You walk into the coop, reach into the nest box, and – ow! Your hen has pecked at your hand!
This isn’t an uncommon experience among backyard chicken keepers, but if you’ve recently found yourself face to face with this situation, you may have a broody hen on your hands.
Broodiness is caused by several different factors, and can be identified by several telltale signs. This article will tell you everything you need to know about broody hens.
What is a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is simply one that has decided she wants to sit on – and hopefully hatch – a clutch of eggs.
These eggs don’t have to be fertilized, but regardless of whether they are or not, a broody hen can be quite simple to spot.
She will sit on the eggs day and night, leaving only to drink, eat, and poop.
Try to remove a broody hen and see what happens – she will likely end up pecking your hand, hissing at you, and acting downright unpleasant.
Once your hen finds a nice, fomrotable, dark place where she can nest, she will roll a clutch of eggs – typically about ten to fourteen – beneath her.
The brooding process has now begun. Try to disturb her, and you’re going to be one sorry chicken owner!
What Causes Broodiness?
There’s no exact science behind what makes a hen go broody, but there are several culprits that you might blame.
Most incidents of broodiness are a combination of the following factors that may come into play.
The first probable cause is hormones. Going broody is a hormonal response, and it’s also an instinct.
Hens are triggered to become broody by aging and maturing, and as the days get longer, the increasing amounts of available daylight will encourage the hen’s body to release prolactin.
This hormone, along with the additional available sunlight, will work together to make your hen becomes broody.
2. Age and Time of Year
It’s hard to determine the time of year when a hen might go broody, but usually, this is behavior engaged in by older hens.
Young hens that are in their first laying season almost never go broody.
That being said, most hens go broody in the spring and summer, and will rarely do so in the winter.
Because the eggs need lots of heat to develop – as well as to hatch healthy chicks that are able to survive deposit the elements – a hen, by instinct, won’t usually begin sitting on her eggs during the colder months.
Some chicken breeds are significantly more likely to go broody than others.
Some hens rarely go broody, and it’s a trait that has been completely bred out of certain hybrid chicken breeds.
Therefore, if you are raising hybrid chicken breeds, like Golden Comets or sex-link birds, who have been bred for maximum egg production, you probably don’t have to worry about any broodiness.
That said, these chickens are most likely to go broody:
- Partridge and Buff Rocks
- Speckled Sussex
- Plymouth Rocks
- Nankin bantams
- Old English Game
On the other hand, you won’t usually see hens from these breeds become broody:
- Plymouth Rock
- Rhode Island Red
- La Fleche
4. Egg Availability
Some people deliberately leave eggs in their nest boxes to encourage their hens to go broody.
This is a good technique to encourage your hens to start sitting – and also a great “what-not-to-do” if you are trying to prevent broodiness.
If you want to encourage a hen to become broody, consider putting some eggs in the nest or use plastic Easter eggs or golf balls to stimulate broody tendencies.
Although you can often determine whether a hen might be more likely to go broody based on its breed, some individual hens of the same flock will just be more interested in going broody.
Broody tendencies are often a matter of personality more so than breed – whether you end up with a broody hen is often just luck of the draw.
Some hens might be good brooders, sitting constantly on a nest and remaining vigilant until the eggs hatch.
However, some will change their mind halfway through and abandon the nest.
Signs Your Hen is Broody
These are some of the most common signs that you then has decided to take up residence in the nest box.
While not all hens will display all signs, if you see all of these, you will know without a doubt that your hen has gone broody.
1. She refuses to get off the eggs
If you have a broody hen, she will stay in her nest all day. She won’t roost with the chickens at night, she won’t leave to forage, and she won’t even accept treats.
In most cases, a broody hen will only leave the nest when she needs to eat, drink, or poop.
2. She sits in the nest without eggs
Hens typically won’t hang out in the nest box without a reason – either they’re laying eggs, or they’re sitting on them.
If you have a hen that is sitting in the nest without eggs – and for extended, consistent periods of time – you likely have a broody hen.
3. She behaves aggressively
A broody hen will become extremely aggressive toward anyone who dares approach her eggs.
