6 Easy Ways to Break a Broody Hen

6 Easy Ways to Break a Broody Hen Blog Cover

I have to smile at this article since I currently have two hens that are determined to be broody!

Fortunately for us Northern chicken keepers, broodiness is pretty much confined to the summer months.

Broody hens can mean trouble for your flock and egg supply! To make matters worse, broodiness can often spread throughout your flock, so you need to ‘break’ broody hens as quickly as possible.

So lets get straight to giving you some tips and tricks which can deter a hen from being broody.

What is a Broody Chicken?

A ‘broody’ hen is a hen that wants to hatch its own eggs.

This can be caused simply by your hen getting older and maturing, or simply by the days getting longer- the increasing length of the day encourages the body to release prolactin (hormone) from the pituitary gland of the hen.

The combination of the prolactin and sunlight make her broody and she will sit on the recent eggs she has laid. She will also likely steal other hens’ eggs to make a ‘clutch’ of eggs.

Broody Hen
A broody hen will sit on their eggs all day

Some breeds are more prone to broodiness than others, notably: Cochins, Silkies and Orpingtons.

How Do I Know If My Hen Is Broody?

Usually a broody hen will start by making a nest in a quiet, dark spot and will spend all of her time there. She will start carrying bits of straw and feathers to line the nest and she will even pluck her own feathers from her breast to keep her eggs warm.

They will develop ‘attitude’, growling and grumbling at you even if you just look at her! She may even give you a nasty peck if you try to move her.

She will fluff up her feathers to make herself look bigger and more threatening, her tail feathers will fan out like a turkey display- she does looks quite fierce like this.

They leave the nest perhaps a couple of times a day to eat, drink and poop. She takes little in the way of nourishment, so is likely to lose weight. Her normal poop will become large, infrequent and very foul smelling. Her feathers will lose some of the usual sheen.

Broody Buff Orpington

You will also notice that when she gets out of the nest to eat or drink, she will be insistently clucking, as if to let everyone know to keep out of her way!

Why ‘break’ a Broody Chicken?

If her eggs are unfertilized, or she is sitting on ‘invisible’ eggs, she needs to be broken. She will sit until something hatches- which clearly isn’t going to happen!

This prolonged period of brooding takes a lot of out of the hen. She is not eating well, only drinking a couple of times a day and is pooping infrequently. This is not good for her in the long term.

In extreme cases a hen can starve herself to death.

It has been said that broodiness is contagious- one starts and others will follow! This means fewer eggs for you for the next eight weeks or so.

How Can I Stop A Broody Hen?

There are several different methods you can use to ‘break’ a broody hen- they range from mild to ‘chicken jail’ for as long as needed.

1. Removal

The first step is to keep removing her from the nest. Lift her up and plonk her in the yard with the rest of the hens. Offer her treats to stay outside. You may need to wear gloves if she pecks at you.

Putting her under your arm and walking around outside for a while has worked in some cases.

You may have to do this several times a day- it really is a contest of will on your behalf against hormones on hers!

If you try this for a couple of days and are getting frustrated move along to stage 2: closing the nest.

2. Closing down the Nest Area

This means exactly that. The area or nest box that she has chosen needs to be firmly closed for the time being.

She will try her hardest to re-open the nest, but if she can’t she may decide to not be broody anymore.

If it happens you have more than one broody they will ‘steal’ someone else’s nest, so be prepared to shut down several nests at once.

3. Frozen Water Bottle and Cold Dips

I haven’t tried this one yet- luckily I’ve broken mine quickly!

For this step you need to place a cold or frozen water bottle under her while she is sitting. It is thought that the cold will ‘switch off’ the need to brood.

If you don’t have a frozen water bottle then a cool bath (undersides only) works on the same principle.

Note: Please don’t do either of these methods if it is cold outside. A warm sunny day is best.

4. Remove all Nesting Material

If you have a large flock, this may be totally impractical to do, but if you only have a couple of hens it will be much easier.

By removing the nesting material you will deprive her of a suitable space for a nest and chances are she will give up on nesting.

5. Stop Access to the Coop

This step is slightly more extreme than just closing the nesting box. It involves closing your entire coop up- including the nesting boxes.

This could be problematic if you have other hens that need access or she has a nesting site outside the coop- its normally only used when all your hens are broody at the same time.

6. Send Them to Chicken Jail

Also known as ‘the cage’ or solitary confinement!

This consists of a wire cage or pet travel box. It will need to be very sturdy to hold the hen. You are going to place her inside the cage with food and water only- no bedding.

The cage is then suspended from the ceiling with the hen inside. The idea is to make it uncomfortable and drafty to the undersides of the hen to discourage her brooding.

