Regardless of the size of your flock there is a sure bet that you will encounter a broody hen at least once in your chicken raising career. So now we must ask ourselves, what does “broody” mean and is this a problem for you and your flock?
As with most animals that walk this Earth, chickens and ducks have strong natural instincts. Some have to do with survival and others have to do with perpetuating their species – namely having babies. So a hen or duck that has gone broody means that they want to hatch their eggs and raise chicks.
One of our hens is broody, but at first we weren’t sure if this was the issue. She had been sitting down in one of the nesting boxes for quite a long time, most of the day, and she was hardly eating or drinking. We were worried that she was egg-bound but when my husband moved her from the nesting box and found an egg we knew that wasn’t the case. And after getting quite upset with him she hopped right back up and again didn’t move for almost a full day. It was at this point that we knew she was indeed broody.
There are some tell-tale signs that your hen is broody. First will of course be the constant sitting (good clue right?). Your hen/duck will also start to gather a group of eggs known as a clutch. This is when the behaviour could be troublesome for you, especially if you have a small flock with no plans on hatching eggs and raising chicks. Your broody hen may start to gather and steal her flock-mates’ eggs to sit on which could drastically impact the number of eggs you get each day.
Clutches can be small with just a few eggs or as large as a full dozen (with 12 being a more typical size). Once she has gathered her eggs she will stop laying completely. She will sit on her eggs day and night, leaving only briefly to eat and drink. She will not roost with her flock-mates and her body temperature will increase as she tries to hatch her eggs.
You will also start to notice behaviour changes as she becomes very protective of her clutch/nest. If you look below this is what Pecky did with her feathers when I got too close (the tail feathers are raised and fluffed out). She will also growl and attempt to peck at us or her flock-mates if she feels threatened. Pecky has also begun to pluck out some of her own feathers. This both serves to create a nest for her clutch but also so her skin can come in direct contact with the eggs.
There are some breeds that are far more likely to go broody than others. In fact because many egg farmers detest broody behaviour (due to the reduction in egg laying), lots of time and money went into breeding out broodiness. If you have regular old egg layers from your local co-op (like Red Sex Links etc.) you will likely not run into a problem with a broody hen.
However if you have a heritage breed this may be something to watch out for. The following breeds are known for their broodiness:
- Buff Orpingtons
As a note Pecky is a Blue Orpington and while my research continually came up with only Buff Orpington I would say if you have Blue or Blacks then watch for broody behaviour as well.
As another note of interest apparently chickens are far more likely to go broody than ducks. And many farmers will use a broody hen to help incubate eggs of all kinds including duck and turkey. My neighbour has ducks and she might use Pecky to hatch some more.
What To Do About It
How you go about dealing with a broody hen will depend on what your end goals are. There are basically three main options.
- Give her some eggs! While we do not have a rooster (poor Pecky has no idea she’s trying to hatch unfertilized eggs), we have no shortage of farmers around us. So my friend Heather is going to give me a dozen fertilized eggs from her farm so that Pecky can sit on them.
- Do nothing. I know that doesn’t sound fancy, but you can just let her do her thing until she basically gives up. Being broody isn’t going to hurt your chicken and usually if her eggs don’t hatch within 3-4 weeks she will give up.
- Attempt to “break” her of her broody habit. Some chickens will give up naturally on their own, but others are quite stubborn and continue their broody behaviour for months on end. While being broody for a few weeks won’t hurt a chicken, doing this for extremely long periods of time is not good for your gal’s health. She won’t be eating or drinking enough and getting little to no exercise. So if you have a chicken who just won’t stop being broody you do have some options (see below).
How to Break a Broody Hen’s Habit
First and foremost you need to collect those eggs and often because even a few eggs will get the broody hormones flowing. Secondly you will need to make an active effort to get her out of her nest. Remember to proceed with caution as she will likely be aggressive when you try to do this. Gently (no kicking etc.) move her from her nest/nesting box and try to get her outside and with the rest of the flock.
It is possible that the above two efforts will be enough to break your hen of her broody behaviour, however if it isn’t you will need another approach. Generally speaking you will need to make her nest uncomfortable and unappealing to her. An appealing nest is dark, quiet, private and warm so you need to create the opposite environment.
Many folks on chicken forums and websites have stated success by using a dog crate or rabbit hutch (something with metal wiring on the bottom and sides). Move your hen to a cage/hutch and ensure you don’t give any shavings or bedding of any kind. The crate/cage will feel cold and uncomfortable which is what you want. Place the pen in the run with the rest of her flock, out in the open and in a place where she can’t retreat to the shadows.
Some folks have suggested using ice cubes and placing them under the hen. While this does make it cold and uncomfortable unfortunately ice melts which means you will be running out to the coop often to replace the ice. However I’m sure you are getting the idea; make that environment cold, sunny and noisy! Once you start to notice “normal” behavour (walking around the pen etc.) your gal is ready to be integrated back into the flock.
Until next time,
P.S. Pin this for later use ; -)