a hen shredding my salad beds.

Unless you are having a plague of locusts, it is unlikely that the hen will be able to find all the food her chicks need. It is a good idea to keep a pan of feed and water out where it is easy for her to come back to when the chicks get hungry. The more chicks she has, the harder she works.

Tall grass is a killer for chicks. Predators can sneak up easily. You can accidentally step on chicks in tall grass. Worse than these however is wet grass, even with dew, a careless hen can lose chicks to hypothermia when they get too wet following a rain shower or just heavy dew.

Be careful if you are ushering or chasing a hen and chicks through tall grass. It is too easy to step on them. Frightened chicks will hide in the grass, laying low and stay silent, becoming virtually invisible. If they are scattered and hiding in tall grass, very carefully leave the area. Be sure of where you place your feet. Once the “threat” has left the area, chicks will begin to peep and the hen returns to collect her chicks. Don’t frighten and chase a hen faster than the chicks can keep up with in general, you don’t want to scatter the chicks.

At Night

Setting hens like to go home at night, usually near to where they originally sat, but not always. Sometimes they will tuck themselves into some shrubbery, behind the rose bush, under the wheelbarrow, or out in the tall grass. You will want to find her before dark. She’ll find her spot and settle down well before dark. However, don’t try to relocate her until after dark.

I like those square plastic or metal milk crates for relocating hens. I take a milk crate with some straw and set it near her. Then lifting the chicks out, I count them as I set them in the crate. The hen will usually stay seated with the chicks, usually pecking at me as I pull them out from under her. Once I have them all out, I set her in the box and relocate them to a safer place, often leaving them in that milk crate for the night. I expect to do this every night until she finds a place that I am satisfied with.

Setting Hens


Leaving her setting out at a location of her choice is a great way to feed her and/or the chicks to wildlife. Everything loves to eat chicken. Snakes and possums will steal eggs. Possums, racoons, fox, coyotes, bobcat and more, will take on full grown chickens.

I have seen snakes in Tennessee who killed and attempted to swallow full-sized game birds and bantams. Snakes are usually a farmer’s friend and I have no problem with them until they kill my chickens, then I detach their head from their tail. One year, we had a (medium-large) turtle who found a hen who was hatching eggs off under a bush, and then proceeded to start eating the hatching chicks right out from under her. The hen was unable to fend it off. We heard the noise and relocated the offending turtle.

Crows can and will carry off undefended chicks. They won’t attempt anything with a setter in sight. My grandmother had ordered hatchery chicks when my father was a child. They were in an outdoor, open top pen. She noticed the crows but didn’t think they were a threat until she walked out there and saw they were catching the baby chicks and were flying away with them.

Rats will reach through a cage and pull a chick out through the cage, or chew off what they can get out. So will racoons. Opossums will kill chicks, but they can and will disembowel a hen if they get their paws on her. Khoke used to not mind opossums and would just relocate them. They will get in a henhouse and eat eggs, sure, but he had not seen them actually kill a chicken. Until he did. After I started raising setting hens we had an incident one night when we heard a ruckus outside our house. We found a disemboweled hen and a scattered set of chicks, half of whom had been killed. Khoke executed judgment on the possum we found there and then possums joined the ranks of unwelcome wildlife in our yard.

Hawks are also a threat to chicks. We have trouble with Cooper and Sharp-shinned hawks in the fall as they migrate through. The best thing you can do is have safe places for your hens and chicks to take cover to. Hens usually keep a relatively sharp eye out for hawks and any chicken spots one will warn all others.

We had a legendary setter named Tweety who was a bantam/ game bird cross that would and did fight hawks who attempted to threaten her chicks. It may be legal to shoot possums, racoons and other wildlife, but it is not legal to shoot raptors, meaning birds of prey of any kind. Hawks, owls, and eagles all incur heavy fines ($2,000-$15,000+) and possible prison time.

