I get a lot of questions about broody hens! These grumpy puff-balls are often the bane of existance of backyard poultry owners. When flock owners only have 2-3 hens, a broody hen can really throw off egg production for weeks! This post is all about what brooding is, why it happens, and how to resolve it.
What does “broody” mean???
Brooding is the act of a hen sitting on her clutch (cluster, group, etc.) of eggs. This often happens when they have laid between 7-13 eggs and the temperature starts warming up. The hen will brood on her clutch for 21 days until the eggs hatch, given that they are fertile. However, a hen does not have to have fertile eggs to go broody. Often the annoyance of backyard flock owners come from hens going broody when they don’t even have roosters.
Why do hens go broody?
Just like human women, hens are born with all the eggs that they will ever have. When they reach sexual maturity, the eggs will start to develop. We could get into all the hormonal science behind brooding; however, I think it is best stated that hens have the instinct to brood when they have a nice size clutch of eggs stored up and the day length is just right. Even when there is no rooster, the instinct is still there.
What can I do about a broody hen?!
The first and most plain answer is do nothing. If you have enough hens to satisfy your egg needs, let your broody girl take a crack at it. They’ll move on when they’re ready and that can be a week or two but keep in mind, the eggs pull resources from the hen’s body and their diet cannot always keep up with the nutrient needs. Calcium is a big one. But if you do decide to let her be her broody self, remove all the eggs from under her to prevent rotting. It smells so bad, trust me, remove the eggs.
Your next option, remove her eggs (if they aren’t fertile or if you do not want chicks) and remove her from her nest box. She will puff up and screech in fury but it’s for the best. Hens tend to ignore their own personal health needs when they think chicks are on the way. Either block off her nest box completely or place something inside of it so that she cannot sit. She should be upset for a few days but afterwards, she will be fine. Quick tip: feed her some of her favorite treats away from the nest box. A good mealworm will help her forget about her nesting troubles.
The “Ice Pack” and cold bath method of breaking brooding hens. I have heard about this and I would like to start with I don’t like this. The method is to take an ice pack and stick it under a broody hen so they will become uncomfortable and leave the nest box. The cold water bath is pretty self-explanatory. Just give your hen a bath is cold, not freezing, water and it should break her. Now, I have heard these methods are quick and effective, but they can also be harmful to your hen. Brooding is a natural instinct! To break it could throw her off hormonally and add stress. Hens, especially those bred to lay, are at high risk for ovarian cancer, any added stress could just bring sickness and other health issues. With that being said, brooding is brought on by the release of prolactin which tells the hen’s ovaries to cease developing for the time being. It is a temporary pause and she will begin laying again eventually.
Now that I have discussed some methods of breaking a broody hen, let’s discuss how you can avoid the issue altogether.
- Collect the eggs! Eggs left out will encourage broodiness.
- Provide them extra light. When the sun goes down, turn on a LED bulb for them so they can think the day is still going on.
- Make sure their nest boxes are warm. Hens tend to try to make a clutch of eggs somewhere that is familiar and cool so that the eggs she lays won’t be incubated until it’s time to brood. A location too warm for this could deter her from laying.
- Get chickens that were bred to be egg-layers. These birds often lay 250+ eggs per year and as bad as it sounds, they don’t really have time to go broody. The heaftier birds are the ones that tend to go broody often.