Broody Hen 101: What to Do & How to Stop Broodiness

Broody hen sitting on eggs

Having a broody hen can be a puzzling challenge for many chicken keepers. When a hen decides it’s time to sit on eggs, it can disrupt egg production and change the dynamics of your coop.

Dealing with broodiness requires a blend of patience and strategy. It’s a natural thing, but when you’re aiming for eggs over chicks, finding effective ways to stop or manage broodiness is key.

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of broody hens: what triggers this behavior, how it affects your flock, and practical steps you can take to either support or discourage it. Let’s begin!

What Is a Broody Hen?

Broody hen in a cage

A broody hen is a chicken that has a strong instinct to sit on its eggs and hatch them. This instinct kicks in regardless of whether the eggs under them are fertile or not; they simply feel the need to sit and incubate.

When hens become broody, they will start to sit on a nest of eggs constantly, only leaving briefly each day to eat, drink, and take care of their personal needs.

If you’re interested in raising chicks, this can be a good thing, as it means the hen will take care of the eggs, and, eventually, the chicks will do much of the work for you.

However, if your main focus is on egg production, broody hens can be a nuisance, as they will stop laying eggs while brooding.

Fun Fact: Broody hens are so dedicated that they may steal eggs from other hens. This is because broody hens lack a clear understanding of which eggs belong to them; they simply see eggs and sit on them.

If they don’t have enough eggs, they may take some from another hen to complete their clutch.

How to Identify a Broody Hen

Identifying a broody hen is important for chicken keepers, as it can impact egg production and the flock’s harmony. Fortunately, there are several telltale signs to watch for to determine if one of your hens has gone broody.

1. Spending More Time on the Nest

If you notice hens sticking to their nests like glue, barely leaving even for food or water, chances are they’ve gone broody. Unlike their usual routine of laying an egg and wandering off, these hens are on a mission.

They’re all about incubating those eggs and trying to hatch them, whether the eggs are fertile or not. It’s their natural instinct kicking in, telling them it’s time to be mothers.

2. Aggressive Behavior

Broody hens exhibit a noticeable change in demeanor; they become much more aggressive and protective over their nests.

I remember trying to check on my Silkie eggs once, and boy, did I learn my lesson. Those normally gentle birds turned into fierce protectors of their domain.

One hen, in particular, gave me a sharp peck on the hand and a growl that I wouldn’t have thought possible from such a fluffy creature.

After that experience, I learned to approach them with a lot more care. I’d always speak softly before getting close, trying to reassure them that I meant no harm.

It’s such a drastic change from their normal behavior, but it really highlights the depth of a broody hen’s commitment to its nesting duties.

If you’re curious to hear just how intense a growling broody hen can sound, check out this video:

Broody hen growling/ hissing

3. Fluffed-Up Appearance

When hens are broody, they puff up their feathers to look bigger and more intimidating. This is their way of scaring off predators or anything that might harm their eggs.

The fluffed-up appearance, combined with their aggressive behavior, serves as a warning sign to keep away and indicates that the hen is in a broody state.

4. Missing Feathers

Broody hens have this habit of plucking their own feathers to make their nests extra cozy and warm.

Over my years of keeping chickens, I’ve seen quite a few broody hens, and one thing that really stands out is the bald spots they get on their chests and bellies.

While it might seem concerning at first, this behavior is actually a natural instinct for broody hens to ensure the eggs they’re incubating are kept at the perfect temperature, even if it means losing feathers in the process.

So, if you see a hen looking a bit patchy, there’s a good chance it’s broody and preparing the nest for eggs.

5. Clucking or Purring Sounds

Another way to tell if a hen is broody is by listening to its clucking or purring sounds. Broody hens often make these distinct noises while sitting on their nests.

These sounds are softer and more rhythmic than the usual hen noises. This behavior is part of their brooding instinct, possibly a way to communicate with their unhatched chicks or express how they’re feeling.

Interestingly, research has shown that chicks can hear from inside the egg. 

This means the clucking or purring sounds made by broody hens also help unhatched chicks recognize their mother’s voice right from the start.

Why Do Hens Go Broody?

