Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So You've Got a Broody Hen - How to Break Broodiness in Chickens


A broody hen can be a godsend if you are trying to hatch chicks.  No worries about incubators, brooder boxes or heat lamps...the hen will take care of it all.  


However, if none of your eggs are fertile, or you aren't interested in hatching any chicks, a broody hen is not something you want.  Not only do broody hens stop laying eggs and pluck out their breast feathers, they only leave the nest for short periods of time to eat and drink a bit (but not nearly as much as they really need, resulting in weight loss and possible malnutrition), they also make it difficult for the other hens to lay their eggs by hogging the nest. 

Other hens may start pecking at the broody trying to get her to leave the nest, which can not only injure her, but lead to cannibalism.  Also, she might be bullied once she returns to the flock since she has been absent for several weeks.  Normally, the peeps of the hatching chicks signal to a broody that she is done sitting - but clearly if eggs never hatch under her, she never gets that signal to stop, so you need to 'encourage' her or 'break' her.

   
Broodiness is also 'contagious' to some extent and one broody can induce others to go broody.  I guess kind of like women who work or live together who's menstrual cycles start to coincide with each other. Hormones can be tricky like that!

Broody hens also have a greater chance at contracting mites and other parasites, although using herbs in the nesting boxes can alleviate the parasite concern to a great extent.  Bottom line, tho, it is far healthier for a hen to be out 'being a chicken', scratching for bugs, dust bathing, and socializing with the others than sitting on an empty nest.

In the past several days it seems that Annie, one of our australorps, has gone broody.  Although the broodiness has for the most part been bred out of today's breeds, some breeds tend more towards broodiness, including Buffs, Cochins, Australorps, Partridge Rocks, Buff Rocks, Speckled Sussex, Dark Cornish, Columbian Wyandottes, Light Brahmas as well as Silkies.  

My first clue was that every time I went to collect eggs, she was sitting on a nest. 


When I opened the box, she puffed up and growled at me.  She also clucked a deep, throaty cluck (that is the 'voice' she will use to call her chicks). Some broodies will also peck at your hand when you try and take the eggs, so a pair of gloves is a must.   

The next clue was the black feathers I found in one of the nesting boxes with some eggs on one of the rare occasions when she wasn't sitting. 

A broody hen will literally 'feather the nest' and start pulling out her breast feathers and depositing them in the nesting box. She does this both to cushion the eggs and because her bare skin will keep the eggs (and  chicks once they hatch) warmer being right up next to her.  Sure enough, Annie has plucked her breast nearly clean. 

The Verdict: Annie is broody.

Once you have had one broody hen, you will immediately recognize when the next one goes broody.  The signs are pretty unmistakable.

Here's a short video clip of our broody bantam Chocolate Orpington trying to return to the coop despite my best efforts to get her to give up:


Alas, our eggs are not fertile, and although I would like to try hatching eggs someday, I'm not ready quite yet, so Annie needs to be broken of her broodiness.  If a hen isn't sitting on fertile eggs, it's not healthy for her to sit all day in the dark nesting box, although that is what her maternal hormones are telling her to do.

But she needs to be outside getting exercise and fresh air, and 'being a chicken'. Also, a broody hen will stop laying eggs when she goes broody, and won't start up again, possibly for several months - the 21 days it takes for eggs to hatch plus the time she would spend caring for her new chicks - so it's in BOTH your best interests to break them as quickly as possible.


The key to breaking a broody hen is to cool under her abdomen and vent area. It is the elevated temperature in part that signals to her hormones to sit.  Here's are some suggestions to break a broody hen:

- Collect the eggs as quickly as possible from her her, as many times a day as possible

- Remove the broody hen from the nest and deposit her at the far end of the run, preferably where you have scattered treats to distract her, as many times a day as you can

- Block the nest that she has chosen to sit in

-Put a frozen water bottle in the nest

-As an alternative, take all the nesting material out of the box she has chosen. Most broodies have picked a specific nest and if you move them to another one, many will give up on setting. (alternatively if you are TRYING to hatch chicks, don't move the broody or the eggs until the chicks have hatched if possible)

- In extreme cases, close up the coop after the other hens have finished laying so she has no access
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 After a few days of this, I have found the broody hen starts getting really annoyed with me but realizes that I am more stubborn than she is - and besides it's a lot more fun to be outside with the others than sitting alone on an empty nesting box - and she gives up.