Wildlife is not the only threat to hens and chicks. Cats, both domestic and feral, are naturally attracted to these walking chicken nuggets. Dogs, particularly puppies and young dogs, are also subject to playful curiosity. This is from inexperience. They just need experience and sooner than later is best. There is nothing quite like a zealous (aggressive) setting hen to deliver this.

My dad’s dog Curly got his early one spring when he was a pup. He went to investigate the cute little fluffballs following a hen. She turned into a ferocious flogging terror and he blindly fled – straight into setting hen #2. Two hens with beaks full of fur, whalloping him with their wings as he ran, sufficiently provided him with enough experience to fully command his respect for the rest of his life.

A very real threat to chicks is sometimes just carelessness. Buckets of water or water troughs that they fall into can drown them. If the bucket has shallow water, they may not drown but can die of hypothermia. This threat does not usually affect tiny chicks, it is the ones that have grown wing feathers and begin exploring by flying up onto or into things.


Being wet is one of the biggest threats to chicks. They do not have feathers yet to shed water, only down. Wet chicks are vulnerable to hypothermia. As they chill they slow down until they are unable to move.

One of the fastest ways to bring chicks back from the brink is with a blow dryer. Be careful to not burn them with hot air but they do need the warm drying air. I live off grid and don’t have the blow dryer. I meet hypothermia in chicks (and occasionally chickens) when they fall into a water bucket or trough that they cannot get out of. Chicks can get it from being caught in a deluge, when it is raining so hard that their mother cannot protect them well enough, or their location turns into a puddle.

It is surprising how far gone they can be and still return to the land of the living. I will usually wrap them in an oven warmed towel and then put hot water in a pint jar, sealing it with a lid and ring. This jar is slipped into a sock to keep it from burning skin and then gets wrapped in with the chick. I monitor it to make sure the chick doesn’t get burned or have its skin overheat on one side.

In emergencies I will cup the chick as completely between my hands as I can and blow hot air from my lungs into my hands and onto the chick. This is to warm it as quickly as possible.

Orphaned Chicks

Sometimes you may have a chick (or more) who are survivors of a wildlife attack. Or the mother may reject a chick for some random reason or you may have a chick hatch so much later than the others that it cannot keep up. These chicks can be hand raised and on rare occasions grafted onto another hen.

Independent chicks raised in isolation usually die. They are babies. Not only do they need to be nurtured, they need to feel nurtured. Social support at the very least. Two or three chicks can cope well enough if they stay warm enough. I have raised more than one independent chick in the house. The two most memorable were Birt and Tweety, both female and late bloomers, at least hatchers.

Birt was from a nest that the setting hen got off of, leaving a few unhatched eggs. This is not uncommon. Mom launched the unhatched and assumed rotten or dead eggs into an overgrown thicket. Late in the day, someone heard peeping from over there and went to investigate. The midsummer Tennessee heat met the temperature and humidity levels of an incubator and despite its first flight before hatching, the chick managed to survive and hatch anyway. Birt hatched late enough that her mother was no longer accepting applications and the solitary chick came indoors. Mom had felt bad for her premature assumption that no one else would hatch and was more careful ever after. Birt rode around in our pockets, ate table scraps out of our hands, and motivated us kids to exercise the flyswatter to feed her house flies.

Once a hen leaves her nest, her chicks imprint themselves in her mind and unless you slip her chicks exactly the same color, size and age, she will know that they are not hers. A hen that will accept a chick that she knows she did not hatch off, is an exceptional hen. Over 90% of setting hens will reject a chick that they suspect is not “theirs.” Theirs, as in, a chick they hatched off. They generally do not care in the least if the eggs were ones that they laid originally.

Grafting Chicks

Sometimes, if you are lucky and have a setting hen coming off soon after you lost a hen, you can graft chicks under the new hen. My friend Deborah Miller, taught me this trick. You can even graft chicks that are several days old. When the eggs are hatching, the hen does not know what her chicks look like yet. Every chick can be a different color and even ranging sizes and she will still (almost always) accept them.