Broody hen nesting inside a wooden box

Hens go broody due to a mix of hormonal changes and natural instincts, which tell them it’s time to hatch eggs.

This process gets their bodies ready for the possible arrival of chicks, no matter if the eggs they’re sitting on can actually hatch or not.

This brooding instinct varies among different chicken breeds. Some chickens just have a stronger natural tendency to brood than others.

This is due to generations of selective breeding, which focuses on traits that increase their desire to incubate eggs.

Environmental factors can also play a role in triggering broodiness. Longer daylight, warmer weather, and the presence of eggs in the nest can all make a hen think it’s the perfect time to raise chicks.

How and Why to Break a Broody Hen

When hens decide it’s time to hatch eggs and become broody, this behavior can disrupt egg production and potentially affect their health if not managed. Here’s why intervention is important and how to do it effectively.

Why Break Broody Hens?

Breaking broody hens is crucial for a few reasons. Firstly, if the eggs are not fertilized, their efforts are in vain, and they’re just spending energy without producing chicks. This behavior leads to decreased egg production.

Moreover, broody hens often eat and drink less, which can negatively impact their health.

If you don’t break broody hens, that long stretch of broodiness can cause unnecessary stress and nutritional deficiencies. This can result in weight loss, weakness, and susceptibility to diseases.

Plus, their prolonged absence from the flock can disrupt the pecking order and lead to potential conflicts once they resume normal activity.

How to Break Broody Hens

Breaking broody hens can be a bit challenging, but there are several humane ways to do it. Here’s a list of some methods you can try:

  • Remove nesting materials: Remove any soft bedding or materials from the nesting boxes to make them less appealing and discourage hens from wanting to sit and brood.
  • Block off nesting boxes: Preventing access to their preferred nesting spots can help break the broody cycle by removing the environment they associate with hatching eggs.
  • Remove hens from the nest: Gently take the hens off the nest and place them in a separate area with the rest of the flock to distract them and encourage normal behavior.
  • Use a broody breaker cage: Place the broody hens in a separate cage with a wire bottom. This discourages nesting behaviors by creating an environment that’s less comfortable and nest-like.
  • Cool them down: Since broodiness raises a hen’s body temperature, cooling them down can help. You can do this by putting a frozen water bottle where they like to sit and ensuring they have a cool, well-ventilated space.
  • Increase light exposure: More light can sometimes disrupt a hen’s broody cycle. Placing them in a well-lit area for extended periods may help break their broodiness.

Remember, patience is crucial when trying to break a broody hen. Snapping out of broodiness can take anywhere from a few days to over a week. Keep at it, and soon enough, your hens will be back to their egg-laying selves.

Can You Make a Hen Go Broody?

Broody hen peering out from a nesting box

You can’t really force hens to become broody; it’s a natural instinct that varies from one hen to another. That said, there are ways to encourage this behavior.

One common approach is to leave fake eggs in their nests. This can trick the hens into thinking they have eggs to hatch, which might trigger their broody instincts.

Another tip is to make their nesting spots as comfy and private as possible. Hens love a quiet, dark, and snug place to lay and incubate their eggs. If you set up a nice spot like this, it might just encourage them to start brooding.

However, it’s good to keep in mind that not all hens are the same. Some breeds are more likely to go broody than others, and sometimes, the time of year can make a difference as well.

Even with all these efforts, broodiness is ultimately driven by a hen’s biological rhythms and instincts, which are beyond human control.

What to Do When Your Hens Go Broody

If you ever find yourself with broody hens, you have two main options: support their broodiness or discourage it, depending on your goals.

If you’re interested in raising chicks, then letting your hens stay broody is the way to go. To support them, ensure they have a comfortable, quiet, and dark place to nest.

Check on them regularly to make sure they’re eating and drinking since they might forget about taking care of themselves while they’re all focused on hatching those eggs.

And, of course, if you actually want chicks, you’ll need to make sure they’re sitting on fertile eggs.

However, if you’re not looking to expand your flock, discouraging broodiness becomes the goal.

This means you’ll have to be a bit persistent, moving them out of their nesting spots, taking away any eggs they’re sitting on, and breaking their broody behavior.