More drastic measures I have read but never tried include putting ice cubes under her or putting her in a raised metal cage or dog crate with no bedding for a few days with feed and water, but I have never had to go that far to dissuade a broody hen.  

Part of the reason a hen goes (and stays) broody is a warm vent, nature's way of timing most chicks to be born in the warm months - there's a reason you rarely have a broody hen in the winter - as well as an increase in hormones, so part of breaking her broodiness has to include cooling off her vent and abdomen area and getting air to circulate under her.

This time, it took three days for Annie to decide she was done trying to be more persistent than I am.
Sorry Annie, maybe someday...


If you want to try hatching some eggs under a broody...read HERE.
For tips on encouraging a broody hen read HERE.




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34 comments:

  1. Aw...they do get so angry with us!!! COL

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  2. Thanks for this article. Very interesting.

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  3. Chicken fight!! My Polish aren't broody, yet. I've heard they aren't much on motherhood. However, one day I may need this info. ;)

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  4. So far only my Buffs and Lorps have been broody. None of the other breeds show any interest at all in sitting on eggs.

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  5. Thx for the article.......being a newbie I will tuck all this info in my back pocket just in case.

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  6. i have 2 broody pekin hens that are sitting but i have to take them off as i think it's a bit too early for them..knowing my luck it will probably snow if some hatched in feb..

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  7. My Sumatra's go broody all of the time. 14 broody Sumatra's last year. Last year there were only 10 adult Sumatra's. That's right, 3 went broody twice, 1 went broody 3 times. They raised lots of healthy happy chicks.

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  8. My girls are too young to be broody yet, but since I have Orpingtons, and they tend to be excellent at going broody, I am expecting this spring and summer to be interesting. They will be one in April. I was planning to use the raised metal cage method, but after reading this, I may try your method first! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. I have buffs and australorps and they're pretty stubborn (broody) but I have never had to cage one. The furthest I've had to go is shutting up the coop once everyone else seems to be done laying (I have nesting baskets outside for them anyway if they need). The broody will pace (stomp) up and down in front of the door, but it does break her.

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  9. This was very interesting. I have only had one hen go broody, and she hatched one chick.

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  10. My Ameraucana went broody last year and i finally broke her of it. And now I wish I hadnt done so. There is a whole clutch of eggs out there and no one to sit on them. I am still hoping any day now someone will do what they are supposed to.

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    1. Yes, if she was broody once she will be again..Sadly, or in your case, fortunately, it's not quite that easy to break a broody. If she has the genes, she will sit for you. Give her a bit of time. And leaving the eggs in the nest is the best way to encourage her.

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  11. I have a lot of cochins and I am headed for springtime insanity around here, lol. It will be a constant job just breaking the broodies. I have 2 right now, bantams that are hatching duck eggs. They are sisters from a previous hatch and had to even be broody together. They just have 2 eggs and one will take both eggs while the other eats/drinks then they trade and will each end up with 1 egg under them. One of which is quite vicious, she attacks my gloves and rips and tears, lol. Thanks for the great tips, I am sure I will be needing them!

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  13. I have two Speckled Sussex I have to throw out of the henhouse daily. These are seriously determined girls; I've never seen broody like the first one in particular. She'll set on nothing all day and all night and neither of the pair care if I move the nests -- they just park on different ones. They're driving me nuts! I'm trying to figure out if I can lock them out but that makes life difficult for the other hens. Maybe I'll put them in a dog crate and stick them in the hay shed for a few days. That'll learn 'em! (Or ... maybe not)

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    1. That's a NOT for my Silkies. They are driving ME nuts, too. 5 of them already hatched 2 to 5 peeps each of anyone's eggs that were in their nests. NOW they have been trying to sit again on everyone's eggs and will not leave the nests. Moved 5 of them to outside rabbit pen for a week or so at a time. They are NOT giving up !

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  14. They are so determined! I appreciate your tips and will give it a shot. We have some insistent ladies so we shall see...

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  15. Thanks for the tip. I had three hens raise chicks this year because I let them keep some of the eggs. We just got rid of our rooster so none of the new eggs will be fertile.