She will puff her feathers out and squawk at anything that tries to come near.
She may also peck and bite you if you move her – if you try to do this, make sure you wear gloves!
4. She is missing belly or chest feathers
Broody hens often pull out their chest and belly feathers while they are sitting on their eggs.
This is done for two reasons.
First, she will use the feathers to insulate around the eggs, helping to keep them warm and retain body heat when she needs to get up to take a drink or have a bite to eat.
Second, the direct contact from her bare skin will be better at passing heat to the eggs.
5. She is noisy
A broody hen won’t just make noise in the nest box – she’ll also make a big scene whenever she leaves it.
You may find that she is clicking constantly and loudly to make sure everybody knows not to go near her eggs.
Once the eggs are closer to being ready to hatch, you may notice that your hen begins to make soft clucking noises to the baby chicks inside, too.
Within a few days of hatching, you might even hear them chirping back at her!
6. She has pale combs or wattles
The combs and wattles of broody hens often become very pale – a broody hen’s comb sometimes shrinks back down to pullet size, too.
Can I Prevent Broodiness?
Collecting eggs regularly can prevent hens from going broody.
It’s also a good way to stay on top of your egg production and to make sure your eggs aren’t broken.
Broken eggs can not only attract vermin and predators, but they can also threaten the cleanliness of your coop. In addition, broken eggs invite hens to eat them – a problem you definitely don’t want to have.
You can also restrict access to the nest box after the hens have laid for the day.
This can be a very challenging way to prevent broodiness if you work during the day, or otherwise just don’t have the time to be checking your nest box constantly.
Plus, it can be difficult to time when the eggs will be laid, unless your girls are very predictable.
Instead, it’s often easier to break a hen’s broodiness once it happens.
Since not all hens will go broody – and it is definitely more common in some breeds than in others – arming yourself with these broodiness-breaking tips can help ease your concerns if it does occur on your farm.
How Long Does a Hen Stay Broody?
Most hens, if left undisturbed, will stay broody for about three weeks – or 21 days, which is the time required for eggs to hatch if they are fertile.
After the 21 days, your hen should break from her broodiness.
If you are able to break your hen’s broodiness, she will probably only stay broody for a few days.
Once she has broken from this cycle, she should start laying eggs within a couple of days.
Don’t be concerned, however, if you have broken a broody hen and she isn’t laying a full month later.
It can be tough to get her body back in the rhythm of things, but there’s nothing you need to do to encourage her to lay eggs again besides providing proper care and feeding.
How to Deal With a Broody Hen
So you have a broody hen on your hands – congratulations! Or…we’re sorry? Either way, here are some tips on the best ways to deal with broody hens – no matter what you want the final outcome of her broodiness to be.
If You Want Her to Hatch Chicks
If you have a rooster, there’s a good chance that the eggs that your hen is clinging to are fertilized. You might be pleased that your hen has gone broody! To help make the process easier, you should remove the broody bird and her clutch to a separate brooding area with plenty of food and water. Be extremely careful handling the eggs, and whatever you do, don’t wash them – this will remove the bloom, which help protect the developing embryos from contamination.
The purpose of moving your hen and her eggs is to keep everyone safe. You don’t want another hen forcing the broody hen away from her eggs, leaving them to become chilled and ultimately die. You will also want to keep your broody hen in a location where it is easy for you to make sure she is getting plenty of water and food. You will need to supply her with her own food and water supply to make this easier for her.
A broody hen will remain so for about twenty-one days – this is how long it takes for a fertilized egg to develop. You will want to keep an eye on the calendar and watch her carefully until the eggs have hatched.
Keep in mind that a broody hen will be able to hatch any kind of eggs you put under her. Therefore if you have a broody hen that isn’t sitting on her own fertilized eggs, know that you can take advantage of this behavior and have her sit on the fertilized eggs of other chickens, as well as those from ducks, guineas, quail – whatever you’d like!
If You Don’t Want Her to Hatch Chicks
A hen doesn’t know whether her eggs are fertilized or not. If you have a chicken who is sitting on a nest of eggs – and you either know that they won’t hatch or simply don’t want them to -you may need to stop the broody behavior.