The amount of time needed to ‘break’ the hen will depend upon how determined she is. Check her daily by removing her from the cage. If she returns to a nesting box- back to jail she goes!

Summary

It can be very difficult to break some hens. If you have a particularly determined hen that resists all your efforts to stop her, the only solution may be to give her some fertile eggs so she can hatch them.

My two broodies are both Rhode Island Reds- not known for broodiness at all!

Since I currently have eggs in the incubator, I have taken some out and put them under the Mama Hen. If she hatches them, both she and I will be happy. There really is no comparison between an incubator and a Mama Hen.

A good Mother Hen takes out much of the work involved with hatching and rearing and is fascinating to watch.

Do you have any tips to share with us in the comments section below? We would love to know what you do to ‘break a broody’…



Comments

  1. mary o mara says

    Hi I had 4 broody Buff Orps I placed them in a secure run 8ft long sitting on a pallet to allow air underneath, food and water,left them out over night for 3 nights. Put them back with the flock, and Bingo they are back to normal again a great result.

  2. Jenna George says

    So I put the frozen pack of veggies with my brooding chicken, but this was while she was out of the coop. All weekend she seemed to be out and about much more leaving the egg from the other chicken alone.
    Could this mean her brooding is over, and she’ll start producing again? ( She started brooding mid-May!!! I didn’t know I could do the above things in the article until this past Friday.)

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Jenna,

      It certainly sounds like it yes- the frozen veggies is normally very effective 🙂

      Well done!

      Claire

  3. Jane says

    Hi, we have a silkie bantham who is among two cockerels and three other females. She has taken to her nesting box ( one of four inside the main chicken go house where they all sleep together.) she stayed in for days and didn’t eat or drink so we took her and her single egg out to a quiet shelter in the stable (we’d love a chick!)? But she abandoned it (too cold?) and headed straight back to her nesting box to sit on a new single egg we think. What shall we do?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Jane,

      Bantam hens are notorious for going broody and then not completing the ‘cycle’! If you do want her to hatch a chick I would suggest leaving her be, when she starts brooding on a clutch of eggs 🙂

      Claire

      • Jane says

        Thanks Claire,
        Do Banthams ever lay more than one egg at a time? before the broodiness we only got a single egg a day (if we were lucky!)
        Also, because of the rarity of eggs, we were considering getting some more hens, (maybe another better laying breed? )would the established Banham’s get along with newcomers do you think? We have a big free range farm and could extend the sleeping arrangements!

        • The Happy Chicken Coop says

          Not a problem Jane.

          Yes they can do but it’s very rare. An egg a day is the most any hen lays 🙂

          You can get a better laying breed, I would just make sure to go for a tame breed who aren’t possessive. The last thing you want is larger aggressive hens bullying your bantams!

          Claire

  4. Kerri Kovacich says

    My spelling was very bad in my comment so here’s the corrected version.

    I have 8 hes and one of them is a spectacular Rhodesian Red. I have placed her in a wire cage, no bedding and her food and water right there with her. Her isolation caused an upset with her sisters and they sat around her cage in support of her. Tonight was the end of her third dayso I released her from isoation and will watch her behaviour and if shereverts back to being broody she will have another tour of duty in the isoation cage. I hope it has worked.

  5. Miriam says

    Help!
    I’ve kept chicken for over 25 years, mostly bantam, phoenix & Silkies. Occasionally I let them hatch a few eggs, but generally I break them when they go brood by putting them “in jail”. This usually takes between 2 to 5 days.
    Well here’s my problem: My young Silkie went broody a couple of weeks ago for the first time. As always I put her into the cage on the grid, but unlike the other hens she went broody there too! After a few days I let her out, she ran around like a mad hen around the garden, scratched & ate, made a large greenish poo & I thought that was it, but no, back she went into the coup to brood! So back she went into the cage. I have tried this a few times since, but she still broods in jail & has stopped pooing or eating. The cage is in a place in the garden where she can see the other poultry, but not the coup.
    I fear for her health I think she might kill herself, she is pretty thin by now & her croup is empty.
    I’ve run out of ideas, it is winter, so no cold baths or ice bottles will do.
    Any ideas??

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Miriam,

      The most important thing is to keep her healthy. So make sure she is getting plenty of water and feed. Green poo is a sign she is dehydrated.

      When she is re-hydrated and fed you can continue to cage her but the priority is getting food and water to her.

      Claire

  6. Jon wood says

    I have a broody silkie who been like this for nearly 12 weeks I’ve tried every thing I can to stop her but she is determined . Her beak is getting long now and hooked and she is getting really nasty with the others. I donthink know what else to do with her. She was broody mostrich of last summer.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Jon,

      Make sure to read our other Broody article where we talk about a few more techniques you can use- I’m sure there will be something in there you haven’t tried yet!

