Do you have a few hens in a backyard coop or a fully-fledged operation with thousands of layers? Have you had hens since you were young? Or have you recently started it as a new hobby or business? If you have chickens, chances are you have had a broody hen!
What is a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is a hen that decides it is time to start a family! Instead of laying her daily egg and leaving the nest, she stays to keep it warm. Not only that, but she will also stay to keep the other hens’ eggs warm too! A broody hen will sometimes even move or hide eggs to make a pile for herself to sit on. Once a hen has become ‘broody,’ she has committed herself to sit on her stash of eggs for the 21 days or so it will take them to hatch.
Other chickens may come and go and lay even more eggs on her mountain of future chicks. If you have a rooster mixed in with your population of hens, then odds are that most, if not all, of your eggs, have been fertilized. Only fertilized eggs are able to hatch into chicks. Hens do not need to have a rooster around in order to become broody. This means that a chicken may decide to start incubating a nest of eggs even if all of the eggs have not been incubated.
How Do I know If My Hen Is Broody?
All of this may seem quite adorable to the novice chicken-owner, but there are a few problems associated with being broody, including:
- A chicken’s instinct is to incubate her eggs for the 21 days it takes for them to hatch. During that time, a broody hen may not leave her nest more than once or twice a day. When she does leave, she will not stay out long, in order to prevent her eggs from getting cold. As a result, she will eat and drink less, get less exercise and stimulation, and not get the benefit of sun and fresh air. After three weeks of malnutrition and sedentary living, broody hens may be weaker and more prone to illness than their fellow flock members.
- Once broody hens have the number of eggs they plan to incubate, they will stop laying eggs. If you have chickens solely for the eggs, you may not appreciate the missed productivity.
- A hen that goes broody will often use her own feathers to line her nest and make it more comfortable. Some chickens will pluck their feathers out to the point where they look very splotchy and unsightly. They often will pick out many or all of their breast feathers in order for their skin to directly contact their eggs. This leaves the broody hen more vulnerable to extreme temperatures and the possibility of pecking by other hens.
Problems With a Broody Chicken?
Other problems that can be associated with a broody hen include the following:
- If a broody hen is hoarding eggs, freshly-laid and older eggs may be in the same pile. You may not be able to easily tell which eggs are on their way to being fully-developed chicks and which are ready to be your breakfast. Although you might be able to use a bright light to see if there is an embryo inside the egg, this is inconvenient to do for each egg. You don’t want to crack an egg with a half-grown chick into your cookie batter or omelet. Trust me.
- A broody hen is very protective of her nest. She will keep her eggs warm and safe. If you attempt to take her eggs from her, she may peck you repeatedly, flap her wings in your face, or squawk loudly. This is not the most enjoyable way to collect your eggs!
- A broody hen that is incubating unfertilized eggs may continue sitting on her nest well past the 21-day mark. She will keep them warm, not realizing that they will never hatch because there are no developing chicks inside. The extended period of not eating, drinking, or exercising enough can result in the hen becoming ill or even dying.
Some chicken owners may decide to allow their broody hens to sit on their nests. Maybe you feel it is time to grow your flock or replace older hens, and want to have more chicks. Perhaps you want to give or sell baby chicks to someone else interested in hen-keeping. You might even want to nurture your broody hen’s instinct to take care of her eggs, even if you didn’t plan on having chicks this year.
Because laying hens have been bred selectively for generations to not have an instinct for raising chicks, many hens will not become broody. For people that want to have a regular way to refresh their flock, having to purchase fertilized eggs or recently-hatched chicks can get expensive.
In addition, taking care of incubating and raising baby chicks is messy and time-consuming. It is much easier to leave the hard work to the hens if you have one that has gone broody. On the other hand, if you do not want more chicks, then you may want to get your hen to stop being broody.
How Can I Stop A Broody Hen?
There are a number of ways you can do attempt to do this if you feel you need to. The absolute best way to handle a broody hen is to not allow them to get broody in the first place. The instinct to care for a nest of eggs is usually triggered by the presence of a pile of eggs. By removing your flock’s eggs promptly each day, your hens will be less likely to go broody. Also, by making sure that your hens have multiple places in which to lay their eggs, eggs may be scattered instead of piled in your coop.
You can add another egg box if all of your hens’ eggs end up in the same place each day! However, if your hen is already broody, and you either do not have fertilized eggs or you do not wish for more chicks. You can choose to let it run its course and see if your hen simply gives up. Or, you can be more proactive and attempt to convince your hen to stop being broody.
Here are four tips on how to handle your broody hen, if you want your hen to stop being broody soon:
1. Removing Hens From Nest Area
Your hen’s instinct is to stay on her nest as much as possible. If you keep removing her from the nest area throughout the day, her eggs will get colder. Not only will this make any eggs non-viable, but the hen is also likely to give up and stop trying to sit on her nest.
2. Close the Nest Area
If you keep removing the eggs but your hen keeps sitting in the same location, you may need to close the nest down. Block her selected box off with cardboard or an object, so that she cannot use that area. Although she may just choose a different place to nest, she will likely decide it’s not a good time to hatch some eggs.
3. Destroy the Nesting Box
Many enthusiastic chicken farmers take pride in the comfort of their nesting boxes. They line them with straw, peat moss and other materials to make them cozy and inviting. If you are struggling with a broody hen, however, you may want to make the nests less hospitable. Remove extra bedding and the broody hen might decide it’s not comfortable enough to sit in long-term.
4. Bring out the Broody Hens
Hens that are persistently broody, for whom the above techniques do not work, may need to be sent to Chicken Jail. Although this may seem harsh, such measures are taken to ensure that the long-term health of the hen doesn’t suffer from weeks of feather-plucking and near-starvation. By removing the chicken from her coop and isolating her from her flock, her comfort level – and instinct to brood – will be reduced.
Isolate your broody hen in an unused coop or crate, or section them off in a section of her run. Make sure she has plentiful access to food, water, and shade, and that she is protected from the elements and predators. Put her back in her coop on a daily basis. If she immediately returns to a nesting box, put her back in ‘jail.’
Most chicken owners will encounter a broody hen at some point in time. If you do not want baby chicks or do not have fertilized eggs, then you need to take measures to prevent your hens from going broody. If your hen does go broody, you may want to act quickly so her egg production – and health – do not suffer.