What to do with a Broody Hen ?
The sound of a broody hen is one that you will learn to recognize with their book, book, book. If you try and take her eggs, she will puff out her feathers and create an absolute ruckus. Broody hens may exhibit aggressive behaviour – no matter how complacent they were before! When you find that one of your hens will not come out of the nesting box all day and night you are faced with a decision.
Allow her to become a mother or to break her of her broodiness. Whichever you decide to do, the quicker that you act the better the outcome for the hen.
Mother of Chicks
A broody hen will sit on fertile eggs for 21 days, before hatching chicks and caring for them for about 8 weeks. A hen is wired in her brain to lay a clutch of eggs 10-12 eggs over a period of a week or two before settling down for 21 days to hatch the eggs. During this time she will leave the nest box about once a day to poop, drink and eat some food. The hen slows down her metabolism and almost meditates during this period. All this sacrifice is for the end result of chicks, which is what she really wants.
The broody hen will need a separate quarters to the rest of your chickens or you will find that she will steal the eggs off the other hens or that once hatched the other hens may kill the chicks. Sometimes when you move a broody hen she may get off the nest and no longer wish to sit. Make sure she is settled where you want her before you buy eggs. You can either use your own fertile eggs (if you have a rooster with your girls), buy fresh fertile eggs and place them under your hen, buy fertile eggs from a breeders incubator (this may shorten the broody sitting time and her loss of condition) or try giving the broody day old (up to a week) chicks (usually done at night for greater success) Unless the broody is a proven mother you run the risk of her leaving the eggs before they hatch or stepping on chicks.
If the broody successfully hatches chicks, the process of her raising the chicks is a delight to enjoy as she teaches them where and what to eat, drink and how to be a chicken. The broody will take care of all of their heat requirements. You can refer to our page Caring for Baby Chickens
The key is to try and catch broodiness early, as that means it can be resolved faster. A preventative method for discouraging broodiness is to collect eggs multiple times a day so that there are not any eggs sitting in the nesting box to sit on. Broody hens can be very determined and camp in the nesting box for days on end, sitting on nothing, a fake egg or eggs that are not fertile. They lose condition if they are left to sit for weeks on end without chicks hatching under them.
If it’s too late and your hen has already turned into a booking bundle of puffed up feathers, here are some techniques to ‘break’ her broody behaviour. Remember, the longer you leave it, the longer it will take to remedy:
- A wire cage in a well lit location – it sounds harsh, but placing your broody hen in this cage with just food and water until they calm down (depending on how long they were broody depends on how long they need in the cage) is one of the most proven methods. They may need to be in there a few days, maybe even a week depending on the length of time they were broody. To find out whether their time in the cage is up, release them out and watch their behaviour. If they run back to the eggs, then they aren’t ready for freedom!
- Remove the hen from the coop and put her into another secure pen dog crate, guinea pig pen or hutch with just food and water is worth a try in the early stages of broodiness. This method removes the hen from the ability to sit on the nest constantly and upsets her routine.
- Sometimes a dunk in a bucket of cool water does the trick (take care not to wet her head and ears). Your hen is all hot and hormonal with her desire to be a mother. Bringing her temperature down a degree or two can break her broody mood.
It is hard to say exactly what is going to work with your hen, sometimes you have to try a number of methods.
Broody hens will return completely to normal after you’ve broken their behaviour, and will start being productive egg-layers again soon after!