This Spring we’ve had more trouble than ever before with broody hens. My girls are bound and determined to hatch some eggs. Just one problem – there are no mature roosters at Chicken Scratch right now. Nearly every time I go out to gather eggs, there is a hen in the nest. And sometimes I even see this.
Yes, that’s three chickens in one nest, none of which want me touching their eggs. (Actually the two that are hunkered down over their eggs are the broody girls. They just let their friend into the nest box to add to their stash of eggs!)
Why should you break a broody hen? Well, you don’t have to. You could let her sit on some fertile eggs, which is all she really wants. It doesn’t matter if they are her eggs or even her breed. The girl just wants some babies and she doesn’t care if they come out looking like her! In 21 days, the eggs hatch and the broodiness is over. It is also possible to trick a broody hen into thinking she hatched chicks. Just let her sit on dummy or infertile eggs for a few days and then slip some day old chicks under her in the middle of the night. She will think she hatched them and if she is a good mother, will raise the chicks as her own. (Fair warning, not all broody hens make good mothers! You could have a few chick casualties with either of these methods) But if you don’t want chicks, she will often stay broody until an egg hatches or until you intervene. Letting this go on too long isn’t good for her health, as she only eats and drinks once a day and doesn’t get outside. Her feathers will become dull, she will lose weight, and she’ll be more susceptible to disease or mites. It also isn’t good for your flock, because they can’t get to the nests to lay, and broody hens encourage other hens to become broody.
So how do you know if your hen is broody, or if you just interrupted her laying an egg? Well, a broody hen will puff her feathers out and squall or even peck when you come to the nest, but sometimes a chicken laying an egg will do that too. If you take a broody hen off the nest, she will usually sit down on the ground with her feathers still puffed out for a while. When she finally gets up and starts moving, she will stay puffed up and will be quite indignant and mean to anyone who dares to come near her. She’ll eat, drink and have a giant poop before heading back to the nest. The surest sign of a broody hen is that she is on the nest every time you come to the coop. The longer you let her sit, the longer she will take to break.
The good news is that my hens have been easy to break for the most part.
Here’s what I do with them. I have a cage made of 2×4 wire fencing with wire mesh on the bottom. I prefer to put this cage outside in the run, but when our Oklahoma weather is looking ugly, it is also exactly the right size to fit in the brooder area of the coop. (If I’m putting it in the brooder, I also put a lamp and a fan in there.) I prop the cage off the ground with a couple of 2×4’s on each end so that air can flow underneath. The theory is that with no nesting material to get comfy in, air flowing under the cage to cool them off, and nowhere dark to hide, the girls will lose their urge to set. I leave hens in the cage for 3 -4 days, then I try to let them go back to the coop. Only once this spring a hen went right back to the nest, so she got 2 more days in the cage. I would’ve kept her in for 3, but she laid an egg, which is a pretty good hint that the broodiness has passed.
If you search the internet, you will find other methods for breaking broody hens, but this is the only one I’ve had any real success with. It might seem mean to keep the poor girls caged up, but really it is the kindest thing you can do if they aren’t going to be allowed to hatch chicks. They will be happy and healthy again in less than a week, probably just in time for another of her friends to take her place in the broody box.