Has your supply of fresh eggs from your backyard flock of hens dwindled?
Broodiness may be the culprit – and there are plenty of reasons why you should “break” a broody hen.
What Does “Broody” Mean?
“Broody” simply means that your hen has decided she wants to hatch her own eggs. It is a natural mothering instinct, and some chicken breeds are much more inclined to go broody than others. These include Orpingtons, Silkies, Plymouth Rocks, Brahmas, and Cochins. Some chickens will go broody every year, but for others, it won’t ever happen.
Several factors can cause a hen to go broody. They include:
- Maturity – older hens are more likely to become broody. The urge switches on between five and eight months of age.
- Summer – the longer days of this season, and more natural light, lead to broodiness.
- Hormones – the hen’s pituitary gland to releases prolactin. Prolactin plus sunlight equals broodiness.
A broody hen will have the urge to sit on recent eggs she’s laid, and work towards creating a clutch of around a dozen eggs to incubate. She will also, in many cases, steal the eggs other hens have laid to help generate her clutch as quickly as possible.
Signs a Hen is Broody:
- The hen actively makes a nest where she spends most of her time. It will be in a dark, safe, quiet spot.
- She will line her nest with items she has collected – straw, feathers, etc – and she may even pluck out her own soft breast feathers to line her nest.
- She will sit on the nest constantly, spread out as flat as she can. She will not be happy to see her human family members or other hens.
- If approached, she will fluff up her feathers and fan out her tail feathers. This is to make herself look bigger, fiercer, and more threatening.
- She will grumble and growl if you go near her nest. If you try to move her or take her eggs, she is likely to peck you away.
- Once her clutch has been achieved, she will stop laying altogether.
- She will leave the nest rarely, and only to eat, drink, and go to the toilet. She will cluck loudly while she is away from her nest.
- She will lose some weight, her feathers will lose some of their sheen, and she will become constipated. Her feces will be larger, less frequent, and smellier.
A broody hen will spend the entire day sitting on her eggs, keeping them warm and safe. She will do this regardless of whether or not they are fertile. Even a hen who has never been in the company of a rooster can become broody. In some cases, a broody hen may even spend her time sitting on, and working to hatch, imaginary eggs!
Why Break a Hen from Being Broody?
Broodiness can be a problem for your flock – and when one hen becomes broody, it may spread to your other hens – which is very bad news for your egg supply.
Even a broody hen sitting on imaginary eggs will not realize her mistake. She’ll just sit, no longer laying, refusing to eat or drink, putting the needs of her potential babies ahead of her own, for as long as it takes for them to hatch.
An uninterrupted broody hen will usually remain so for three weeks (this is the time it takes to hatch a clutch of fertilized eggs). But some will continue in vain.
Any hen who is sitting on unfertilized eggs must be broken from her broodiness. Otherwise, she will keep sitting on the eggs until they hatch – and this will never happen! Prolonged brooding is exhausting for the hen – and she may become malnourished or even starve herself to death. She will also be more susceptible to illness and infection, lice and mites, and other parasites. She will stop dust bathing and may be vulnerable to heat exhaustion.
When one hen in a flock is broody, it can spread to other hens – not only making your work to break it harder, but also compromising your egg supply for several weeks.
How to Stop a Hen Being Broody
- Wear gloves to protect your hands when handling a broody hen.
- Remove the hen from her nest and put her in the yard with the other hens. Entice her to remain there with treats.
- Hold her under your arm and walk around outside the coop and away from the nest for a while. You may need to do this several times a day for a few days.
- If the above fails, block access to the nest. You may need to shut off several nesting boxes at the same time, as an enthusiastically broody hen may steal other hens’ nests.
- Remove the nesting material.
- In extreme cases of broodiness, place a frozen water bottle underneath her as she is sitting. This may deter her need to brood. You may, alternatively, dip her in a cool bath (but only on her underside and only on a warm, sunny day).
- If an entire flock is broody, close up the entire coop for a short period. You need to ensure, however, that your hens are safe.
- If all else fails, the only solution is “chicken jail”. This means solitary confinement in a sturdy cage or pet travel box. She will be in there with only food and water, no bedding allowed at all. Locate the cage safely and up high or suspend it from the ceiling. This is draughty and unpleasant and hopefully, her urge to brood will be broken. This process may take some time – each day, release her from the cage – if she makes straight for a nesting box, she needs more time in solitary confinement!
If you don’t desperately need eggs for your kitchen or to sell, you can humor a broody hen by giving her some fertile eggs to sit on and ultimately hatch. This is nature’s solution to broodiness! She will love this – and most broody hens make wonderful mothers. Once she has hatched her “own” chicks and can mother them herself, she will start laying again. Even better, you can add a few gorgeous little chicks to your flock.