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  16. Love this article. In fact we have a broody girl named Alice, a black sexlink. We got some fertilized eggs from our neighbor and are letting her lay on them. She is a happy girl now. She wasn't having much luck hatching golf balls...ha!

    Thanks for your awesome blog.

    Diana

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  17. I had a game hen I found (flew into our back yard) who went broody last fall. She was also starting to molt so I decided to let her go ahead and sit on a nest full of eggs. I acquired some fertile eggs from a friend as I don't have a rooster either. She hatched out 3 pullets who became my replacement layers and 1 rooster which I sold. I live in a warm climate (California) so raising chicks through the winter was not a problem and she did all the work. (If someone needs fertile eggs, try your local farmer's market. Often times the free range eggs are fertile.)

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  18. I have hens that go broody fairly regularly (Australorps) but I am not home during the day to use your technique. What I have found to be really effictive is to put the hen in an old avery I have with a perch, food and water and my pet rabbit. The rabbit tends to go and investigate the hen if she "settles" anywhere on the floor to brood, this encourages her to sit on her perch rather then the floor. Generally she only spends two or three days there and that is eneough to break the cycle.

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    1. That's great ! The bunny broody method...hmm, I wonder if my husband would buy it that we need a bunny now ? We've got broody Australorps also.

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  19. Thank you for the advice! We have a broody hen who was sitting on her egg and our other chickens egg trying to hatch. I removed her from the nest but she seems mad and wants to go back in the run. I've separated her from our other chicken to allow her to lay eggs... Is that ok or will they both just be stressed out?

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    1. It's okay, but by moving her, you might have knocked her out of the broody mode. You'll have to see if she's still willing to sit on the eggs she lays over the next few days.

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  20. thanks!! my rhode island reds are about 8 months old.. 6 hens and 1 rooster.. the rooster has been with the girls for about 2 months and today I noticed feathers around one of the eggs... I take it from your article that one hen may be telling me something, but she left the nest and egg for several hours so I took the egg in... hoping soon to watch her sit and give me a few more chicks in the near future!!

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  21. I love my broody hen! It's so cute to see her wanting to hatch some eggs... but sad at the same time because they are infertile. I will hopefully get some fertile eggs soon..
    She has been sitting on there for four days straight (with the occasional food and water breaks) and when I go in there she will puff up, but not growl or squawk or try to peck me or whatever. She lets me take her off the nest, no worries. And she will even let me get the eggs from under her. Is she just extra docile/tame?

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  22. We finally broke our broody Auracauna after resorting to the wire cage method. Worked in two days. We tried moving her, collecting eggs, closing up the coop after the others had layed, etc... She was a stubborn one!
    Now she's been out and about with the other girls for the past couple days. I'm wondering when she'll start laying again? She was broody for about 2, maybe 3? weeks before we finally got a cage to put her in. Just looking forward to our blue eggs again. We only have two other layers, so we've really been missing her eggs!

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  23. Hi there. It depends. Based on how long they were broody. Only a few days, they should start laying right away, 2-3 weeks, she might take a bit of a break. Good job breaking her tho...

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  24. My hen is still laying but showing all the signs of being broody. I let her run aside her run. The moment I let her go in the coop she laid but not in her box up top. I closed it off. What should I do at night.. I closed the coop door and they are all in the run. Thank you for your time.

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  25. I have a white hen gone broody. It's December. What if she hatches a few, which I don't care but won't it be extremely cold for the chicks? Has anyone had a hen go broody in December? In VA so we have fairly cold weather.

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    1. I'm in VA too and while I don't like having little ones in the winter, the hen will keep them warm - if you set them up in a large cage or dog crate inside your coop so they can get used to the other hens but be safe from them and from predators ... it should be fine.

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  26. Had not heard of the heat being a factor in broodiness. Will definitely try some cooling techniques on out Indian Game (AKA 'Cornish'/'Cornish Game' to Americans) hen. She goes broody without fail once a year in the summer, sometimes for MORE time than it would take to hatch eggs, even if we collect them, throw her off the nest, cage her etc etc.
    She would make a fierce mother too, so one day I hope to let her hatch a few chicks. If anyone WANTS a great hatcher/mother Indian Game would be it! Just don't expect her to lay the eggs.

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  27. So You've Got a Broody Hen - How to Break Broodiness in Chicken
    Great
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