Broody Hen

How to Handle a Broody Hen

By Erin Huffstetler | 04/22/2014 | 6 Comments

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The hormones have hit the hen house, folks. Last week, when we went out to collect eggs, we were met by a broody hen. See the crazy stand-up feathers? That’s her puffing up to protect the eggs that she’s sitting on. That lovely look also came with a not-so-lovely screech.

Feathered Nest

Upon closer inspection, we discovered that she’d also been pulling out feathers to feather her nest for the chicks that she thought she was going to have. Quite the optimist, considering that she’s never so much as laid eyes on a rooster.

Since this was our first broody, I did some research to decide how we wanted to handle the situation.

Here’s what I learned:

  • A broody hen sits on her eggs all day, getting up once to grab food and water and go to the bathroom (she won’t go in her nest)
  • It takes three weeks for eggs to hatch, so she loses quite a bit of weight while she’s waiting for her chicks to arrive
  • To keep her eggs warm, a hen cranks her body temperature way up
  • A broody hen may sit on unfertilized eggs for six or seven weeks before she gives up. Between the minimal diet and the increased body temperature, that’s not good for her health
  • A broody won’t lay eggs. She’ll just sit on the eggs that are already in her nest (or the eggs that the other hens lay)
  • Broodiness is contagious. Once one hen is broody, your other hens are likely to go broody, too
  • The longer you wait to deal with a broody hen, the harder it is to snap her out of it

Given all of that, it was clear that we needed to do something about her broody butt. I sifted through a bunch of recommendations, and settled on the approach that seemed the most practical (and the least mean).

So, how did we get her out of mom mode?

We moved her to her own living quarters for a couple days to get her away from the nest boxes.

Chicken Coop with Run

As you may remember, our chicken coop is actually a dog house that we converted. When we added legs to raise it off the ground, it created a nice enclosed space under the coop that our chickens love to use for napping. Without even meaning to, we had created the perfect spot to house a broody hen. Nice!

Broody Hen Cage Set Up

So, We collected our mama hen from her nest box, stuck her in her new digs …

Broody Cage

added food and water, and closed the space off from the rest of the run with a scrap of corrugated tin.

As you can imagine, this made her pretty mad at first. Picture lots of stand-up feathers and screeching going on. What can I say? It was just one of those tough love moments.

After we got past the initial drama of the move, this proved to be the right way to handle things. Because the space is enclosed with hardware cloth (even the floor), the cool breeze blowing through the space helped to bring her body temperature back to normal. And not having access to the nest boxes helped to get babies off her mind.

She’d been broody for two to three days before we moved her, and it took two days for her to get back to normal. We just kept checking on her, and moved her back to the coop when she stopped fanning her feathers out at us.

Looking back, she may have benefited from one more day in chicken lock up because we did catch her sitting on our fake eggs a couple times after we first moved her back. It was actually kind of amusing, though. She’d hear my husband coming, and run out of the coop to join the other hens before he could catch her doing it. Apparently she gets the connection between egg sitting and solitary confinement.

To curb any residual egg-sitting urge that she had, we removed our fake eggs for a few days, and started collecting eggs earlier in the day.

She’s back to hanging with the flock, and should be back to laying eggs in about a week.

If we had roosters or we were able to have more chickens, I’d gladly let them sit on their eggs (or buy some chicks for them to adopt), but suburban chicken keeping comes with rules, so breaking them of their broodiness seems to be the best thing for everyone (including our hens).

Do you have a strategy for dealing with broody hens? Have you let your hens raise their own chicks? I’d love to hear about it.

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Comments

  1. you just made my Sunday morning Erin. That was a pretty amusing story especially the part about you catching her sitting on the fake eggs. Thanks for the chuckle.

  2. What is the minimum outside temperature you would recommend. We’ve got a broody chicken sitting on eggs, I moved her to our mobile house (like yours above). The temperatures were good outside (20degrees C daytime, nights 8c) … but now temperatures have plummeted to around 0C.

    Is she going to cope with this. She’s draft free and on hay in her nesting box within the mobile coop.

    Thanks for your advice!

    • Hi Simon, I can’t claim to be an expert, but I think she should be just fine. Chickens fluff out their feathers to hold in heat when it’s cold, and if she’s broody, her body temp is already a lot higher than usual. It sounds like you’ve given her a warm, cozy set up. And since it is cold outside, that should help to snap her out of her broodiness faster.

  3. Hi Erin – I am a new chicken person (one year) and find myself with 5 broody Silkies. I know this breed is prone to broodiness but two of them have been broody for a long time – 2 months? I’ve tried putting ice packs under them but they just move over. Also someone just suggested to me that I should put fake eggs under them and then after 21 or so days when they realize they won’t hatch they will get over the broodiness but from what you said above that wouldn’t work either. Another person said the only way to get rid of broodiness is to let them hatch some eggs but if you don’t want more and you don’t want to get involved in giving or selling the chicks – are there no other ways to do this? Since I have 5 of them should I try putting them all in a cage together without nest boxes and see what happens? I’m really lost as to what to do. I take them out one by one and put them in the run so at least they get a little exercise but that doesn’t last long as they go scurrying back in to the nest boxes. Anyway, would appreciate any information and help I can get. Thanks. Frances

    • Hi Frances,

      In my experience, the only way to snap a hen out of broodiness, is to separate her from the eggs, and try to cool down her body temperature (a fan is helpful for this). As you mentioned, some breeds are known for being particularly broody, so it can be an ongoing battle. We had one hen who learned that we didn’t want her to sit on the eggs, so she would literally sit on them until she heard us coming, then run out of the coop to hide that she was doing it. It’s definitely important to keep up the effort, though. If they sit on their eggs for long periods of time during the summer, they can overheat or become dehydrated. Their instinct to sit on eggs sometime overrides their instinct for self-preservation. Good luck with your broodies.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I have a Calico Princess that went broody the other day (no rooster). I found all kinds of information about all sorts of time consuming, expensive ways to take care of her…But, I really just want it to be simple and get her back to her old self fast, without her getting sick. Your set up is exactly what I needed to see! We have a coop built with a raised area under it, so all I did was fence off the open end and put her in there with food and water. I’m really hoping she can move on in a few days like yours. You saved us. 🙂

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