When you keep chickens, a hen's eggs may be fertilized or unfertilized. The broody hen is the name for a dedicated mother bird that has begun to sit on and incubate the eggs day and night, leaving only once daily to eat, drink, and poop. If you try to remove her from her eggs, she may hiss and peck at you.
What Is a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is a chicken that has decided to incubate a clutch of eggs by sitting on them all day long.
Broodiness is driven by several factors: genetics, hormones, instinct, and lighting conditions. In addition, your actions can affect a broody hen's behavior, and handling one may take some work, so you'll want to decide if you're up for the challenge.
Signs of a Broody Hen
If a hen has a dark, comfortable, undisturbed spot where she can nest, she may roll a clutch of eggs (usually 12 to 14) to that spot and begin to brood. You can spot a broody hen by the following behaviors she'll exhibit:
- She won't leave the nest to roost with the rest of the chickens at night.
- She will pluck the feathers from her own breast so that her moist, warm skin keeps the eggs warm, and she'll use the feathers to insulate the nest.
- She will become extremely territorial and hiss, growl, shriek, puff up, and peck at you when you come near her.
Best Ways to Prevent Brooding
You won't need to worry about young hens because they don't typically go broody during their first laying season. It's the more mature ones you will need to keep an eye on, especially in the spring when it's chick-raising season. Hens do not usually get broody in the winter. It takes some doing, but you can prevent brooding hens by using a few methods.
- Collecting eggs regularly can help prevent hens from going broody, so don't neglect this important part of caring for your chickens.
- Make sure the hens do not go back into the nesting box after they lay their eggs that day.
- Choose a breed that is less broody, such as Sussex and Leghorns. These hybrid breeds are still great egg producers but are not instinctual brooders. Some breeds are more prone to going broody than others. Buff Orpingtons and Cochins, for example, are very broody hens, which is ideal if you want to raise chicks.
How to “Break” a Broody Hen
If you don't want your hen to hatch eggs or don't have fertilized eggs, you will want to "break" your broody hen. This means stopping the brooding behavior. It's important to do this because broodiness becomes contagious, with other hens catching the idea and sitting on still more clutches of eggs. And being broody for too long is not the best for a hen's physical health. There are a few ways to break broodiness.
Actively Disturb Her
Start by trying to disturb her when she is in the nest box. Wear gloves while doing this because she will peck at you.
You may need to remove her several times a day to a separate place without access to the nest boxes but with access to food and water. She will try to find the nesting box, so it's best to block it off with a piece of wood, for example. To prevent the hen from roaming back to the nest, sometimes it helps to place her in a big, airy crate with a mesh bottom for three days to break her broodiness.
Freeze Her Out
You may also try setting a clutch of ice cubes in the nest box so that, when she returns to it, it's unpleasant. Hens hate the feeling of wetness on their bodies. You can also use bags of frozen vegetables in place of ice.
How to Care for Brooding Hens
If you have a rooster and you want your flock to reproduce naturally, you may be pleased if a hen goes broody. What you should do is remove her and her clutch to a separate area with food and water. This way, another hen won't force her off her clutch, leaving them to become chilled and die. You may need to make sure your broody hen eats and drinks enough by physically removing her from the nest and bringing her to her food and water dishes.
It takes 21 days for a fertilized egg to develop into a new baby chick and hatch, so keep an eye on the calendar.
“Establishing a Backyard Poultry Flock.” Iowa State Extension/Small Farm Sustainability,