Your hen is squawking whenever you approach her and she won’t leave her nesting box, what’s wrong, is she ill? Far from it and chances are she is just broody and wants chicks. If you aren’t planning on having chicks this can be problematic because the hen in question will stop laying eggs.
Whatever the case, you can be certain that if you want chicks and need a broody hen there won’t be one in sight, however the day you don’t want a broody hen is the day you get one!
Certain breeds of chicken are more likely to turn broody, read our guide on chicken breeds if you want to know more about this.
Let’s take a look at how to spot a broody hen and want you can do to stop her being broody.
What Is a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is a hen which wants their eggs to hatch. She will sit on top of her eggs (and others which she’s stolen) all day long in attempt to hatch them. Clearly, if there is no rooster involved then the eggs won’t be fertile and she can sit on top of the eggs for the rest of her life but they still won’t hatch!
There is no exact science to exactly what makes a hen go broody- it’s a combination of their hormones, instinct and maturity.
If you’ve never seen a broody hen before you might be wondering, how do you know if a hen is broody or not? Believe us, once you’ve seen the signs you will be under no illusion about having a broody hen.
- She will stay in her nest all day- and we mean all day, she won’t even go back to roost with the rest of the chickens at night.
- She will normally become very territorial over her nest- this includes puffing her feathers out and squawking at anything that tries to get near her.
- She will peck and try to bite you if you try to move here so make sure to wear gloves if you do need to move her.
- She may also pick out her breast feathers so the heat from her body is passed through to the eggs.
If you want to raise chicks then having a broody hen is perfect- they’re natures best incubator after all. However, if you don’t want chicks then having a broody hen is problematic. Not only will your broody hen stop laying, but worst of all she can cause other hens to also turn broody- say goodbye to your egg production!
You can leave her to ‘brood’ and after 21 days (which is when chicks would hatch if the eggs were fertile) she should snap out of it, however in our experience they won’t and they need to be ‘broken’.
So how do you break a hen out of her broodiness?
How to Stop a Broody Hen?
The best way to stop a broody hen is for it to have never happened in the first place and there are several things you can do to reduce the chances of your hens turning broody.
The first thing to do is remove the eggs out of the nesting box as soon as they’ve been laid. Secondly, don’t allow the hens into the nesting box after they have laid their eggs that day. Now unless you are around your girls 24/7 both of these options are not very practical and you will probably find yourself with a broody hen at some point- so what do you do?
Well you have lots of options and you can break her broodiness without doing any emotional damage to her so don’t worry! Let’s look at some of the easier options which should work in most cases.
- Remove her for the nesting box
Pick the broody hen up out of her nest and drop her off with the rest of the chickens in the pen. You can do this the same time as you’re feeding them for maximum effect. Also as we previously noted, broody hens can bite so make sure to wear gloves when you’re doing this. Keep an eye on the hen because she might go straight back to the nest box. Repeat this step several times each day to try and ‘break’ her.
- Block off the nesting box
If she keeps returning to the nesting box after several days, it’s time to up the ante. Remove her from the nesting box, like you’ve already been doing, except once she’s out block the specific nesting box she’s staying in- just nail a piece of wood to the entrance. Also remove the nesting straw out of the box to further dampen her spirits just in case she does break back in!
- Make her roost again
If she’s still broody you have one stubborn girl but don’t worry, we still have some more tricks up our sleeves. Just as its going dark and your hens are going back to the coop to roost, take your broody hen from her nest and place her with the other chickens roosting. Chances are she won’t be brave enough to risk moving in the dark back to the nesting box.
- Use frozen vegetables
At this point we’ve always managed to break our hen’s broodiness however, other backyard chicken owners haven’t been this fortunate so what else can you do? I’ve heard several people have placed a bag of frozen vegetables underneath their hen. They do this because when a hen is broody their body temperature rises so reducing it (with the frozen vegetables) will sometimes send a message to their brain that they aren’t broody anymore.
- Bring out the ‘Broody Buster’
Surely at this point your hen isn’t broody anymore? If she is, there is one option left- the broody cage! Don’t worry its less dramatic than it sounds…
For this you will need a cage with a wire bottom to it. You can use a dog/cat carrier and cut the bottom out and replace it with chicken wire. Make sure the cage doesn’t have anything in there except food and water- this means no bedding.
Place the cage on a raised base with either blocks or pieces of wood and then put the hen in here for around 3 days (if she lays an egg before this, let her out as she isn’t broody anymore).
Also make sure to keep the cage somewhere with lots of natural daylight.
After three days let the hen out and watch her, see if she goes back to the nesting box or if she socialises with the rest of the flock. If she socialises well done, you’ve broken her broodiness, if not, place her back in the cage for another 3 days.
We have never used this method though, we would rather our hens stay broody than place them in a cage but it’s a personal choice.
When Do Hens Go Broody?
It’s hard to say exactly when a hen will go broody and you certainly can never predict it and you also can’t make a hen go broody. It’s a combination of their hormones, instinct and maturity. One thing to note is you almost certainly won’t see a young hen going broody during their first laying season.
However with all this being said, your hens are most likely to go broody in the spring as they need the warm weather to raise chicks- it’s quite rare for hens to go broody during very cold winter weather.
Another important note to make is certain breeds are much more likely to turn broody than others. Quite a few hens just don’t get broody and a great example of this is hybrid hens. They almost never turn broody because they have had this instinct bred out of them. However other breeds such as Cochins, Buff Orpingtons and Silkies can get broody multiple times each year!
As you can imagine, hens which don’t often go broody can change their mind halfway through and will leave the nest- clearly if you want chicks this isn’t ideal so bear this in mind when selecting the breed of chicken you’d like.
How Long Will Your Hen Stay Broody?
Left unattended your hen will normally stay broody for around 21 days (this is how long eggs take to hatch if they were fertile). After 21 days she should stop however sometimes she won’t and she will need ‘breaking’ using the methods outlined above.
However, if you use the ‘breaking’ methods above your hen should only stay broody for a few days.
Once they return to normal the egg laying should start again within several days, however sometimes it can be up to a month before she starts laying routinely again (when she does make sure to read about storing your chickens’ fresh eggs). If you don’t want chicks then we’d recommending trying to break your hen’s broodiness straight away. Don’t let her brood for the full 21 day cycle…
If you do let her brood make sure to check her condition as she won’t be moving around or taking dust baths so she might get mites or lice. Also force her to eat and have water at least once a day.
Have you had experiences of dealing with broody chickens? How did you stop their broodiness?