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 let’s 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.
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 an ‘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.
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.
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!
7. Give Her Fertile Eggs
If you aren’t in need of her eggs for the breakfast table, consider humoring your motherly hen by giving her a clutch of fertilized eggs to sit on.
If you add a few chicks each year anyway, this will cut down on shipping and chick costs because you’re letting your broody hatch some babes of her own (kind of). A broody hen is a very dedicated mother, and she will sit on those eggs until they hatch, and once they do, she’ll fulfill her need to mother some chicks of her own.
If you don’t have a rooster, ask friends, neighbors, or put an ad out for a few hatching eggs. A broody hen can be broken of her broodiness through any of the methods on this list, but a natural way to do it is to give her some foster eggs to care for.
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’…
Read Are You Prepared For Chicken Trouble? How to Create a Backup Plan