Springtime is here which means it is chick rearing season!
This means that some of your hens will start to become broody.
Having broodies around can be a blessing, but it can also be a nuisance. Broodiness can become infectious and before you know it you have a bunch of broody hens.
So, what do you do?
Breaking a broody hen can become a battle of willpower.
So in this article we share with you every method we know about how to break a broody hen.
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Why Do Hens Get Broody?
Before you break a broody hen you need to understand what a broody hen is and how to correctly identify one.
Quite simply a broody hen is a hen that wants to hatch chicks.
Broodiness is hormonal in nature.
When the daylight starts to lengthen and the temperatures start to warm it causes a hormonal change in your chicken. Their body recognizes that the rest period (winter) is done and now is the time to brood and raise young chicks.
The increase in the light causes the hormone prolactin to be released from the pituitary gland in the brain. The increase in this hormone will cause some bodily changes for the hen resulting in the mothering urge.
Sometimes an older hen may have some hormonal changes and want to become broody too!
These old ladies make delightful mothers and nest sitters as they have either watched or experienced motherhood themselves. My Orpington is well beyond egg laying, but she will sit on a nest or take over the care of the chicks in a heartbeat if the real mother seems uninterested.
For more guidance read Broody Hen: Everything You Need To Know.
How To Identify Broody Hens
So how do you know if a hen is broody?
There are a few distinctive tells:
- She will want to be alone and claim a nest box for herself.
- When anyone approaches her she will fluff up to look fearsome and threatening.
- She will pluck out her breast feathers to line the nest with feathers.
- Eating and drinking are both done quickly and will then rush back to the nest.
- She may threaten other hens to stay away by constantly clucking or growling.
6 Safe Ways To Break A Broody Hen
There are still some pretty cruel methods used to break broody hens.
Please never resort to these methods.
All of the methods we list below are humane.
Some work better than others however it will mainly depend on how determined your hen is. Silkies probably hold the record for perseverance in the brooding department, but they can be broken. It just takes a lot of time and patience.
Here are six ways to break your broody:
6. Physical Removal
This simple method involves removing the hen from the nest area every time she decides to set.
As you can imagine this will quickly become a battle of wills.
While it may be irritating or even infuriating, she is not trying to be difficult, she is driven by hormones and cannot help her behavior.
If you hen is very determined to set then she will hop right back on the nest after you have moved her. She might take a tour of the coop until you are gone and then climb back in – they can be very crafty!
You will need to check the nesting boxes several times a day and remove her each time.
I have found this method to work for first timers since they are not really sure of what they want quite yet.
Perhaps you have the time to take a stroll around the yard with her safely tucked under your arm (wear gloves if she is a pecker). Try distraction as a way to change her mind about what she wants to do. The power of suggestion can be strong. You can place her in a spot where there happens to be a whole lot of treats.
At night when you lock them up, if she is sitting on a nest then remove her and place her on a perch.
If it is dark enough then she will not find her way back to the nest overnight.
This can go on for several days so if you are running out of patience or cannot keep her out of the nest you will need to up your game.
5. Nesting Material
This step idea is fairly simply but surprisingly effective.
You will need to remove the nesting material out of the boxes.
When laying an egg lots of hens do not worry about nesting materials, but when building a nest to raise chicks the bedding becomes very important.
The nesting materials will help to cushion and the warm chicks in their first few days of life. The insulation the materials supply along with the mother hens plucked feathers and body heat keep them toasty warm.
By removing all of the nesting material you are depriving the chicks of a good chance of survival, the hen knows this and may abandon the nesting attempt.
4. Cold Dips
When a chicken gets broody her vent and abdomen get hot.
Cooling this area down can break a broody hen.
This remedy focuses on the attempt to cool her vent and abdomen.
You can place either a frozen water bottle, or a bag of ice cubes under the hen to cool her down.
I certainly cannot imagine sitting on a bag of ice cubes for very long, but if she is very stubborn then she may just continue to sit. If she does continue to sit for longer than about thirty minutes on the ice, I would be getting a bit concerned about possible frostnip on the skin.
