A broody hen can be a blessing or a curse!
If you want to raise baby chicks, she is most definitely a blessing. They are much more efficient than an incubator and do all the work for you.
However if you do not want chicks she is definitely a problem.
Whilst she is broody she can be aggressive and will stop laying eggs. Did I also mention that broodiness is infectious? If one hen goes broody, you may have others that decide to join in.
In this article we are going to explain how to break a broody hen with some tried and true methods…
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What is a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is one that has decided she needs to raise some chicks!
Whether the eggs are fertile or not, she will sit.
She will fuss around looking for the perfect nesting spot to claim. The nest will be made from
bedding from other nests and feathers (most of which will be plucked from her own breast).
Initially she will just sit in the nest to decide if the time and place are right.
When spring-time comes around and the girls are in full lay, it is important to remove all eggs from nests as soon as possible. An egg sitting in the nest for a few hours can give a broody some ideas.
If it suits her she will now settle in and start laying her first egg.
She will add eggs daily and may even steal some from other hens – some girls are over achievers and will have a mountain of eggs under them. The average size of a brood varies from breed to breed but expect around 8 eggs.
Once she has set her clutch (group) of eggs, she will sit for 21 days until they hatch.
Why Is My Hen Broody?
A chicken needs two things to turn her broody:
The first is daylight. Once spring rolls around and the days become longer there is enough sunlight to stimulate her hormones into production mode.
Increased hormone levels are the second thing she needs. The pituitary gland will start to produce large amounts of prolactin which in turn stimulate the brood instinct.
Certain breeds are more prone to broodiness than others.
Cochins, Orpingtons, Silkies and Barbu D’Uccle bantams are more likely than most to turn broody.
How Do You Know She Is Broody?
Once you have seen a broody hen you will not forget!
She will fluff out her feathers to make herself look bigger and more threatening.
Verbally she may hiss, growl and scream at you. If you try to touch her she may give you an unfriendly peck – that is broody talk for leave me alone! These pecks can hurt and draw blood, so have a pair of thick gloves on hand just in case.
When she gets off the nest she will remain fluffed out and will be rude and aggressive to everyone around her.
6 Ways To Break A Broody Hen
1. Frequent Removal
This is where the battle of wills starts.
So your broody hen has picked out her nest site and is settling in for the long haul.
Once you are sure she is broody you will need to remove her from the nest. She will growl, hiss and maybe peck at you, but you have to be firm and remove her.
Pick her up and take her outside with the rest of the flock and leave her there. You can try distracting her with treats or tasty tidbits to take her mind off being broody. Remember to remove all eggs in the coop each time as well.
This will need to be done repeatedly several times a day in order to break her.
Always remove her from the nest last thing at night and put her on the roost with the rest of the girls.
2. Remove Bedding
If after repeatedly removing her she is still returning to the nest, it is time to remove nesting material.
This may give her a pause.
It usually only works for those broodies who are marginal – they might simply give up and return to the flock.
Nobody likes to sit on the cold floor with nothing to keep you warm and cooling off the underside of the hen is the way to break her broodiness!
3. Cold Water
As mentioned above cooling off the underside of a broody hen can break her.
So if removing her nesting material does not work, then next up is frozen water.
You need to put bottles of iced or frozen water in her nesting box.
The cold and damp (from the condensation) may stop her from sitting there, but again she may decide to start up somewhere else or move to the corner of the box. Just remember not to use this method if the weather is cold.
4. Close The Nest
If your broody chicken has not taken the hint and is still determined to sit, you will now need to close off the nest.
First you need to remove her from the nest (again). Next put up a piece of cardboard or wood to block her from accessing the nest. If she is really determined she will find another nesting spot so stay alert and watch her closely!
Just remember that your other hens will still need a nesting area so only block off the nesting box she is brooding in.
5. Jail Time
If you do not have time to spend chasing after her and removing her from the next then send her directly to jail!
Jail is preferably a wire mesh cage, or a plastic chicken crate.
Put her in the cage with food and water, but no bedding. You need to place the cage somewhere off the ground so that she gets fresh air circulating underneath to cool her down. Place the cage in a bright and well ventilated area.
How long should she stay in jail?
Some birds are broken after a day or two whilst others that are more determined may take a week.
6. Remove From The Coop
I have put this method last since my personal opinion is that it is unlikely to work very well.
However some folks say it has worked well for them.
You should remove your broody from the coop and effectively shut them out of the coop for the day until bedtime.
The big problem I can see here is that she is going to make a nest that is hidden somewhere and go sit. If you cannot find her, that leaves her open to the dangers of predation – not a happy thought.
How To Care For A Broody Hen
If you decide to leave your hen sitting on eggs then you will need to care for her.
Always check to make sure a broody chicken is eating and drinking, especially if the weather is particularly hot or humid.
If she is not leaving the nest to eat then you will need to encourage her to eat. A small bowl of wet mash placed by her side in the nest will stimulate her appetite and help to keep her hydrated. Next you need to check her for lice. If you find them you need to dust her and the nest. You can also put herbs such as catnip or lemon balm in the nest to deter insects.
It is usually best if your broody has her own special area to nest in. She can be left undisturbed during sitting and keep her chicks safe after hatching.
Try to ensure that her nest is in a safe place as they do not always nest in the coop.
You can try to physically move the nest to a safe and secure area. There is always the risk of breaking the brood when you move her, but I think it is better to have the hen in secure surroundings.
FAQs About Broody Chickens
How many eggs can a broody hen sit on?
The short answer is as many as she likes.
Some broodies will collect a lot of eggs and even steal them from other nests to get more.
However she should not be allowed to sit on a large pile of them since the heat from her body will not be distributed evenly.
A clutch of 3-8 eggs is sufficient for most hens.
How long will a broody hen leave her eggs?
Most broodies will not leave their nest for long.
They will usually vacate long enough to grab a bite to eat, have some water, have a poop, maybe a quick dust bath then back to the nest (all in less than an hour).
She may do this twice a day or just once, it is an individual choice for the hen.
How long will she brood?
She will brood and sit on those eggs for 21 days (or longer). It is usually difficult to pinpoint when they started sitting, so a couple of days extra is no big deal.
Some broodies will continue to sit on eggs well past the hatching date (even if they have chicks).
At this point the remaining eggs must be removed so she can concentrate on the chicks.
Are all hens broody?
Certain hybrids (such as Golden Comets and Black Stars) are rarely broody.
Heritage breeds are more likely to go broody, although some of them do not become broody at all. Remember though there are always exceptions to the rules.
Remember broodies are not all bad news.
If you want chicks they are worth their weight in gold.
Silkies in particular are known as the universal hatcher of the poultry world. They have been known to hatch guinea hen, duck and even turkey eggs!
However if you have no need for a broody then deterring can be a real test of willpower for both of you – do not underestimate the willpower of a hen.
Different folks have varying experiences with breaking a broody.
I have had great success with simply removing them from the nest on a frequent basis.
If you are just starting out on your chicken journey and do not want broody hens, do your research and try to avoid buying hens that lean towards broodiness.
Did these ideas help to break your broody hen? Let us know in the comments section below…
Does it hurt to let a broody hen sit on an empty nest? Will they stop to be broody if there are no eggs under them? I have one hen that goes broody off and on. I usually put her in chicken jail but was wondering if I have to.