Deborah will put the orphaned chicks under the new hen as her own chicks are nearly done hatching off. The grafted chicks are slipped under her in the evening so the new chicks can start getting used to how she moves and sounds in the night. She also can’t see what you are doing in the dark, this can reduce the risk of a failed graft.

In the morning, Deborah will check to see if all the hens’ original eggs have hatched and if so, all the chicks are moved into a relatively small cage with the hen (and food and water). This is to keep the new chicks close to her, she may have imprinted them to her, but they have not yet imprinted her to them. Their mother looked and sounded different. In 3-4 days they will reorient and re-imprint, the younger they are the sooner this happens. Once the bond is obvious, Deborah releases them from the cage to roam.

If the grafted chicks are much larger than the newly hatched chicks, they will out-roam the littles. Mama hens often lose stragglers when trying to keep up the faster ranging chicks who are impatient to explore. The younger, weaker chicks can fall behind, getting lost in tall grass and becoming easy picking for the host of wildlife that love chicks. If a hen rejects a graft attempt, remove the rejected chick right away. Chicks are extremely vulnerable and hens can be ruthless. Always remove chicks that the hen has rejected. She probably won’t change her mind and can seriously injure or kill them.

Setting Hens

Non-Chicken Eggs

Setting hens are not picky about the eggs they are willing to set on, and usually raise. I have set turkey and guinea eggs under hens to hatch off. Only one hen in my memory rejected non-chicken chicks. Tweety would not raise guinea chicks, but she is the only hen that I have had that was choosy about that.

One thing to keep in mind is that setting hens and non-chicken chicks (turkey, duck, goose, guinea, and others) speak different “languages.” Both verbal and non verbal. They think differently and they respond differently. Ducklings and goslings are drawn to deep water and chickens avoid it. They use and respond naturally to different sounds than chicken chicks and they have a hard time understanding chicken a picking up on her cues. It can take a week or two for them to adjust, but they do.

One year we found a huge nest of guinea eggs, too many for one hen. So we robbed the nest and put the eggs under 2 setting hens in the chicken house. These two hens hatched a combined total of 18 guinea chicks. Guineas pair for life and raise their chicks together. So these guinea chicks would go back and forth between these two hens, not distinguishing them apart. Sometimes one hen would have 17 chicks and the other had only one. Sometimes they’d be relatively equally split. Setting hens do not normally practice joint parenting and are generally worse than two women sharing a kitchen. These two confused hens ended up giving up and sharing these chicks as the widely varying numbers and the chicks’ lack of loyalty to a particular hen was very unchicken-like.

Anyone who has raised ducklings or goslings under a setting hen will probably have seen a frantic setting hen the first couple times the ducklings went for a swim. Swimming is very unchicken-like. Khoke’s brother Andrew found a mother Canada goose who had been killed by wildlife. He gathered her eggs and put them under a setting hen. She hatched them off and when they found the pond, they naturally wanted to swim. The hen was extremely upset. Andrew ended up floating a raft out in the pond with food and water and the hen. She wasn’t too sure of the island to begin with but she adjusted and was happier out floating on the pond with the goslings than pacing on the shore. The goslings would swim around her and would come up on the raft to eat with her. She was brought ashore every night to be put somewhere safe as ponds are not safe from wildlife at night.

When the goslings were of age they flew south with other Canada geese. But ever since then, one of those goslings have returned with her mate to nest at a nearby pond. These are the geese that come up to Khoke’s grandfather to be fed.

We liked raising turkeys or guineas under a setting hen. Guineas are wide-ranging and high-strung. They have a bad habit of losing their babies in tall wet grass. Domestic turkeys are not always the most intelligent mothers. I have had a lot more success with chicken setters than turkey setters. Being raised by a hen usually makes them tamer and usually more docile, sticking closer to the house. Closer to the house usually means less likely to be eaten by wildlife in the long run.

Let Them Set

There are no fully comprehensive guides to setting hens. The best advice I have heard came from my 12 year old neighbor, Nelda. She said, “you just have to let the hens teach you.” Listen to what they need and meet it.