A different method of cooling her down is to give her frequent cold baths.
This is a bit better than the ice cubes.
You simply take her from the nest (wear gloves if necessary) and sit her in a cold water bath. Her abdomen must be submerged in the water. Make her sit for five to ten minutes before letting her out. If it is a nice warm day you do not even need to dry her off.
If the weather is cold then please do not use this method.
3. Morning Only Access
If the first three methods did not work then you are going to need to get tougher!
You will need to wait each morning until everyone is done laying eggs. Then pick up the broody, put her outside the coop and lock the coop down so that nobody can enter.
This can be difficult to do if you have a lot of hens that lay at different times. But if you have a small flock and they all lay at roughly the same time it can be easily done.
Your broody hen may stomp around for a bit, clucking and grumbling constantly (it is hard not to laugh), but she will eventually settle down.
You will have to do this for at least a few days until she gets the idea that you are not going to give up.
If she seems to settle into the outside life and does not seem to want to go back to being broody all is good. But if she disappears for periods of time you should watch her closely. She may have found an outside area in which to nest.
Those hens can be very crafty!
If she has found an outside place to lay eggs then you should break up the nest. You may have to resort to caging this hen (more on this later).
2. Closing Down
This is a more extreme version of method 3.
Here you are going to shut the nesting area down completely for several days. This means no coop access for any hen except to roost in at night time.
Of course this is a nuisance for the other hens but it is sure to keep broody hens away from the nesting boxes.
This is much easier to do if you have a small flock since they will adapt quickly – they might grumble but they will adapt.
All you need to do is remove the broody hen from the nesting box and close off the entrance.
A piece of cardboard taped or tacked into place will work nicely.
Just make sure the cover is well secured as she will try to get back into her space to resume setting.
You will need to make a temporary nesting area for the other hens. A milk crate or even a cardboard box will work well as a temporary nest for them. Your broody hen will be so focused on her chosen nest and breaking back in, that she will not take any notice of the new nest.
After a few days she should have lost interest in brooding.
If after a few days she is still broody then you need to try another way to break her.
1. The Cage
While it may not be everyone’s favorite method, it is the most effective method.
The idea is to keep the hen isolated in an environment where they cannot nest.
You will need to use a chicken crate or something similar for this method.
Whatever you use for the cage, it should allow air circulation.
Once your jail is ready you simply put the chicken inside with food and water. The light, cool air circulation and lack of bedding all serve to deter her from trying to set. Give her food and water and provide some shade for her too.
If your run is completely predator proof then you can leave her there in her cage overnight.
However if you are not sure how predator proof the run is you can place her cage in the coop with the other hens at night for safety.
The length of time for confinement can vary from hen to hen but starting at a two day confinement is reasonable.
After a few days have passed you can just place her right in the middle of the activities of the others, she will not have to go through establishing her place in the pecking order again.
You may have to repeat the treatment a couple of times before you break your broody hen.
This will work in the vast majority of cases, but there is the occasional hen that can resist everything you throw at her – what do you do then?
Frankly, if the hen is that determined and she is healthy, then I would let her hatch.
Hopefully you have gathered some ideas from this article about how to break your broody hen.
Just remember that you hen is not trying to be difficult – it is just hormonal and they have no choice over it!
There is a small percentage of hens that just will not be broken.
Quite frankly it is easier to find a couple of hatchable eggs and put them under her than continue the fight for weeks.
If you are going to be successful and stop a broody hen you need to try and catch her at the beginning of her brood. It is much more challenging when she has been setting for a few days.
Finally, remember that being broody takes a great deal of energy out of a hen so be sure to look after her.
Make sure she is getting good quality nutrition. If she feels a bit skinny through her ordeal then try to plump her up with some extra protein treats (mealworms or scrambled egg). You can also add vitamins and electrolytes to her water especially if it is very hot.
Did any of these methods help break your broody hen? Let us know in the comments section below…