From time to time hens will go broody and will be adamant on sitting in the nest box on unfertilised eggs. It is more common for hens to go broody in the summer months, but it can happen at any time of the year. It isn’t known exactly why hens go broody but it is thought that in some hens the maternal instinct is strong which causes them to try and hatch eggs, irrelevant of if they are fertilised or not. Some breeds are more susceptible to broodiness than others; for example Cochins and Silkies.
A mother hen looking after her recently hatched chicks
Signs of a Broody Hen
It’s easy to know when you have a broody hen as their behaviour changes a lot. The first thing that you will probably notice is that you will have a very grumpy hen on your hands. Below is a list of all the signs that your hen has gone broody.
- She will refuse to move from the nesting box
- She fluffs her feathers out to make herself look big
- Growling and pecking when you try to remove her from the nesting box
- Running back to the nest box after you've managed to removed her
- Plucking out her chest feathers
How to Stop a Broody Hen Being Broody
There are several methods for dealing with a broody hen. Some of these involve just accepting her broodiness or using her broodiness to hatch eggs. Others involve breaking her broodiness - some methods work better than others when it comes to breaking a broody hen.
- Leaving her - A broody hen will be broody for roughly three weeks as this is how long it takes to hatch eggs. You can choose to just let it run its course. When doing this make sure you remove her from the nest box for a few hours every day to make sure she has something to eat and drink. You shouldn’t worry too much about her taking up the nesting box as a lot of the time your other hens will be happy to share the box to lay their eggs. However if you have a particularly aggressive broody hen she will peck at them when they try to lay an egg so you may need to provide an alternative nesting box for your other hens. It can be a good idea to shut your broody hen out the coop when you know all the other hens have laid their eggs. We advise wearing gloves when removing a broody hen as she will be very angry and will do whatever she can in order to not be kicked out.
- Buy some fertilised eggs - If you want to hatch eggs and have some chicks of your own then make the most of your broody hen and buy some eggs for her to hatch. Using a hen to hatch eggs is much easier and far less hassle than having to use an incubator. A hen will take care of the whole process from incubation to rearing them and teaching them how to be chickens! If you have never done this before it is best to get some advice from a poultry keeper who has experience.
- Dipping her underside in water - When a chicken is broody her temperature is increased. The idea behind this method is to cool her down in order to break her broodiness. Simply dip the bottom of your broody hen in a bucket of cold water. However, some poultry keepers question the effectiveness of this method as it tends to just be a distraction whilst she dries herself. This method should only be used in the warm summer months.
- Placing ice cubes or frozen peas underneath her - Again this method is aiming to cool her down, but also making it uncomfortable for her to sit in the nesting box.
- Creating a broody enclosure - If you have a wire cage or dog crate, place your broody hen in this with food and water. The wire cage is uncomfortable for her and will hopefully cool down her chest and vent area which will break her broodiness. The length of time needed to break broodiness will vary from hen to hen. Usually, around three days is enough. You will know that your hen is no longer broody as she will no longer fluff her feathers out and when let out she won’t hurry to the nest. This may seem cruel but in the long run it can be kinder than allowing her to sit on an empty nest whilst her health deteriorates.
Photo, 16 March 2021
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