So you’ve got a broody hen. My hen, Anne-Marie, has been on and off broody since moving. If you keep chickens, chances are, at some point, you will encounter an angry lady, just like my Anne-Marie. A broody hen is great, a godsend actually, if you are looking to increase your flock and you have fertile eggs. But what if you don’t? Then it’s time to break that broody!
What is a broody hen?
Normally, chickens just go about their day, lay a quick egg, sing a song, then go back to scratching around. But a broody hen is different. Broody is when a hen gets in the mindset that she wants to be a mother, and wants to hatch our a clutch of eggs. So she hunkers down in the nesting box, screaming (or, squawking) “babies or bust!”.
How to tell if a Hen is broody?
You can tell. She will be in the nesting box. All. The. Time. When a hen is laying her normal egg and you disturb her, she will fly off, squawking in surprise. A broody hen, however, stands her ground. She is mad as hell and will literally scream at you. She also gets puffy, and low to the ground. She’s protecting those eggs under her, and there is nothing you can do about it. 99% of the times I’ve been bitten by a chicken has been because she’s broody.
Going broody is an actual physical reaction in the hen, and her underside will raise in temperature. This signals her time for her to go sit. What triggers the change, I don’t know. Do you? Leave me a comment and let me know! Perhaps this is like the human women’s equivalent of a women’s biological ticking down and just happens, one day. And it can happen over and over. But, like humans, not all hens get the urge to raise young.
Why, or Why Not, You Want to Break Broody
Broody can be great if you want to hatch chicks. Having a hen raise babies is WAY easier than dealing with heat lamps, brooder boxes, and all that nonsense. Because the chicks grow up with the mom and the flock, they are automatically integrated, something that can be near impossible to do if you introduce chicks as pullets later on.
However, if you aren’t going to increase your flock, or if you don’t have fertile eggs for your wanna-be-mama to hatch, you should probably break her of her broodiness.
There are two main reasons why you would want to break a hen of broody. One, they stop laying. Sometimes for months. If you are keeping chickens for eggs, a broody hen is not your friend. Sometimes, the baby hatching craze spreads from hen to hen, and suddenly, you have a handful of your best layers refusing to get off a nest, and refusing to produce you a butt nugget.
Second, being broody takes a lot out of a hen. For her health, if you aren’t going to hatch eggs, it’s best to break her. During her broody time, she sometimes will lose up to half her body weight. She rarely gets up to eat or drink. She will also pick out her feathers to line her nest and to make her warm underside easier to access by her chicks.
5 Ways to Break a Broody Hen
1. Do nothing.
Some hens aren’t very committed mothers, and after a few days of sitting in a dark box by herself, watching her chicken friends devour snails and lettuce, she says f this and rejoins the flock. This is what my Anne-Marie is doing. But if your hen keeps sitting after 3-4 days, it’s best to move onto step two.
2. Keep throwing them off the nest.
Sometimes, those uncommitted mothers just need a push to be uncommitted. By moving them out of the nesting box, they suddenly remember “hey! out here is much better!” and move on with their life. This has never actually worked for me, but it’s worth a shot. Just be careful to not get pecked on the broody-chicken-removal mission.
3. Put frozen water bottles under them.
Because the hen’s body has risen in temperature, the goal is to cool it back down to normal chicken temp. By putting ice cold objects under her, that can literally, cool her off, and kill the desire to sit. This has not worked for me, perhaps due to my lack of consistency, but I have heard it of working wonders for others.
4. Put your broody bird in a broody-breaking-isolation chamber.
Sounds awful, I know. This is the ONLY reliable method that has worked for me. Get an enclosed dog kennel, or some other kinda other crate, and set in your chicken run. You want her to be with her flock still, but not have access to the nesting box. Raise it off the ground so air can circulate under it. Put your broody hen in the create, along with some food and water, and let her be. She’s going to be pissed, and will likely storm about the crate, so to avoid having to refill the water a gazillion times, anchor it down.
Don’t give her a nesting box, and she will be forced to sit on the wire crate floor, and be cooled by the air flow from under her. Don’t cover the create or do anything to create a nice cozy environment (but obviously, make sure she has shade!). Leave her in this broody breaking isolation chamber for as long as needed. For me, it usually takes 3 days. You’ll know she’s ‘broken’ when she starts acting like a normal chicken.
Just a note: if you don’t have fertile eggs, but want chicks, know that you can replace the non-fertile ones she’s sitting on with fertile eggs, and she will be happy to hatch them. I let my Mama Bird in Santa Rosa hatch out 4 clutches doing that.
What has your experience been with breaking broody hens? Any techniques that I missed?