      Claire

  7. Pugsly says

    You can also try buying a couple of chicks and place with the hen who won’t stop the broody behavior. Let her be a happy chicken mom!

  8. Abby says

    Great article! Im so thankful when those who know WAY more than me take the time to share their knowledge and experience. I’m looking for some help with my broody blue laced red wyandotte Hilda. The past several days I’ve tried to break her using the tips above. Yesterday I finally put her in solitary but toward the evening she flipped out and started flapping to the point where I was concerned she’d injure herself so I let her sleep with the gals. I put her back in solitary this morning and tonight I’ve brought her cage and set it outside the back door on the back porch- put a blanket over her and left the light on. She’s a city chicken- so predators are unlikely- I’m just not sure if this is the best way to make her feel secure at night or how I could prevent injuries if she starts “flapping out” again! I’m also concerned because she seems resigned to just nest where she is at. I haven’t tried the fan- I’ll go pick one up tomorrow. Is there something I’m missing or am I doing something counterproductive like leaving the light on? it was my husband’s idea but since we also use artificial lights in the winter for egg production it might not be the way to go! Thank you!!

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Abby,

      Happy to help.

      I wouldn’t leave the light on 24/7 as this will cause her stress. Instead you can continue to keep the light on but make sure to follow the same lighting schedule as the main coop 🙂

      Claire

  9. Sandi says

    I have been thinking about adding more chickens to my brood of 3. One of the hens has been broody for almost a month. They are freeranged but if I leave the coop open the Buff Brahman, Honey, is back on her nest . Would it work if I added 2-3 babies for her to raise? Could that also eliminate the introduction time for new chicks. Or should I try the other methods to break the broody first.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Sandi,

      This can break her broodiness but only if she accepts the chicks as her own. This is the tricky part.

      Claire

  10. Sarah says

    Hi Everyone, just a short tip on hatching the type of chicks you want, and without roosters!:

    First diligently remove daily on a setting hen the eggs, and replace with 3-4 golf balls.

    Let her set the nest for about a month where you want her to raise her chicks for a week or 2, before she re-joins the flock with her chicks

    Then go pick the chicks up at your feed store, and put them under her that night, and remove all but one G.ball…

    She will continue to set for a couple more days, talking to her chicks, but then will bring the chicks out.

    DO NOT move her or do ANYTHING different but slip the chicks under her and leave! Good Luck

  11. Logan says

    I have a buff Orpington hen that has been broody for a week and a half,I have been removing her from the nesting box twice a day and she just keeps running right back to the box, I have tried chicken jail and it didn’t work any suggestions?

  12. Phylanena says

    Hi I’ve been reading all the great comments. I’ve a broody hen, she started being broody in the last 2 days. We have 3 hens in total and 2 nest boxes and she’s using the same nest box all the time. We have moved her out a few times but still goes back so I think I will try the frozen water bottle to see if that works – unless someone has any other brilliant ideas. Thank you

  13. Andrea Lightfoot says

    Hi Claire,

    Great article!
    We’ve only been keeping chickens for the last 6 weeks and deliberately chose hybrids as they are less likely to be broody.
    After 14 days of laying from our Rhode Rock she has gone broody this morning! She’s only about 23 weeks old. We always remove eggs as soon as possible and I thought it was weird Renee was still on the nest this morning after 3 hours. I even noticed Gertie our Pied Ranger who has only just started laying was in the nest with her.
    I decided to put my gauntlets on and see why – she hissed and pecked at me and I found she was sitting on her own egg from this morning as well as Gertie’s.
    I’ve removed the eggs and got her off the nest with some bribery in the form of mealworms. I’ve now blocked off her favourite nest box and will wait and see what happens over the next couple of days. Fingers crossed!
    I thought it was odd she has stopped wanting to free range with the others. I’ll keep you posted on her. Thanks again though for the article and all the ideas.

    Andrea

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      That’s always the way isn’t Andrea!

      Best of luck and let me know how they get on,

      Claire

  14. Diane werich says

    I have a breed of chickens..red star sex links, that are not supposed to be broody and have not been up until now. I have one that has been broody for 2 weeks. I put her in jail after trying to get her off nest. She eats and drinks in jail but every time I let her out she goes back to nest. I have a fan but it has been hot. Going to try the frozen pack. Any other ideas.

  15. linda says

    I put mine in “jail ” for exactly 5 days. until the 5th day, she makes her clucking..broody sound. at the 5th day, she is calm and not clucking

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