By Erin Huffstetler | 04/22/2014 | 3 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.
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.
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!
So, We collected our mama hen from her nest box, stuck her in her new digs …
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.