Similarly, if a hen is engaging in broody behavior but not even sitting on eggs, she needs to be broken. She will continue to sit there until something hatches – which, as you know, will never happen.
Another common reason why you might want to stop broodiness is because it is often contagious, with other hens getting the idea to sit on clutches of eggs. This can be detrimental to you, particularly if you have unfertilized eggs or are raising eggs for production. A broody hen isn’t going to lay any more eggs – so you may find that your egg production is cut off altogether by this broodiness.
Move Your Hen
Luckily, breaking up a broody hen is not difficult to do. You will need to move her while she is in the nest box, placing her in a separate location where she cannot get to the boxes. She will still need plenty of food and water, but you need to prevent her from nesting. Keep in mind that removing the eggs from the box does not break broody behavior – she will keep returning until her broody periods ended.
Instead, move your hen and place her with the rest of the chickens in the pen. This is best done at feeding time. Make sure you wear gloves so that your hen cannot bite you, and keep an eye on her, as she will likely try to go back to the nest box. You may need to do this several times a day to help break her of the habit.
You also need to encourage her to roost again. Once it’s dark and the chickens are back, remove the broody hen from her nest and place her with her roosting comrades. Often, a hen will be too afraid to move in the dark back to the nesting box and will stay put.
Restrict Access to Nesting Areas
Consider blocking off your nesting box. A broody hen will usually return to the same nesting box time after time, so you will likely only need to block off the nest box she’s been continually returning to. Just nail a piece of plywood over the entrance and it should keep her out.
A similar tactic is to remove all nesting material from the nest boxes. If you have multiple laying hens, this might be difficult or impractical to do, but it’s something to consider. You can also restrict access to the coop altogether.
Isolate Your Hen
Worst case scenario, you may need to remove your hen from the coop entirely. To do this, you will need to put your hen in a wire cage, like a dog kennel. Make sure there is no bedding or other “nest-like” material in the cage. Ideally, it should have a wire floor. Most chicken advice will tell you not to house a chicken on a wire floor, as it can cause issues like bumblefoot. However, since you will only be doing this for a few days, you can get away with it.
Make sure there is absolutely nothing in the cage that can be viewed as nesting material – food and water only. Leave the hen in the cage for three days or until she lays an egg – whichever comes first.
Freeze Her Out
Another tip is to place a handful of ice cubes or frozen vegetables in the nest box. The hen will sit on them and find it so unpleasantly cold that she may decide to stop being broody.
Risks of a Broody Hen
Usually, there are no risks associated with allowing a hen to go broody. Give her time, and she will will eventually quit the behavior and get out to the nests.
However, there are some things to be concerned about if you have a hen that has gone broody.
She might never leave – Some hens truly don’t understand that there need to actually be fertilized eggs in order for them to hatch! It is not uncommon for a hen to go broody even when there are no fertilized eggs – or eggs at all! This can lead to a hen’s utter reluctance to leave the nest box – even though her eggs will never hatch.
She might abandon the eggs – some hens aren’t great natural mothers, and may decide halfway through their incubation period that they no longer want to hang out in the nest box. They will abandon the eggs or even chicks that have already hatched.
She might become a target for other birds – Other hens who want to lay in the broody hen’s nest box may grow annoyed with her, subjecting her to pecking. This pecking behavior can cause broken eggs, injury, and even death if left unattended.
She might be more vulnerable to parasites and mites – Broody hens are more likely to contract mites and other parasites, because they won’t be out in the yard, dust-bathing and exposing themselves to natural insecticides. You can use herb sin the nest box to help alleviate this, but if you have a hen that doesn’t necessarily need to be broody, you should break her from this habit immediately.
Has Your Hen Gone Broody?
Whether you’re dealing with a hen who has gone broody and successfully hatched her own chicks, or one who consistently (and frustratingly!) goes broody even without anything to sit on, know that you are not alone in dealing with your situation. Broody hens are not uncommon, and with a little bit of practice and familiarity with how to best deal with them, you can easily deal with a broody hen in your backyard flock.