Dealing with Broody Hens

Many commercial chicken breeds have been bred for lack of broodiness for decades and have no more desire to sit on a pile of eggs that you or I do. With some of the heritage breeds or the mixed breed layers that are common on family farms or in backyard chicken flocks, however, the level of broodiness can vary widely from one hen to another.

Letting Broody Hens Hatch Eggs

If you want to expand your flock and have a rooster in the mix, then broody hens can be a blessing. They’ll incubate a nest full of eggs for the 21 days needed to hatch. They’ll turn them periodically to keep the developing chick from sticking to the side of the shell. They may even take care of the chicks after they hatch, although this can be a gamble, especially if there are other chickens in the same area.

If you leave the broody and eggs in with other hens, you may find that other hens keep adding eggs to her nest. This means that eventually, there will be too many for her to keep them all warm underneath her. Because she often rotates the eggs, all of them face a strong risk of getting too cold at some point during the next three weeks and failing to hatch. It’s best to remove the broody hen and the eggs to an isolated hatching area.

Some hens, even after hatching a clutch, don’t make good mothers and don’t take good care of the chicks. Other adult chickens in the area are very likely to attack the little ones without strong maternal protection or physical barriers to keep them separated. Without a mother’s care, the chicks cannot survive on their own, so you may need to remove them to a brooder box and care for them yourself.

Stopping a Hen from Brooding

If, on the other hand, all you want are eggs for eating and you have no intention of hatching eggs, or prefer to control the hatching more with an electric incubator, then a broody hen can be a problem. When a hen is brooding, it doesn’t lay eggs. It also doesn’t readily let you take the eggs from beneath her. It will peck at your hands and raise a ruckus when you try to take them away. A good pair of gloves takes care of that problem.

The broody hen may also stay in the laying box for days at a time, leaving only momentarily for a drink of water or a quick bite to eat. This may result in the hen losing weight and weakening its overall health while it broods. When the hen does leave the nest, it may be very aggressive toward other chickens and may make the entire flock more skittish.

To stop a hen from brooding, the first step is to take the eggs away. Even then, other hens may try to lay more in the same layer box, or the broody may switch to another one when eggs are laid. Some very broody hens will stay that way all summer instead of the three weeks it would normally take to hatch eggs.

If you want to break a hen’s brooding, you should remove it to a separate pen where there are no other hens to provide eggs. While the new area should have all the amenities required (food, water and a good roost), it should not have a layer box or any nest like cubby holes that would promote brooding. In general, the less amenable the area is to making a nest the better your success will be.

Some even go so far as to keep the broody in an enclosure with a wire floor. The theory goes that the air circulating under the hen convinces it that this isn’t a good spot to incubate eggs. Even then, the hen may still choose a spot on the ground or elsewhere to try to incubate a clutch of eggs. If it does, gently shoo the broody hen off the spot and render it inaccessible, placing a cinder block over a ground nest, for example.

Watch to see if the broody hen is laying eggs. If it is, then remove them promptly. Checking several times a day may be necessary to make sure they don’t stay overnight. The faster you can get the hen over the broody period, the better off her health will be.

Because some hens have a higher level of determination than others, sometimes, there’s nothing you can do except wait it out. If a hen persists in broody behavior, just make sure it has easy access to food and water, and clean out the layer box periodically when the hen goes for water. In some cases it may take well over a month for the broody hen to return to normal and begin laying regularly again.

Related Content:
Backyard Chickens for Beginners
How to Hatch Baby Chickens
Baby Chicks for Easter?
Small, Profitable Backyard Chicken Flocks

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