How to Care for a Broody Hen

Red broody hen with eggs

Taking care of broody hens doesn’t have to be complicated, but they do have some specific needs during this time. Here’s how to make sure they’re comfortable and well-cared for:

  • Provide a comfortable nesting area: Find a quiet, secluded corner for their nesting. They prefer it to be dark and peaceful, away from the rest of the coop. This makes them feel safe and secure, encouraging their natural brooding behavior.
  • Keep food and water close: Broody hens might not want to leave their nest for anything, not even food or water. By placing food and water within easy reach, you ensure they stay hydrated and nourished while incubating.
  • Keep their area clean: A clean nesting area is crucial for the health of both the hen and the developing chicks. Regularly replacing soiled bedding with fresh material helps prevent diseases and keeps the nest comfortable for the hen.
  • Be patient: The brooding process takes about three weeks, a period during which the hen’s behavior can be quite different from its usual self. Understanding and patience from your side will make this time easier for both of you.
  • Give them some privacy: Broody hens value their privacy and can get stressed with too much disturbance. Minimizing noise and visits near their nesting area helps them stay calm and focused on incubating their eggs.
  • Check stress level: Keep an eye out for signs of stress or discomfort in your brooding hens. If they seem unhappy or agitated, reassess their environment and care routine to address any issues.

By following these guidelines, you can support your broody hens through their incubation journey, ensuring they and their future chicks stay healthy and happy.

Pro Tip: Before your hens start their brooding journey, use a pencil or a non-toxic marker to jot down the date you place each egg under them. If you’re working with a mixed flock, also note which hen laid the egg.

This strategy will not only help you track the incubation period but also keep you informed about the lineage of your future chicks.

Best Broody Chicken Breeds

When looking for chicken breeds that are naturally inclined to broodiness, certain breeds stand out for their strong maternal instincts. Here are some of the top breeds known for their broody behavior:

  • Silkies: Renowned for their broodiness, Silkies are often considered the go-to breed for those looking to hatch eggs naturally. These chickens are so reliable in their brooding that they’re sometimes used to hatch eggs from other breeds.
  • Cochins: These large, fluffy chickens are not only striking in appearance but also have a strong tendency to go broody. Cochins are known for being calm and good-natured, making them excellent mothers.
  • Orpingtons: Known for their friendly and docile nature, Orpingtons are also prone to broodiness. They are reliable setters and caring mothers, which makes them a popular choice for those looking to hatch chicks naturally.
  • Brahmas: This large breed is known for its good temperament and broodiness. Brahmas are hardy chickens that make attentive mothers, willing to sit on a clutch of eggs until they hatch.
  • Sussex: Sussex chickens are not only good layers but also have a reputation for being good mothers. Their calm and friendly nature extends to their mothering style, making them a solid choice for natural egg incubation.
  • Cubalayas: Originating from Cuba, this breed is valued not just for its beauty but for its tendency to go broody and effectively raise chicks. Cubalayas bring a touch of the exotic to the coop, along with their reliable brooding behavior.

All of the breeds mentioned above are great options for anyone interested in hatching eggs naturally. They not only love to sit on eggs but also have other good qualities, like being friendly and, sometimes, laying lots of eggs.

Frequently Asked Questions

White broody hen in straw basket

Is a Broody Chicken Bad?

Depending on your goals, having a broody chicken may not always be a bad thing. If you want to hatch chicks naturally, broodiness can come in handy since these hens will incubate and care for their eggs until they hatch.

However, for those interested in egg production, broodiness can be disadvantageous as broody hens stop laying eggs.

How Long Will a Hen Stay Broody?

Hens typically stay broody for around 21 days, which is how long it takes for eggs to hatch. After this period, they usually return to their normal activities.

Can I Leave My Broody Hen in the Coop?

Yes, you can leave your broody hens in the coop. They will continue to incubate their eggs and care for the chicks once they hatch.

However, it’s essential to ensure they have access to food and water without leaving the nest. You may also want to provide a separate area for them to nest in, as other hens may disturb them or lay eggs in their nest.

Have you ever dealt with broody chickens? Share your stories or questions about broody hens in the comments below!

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