Saturday, July 31, 2010

Broody Hens

Definition: broody |ˈbroōdē|
adjective ( broodier , broodiest )
1 (of a hen) wishing or inclined to incubate eggs.

I briefly mentioned this little problem in yesterday's post. And right now, I have two of them, both French Marans, who are suddenly so inclined. If you ever wondered if your hen was broody, no need to doubt. You'll definitely know it.

First, the two girls are hogging the favorite nesting boxes and causing my overall egg production to decrease. They are constantly in the boxes, won't get out to eat, and want to sit and sleep there all day and night. Second, whenever I go near them, the fluff up all their feathers to look large and foreboding, while making a strange, rapid fire, but somewhat quiet clucking sound.

If you reach for them, most are going to get loud and mad while shaking and fluffing their feathers a bit. And they'll probably go for you in an aggressive manner. Fortunately for me, the French are a bit more refined and have allowed me to gently reach in and pick them up. But not without their claws clinging to any part of the nesting box they can get ahold of! They do not want to come out!

Earlier I had placed some golf balls in each box because one of the Amarecanas continually pecked at the eggs. This worked fabulously and after about 2 weeks, we no longer lost eggs due to her pecking them. But the French Marans have found that they always have an egg to sit on (uhhh... golf ball) and they seem to be pleased as punch about it. So I've removed all the golf balls until they are needed again.

Just getting the girls out into the fresh air has not been enough. And this is likely to last for quite a while. Some can be broody for up to two months! I'm so glad that we built the chicken coop with two rooms! Last night, I decided it was time to separate them from the flock. 

This extra room has roosts, a chicken door, and plenty of space for two birds, their water, and feed. What it doesn't have is a private run. It's in the plans to add one, but since it wasn't a high priority need, we moved it down the list. However, I could really use it now that I have the two hens over there. Every time open the door for them, they rush around to the other side and into the nesting boxes. {Sigh}...

In the old days, to break the hen of her broodiness, one would dunk the hen in water, only to have the chicken fly "mad as a wet hen" (thus the saying that you've all heard!). I do not recommend this. Nor do I recommend that you withhold food or water, as some might suggest. Broodiness is actually a good thing. God gave them this instinct in order for them to sit on a nest of eggs for days on end. And if you have a rooster and wish to have a hen hatch a clutch, be thankful for broody mommas! Many breeds have had this tendency bred out of them.

For those of us who don't have roosters and are more interested in egg production, we must learn to live with this part of chicken life, just as we do other things, such as pecking eggs. 

How can you break up broodiness in a hen?
• Isolate the hen without a nesting box or material of any kind, but providing roosts, food, and water.
• Isolate the hen and bring in a rooster with her so that she has little time to sit or use a nesting box. 
• Give her a box without nesting material in it, one that has a wire bottom, and is elevated so that a fan or cool air can circulate underneath making it less than ideal for her
• Place her in a wire cage that is reasonable in size so that she can move around and elevate it so that cool air can circulate underneath.

How will you know when she's ready to go back with the flock? 
When she lays an egg and signs of broodiness are gone. Don't be surprised if she molts after broodiness though. 

What can you do to discourage broodiness?
• Don't allow eggs to accumulate in the nesting box. Try to collect them as often as possible.
• Remove any plastic eggs or golf balls as soon as chickens have been trained not to peck at them.
• If you notice a hen sitting all day, immediately remove her, check for illness or distress, and if she is fine, move her outdoors for a while. Hopefully, if her instinct isn't too strong, she'll move on with life, scratching around in the dirt.

Thankfully, broodiness won't last forever. It too will pass in time. However, if you've had to help things along in your own coop, please share your tips and ideas for discouraging a hen's mothering instinct.


  1. I don't understand why people are so bothered by broodiness. Maybe they have no rooster? We just let the girl hatch out a few chicks, which they always take care of very well. Had a broody turkey in the spring and ended up letting her hatch and mother some chickens. Everyone was happy.

  2. Thank you so much for this post, going through this with one of my "girls", she has been at it for >1 month, and it is really hard on the egg production. Been around checkens most of my life but have never experienced this problem to this extent.

  3. My husband and I had planned on getting 3 hens in September, but because he lost his job yesterday that plan may get put on hold. Thank you for all you are teaching me about having chickens and if you could, please keep us in your prayers. All are appreciated.

    Many thanks.

  4. I have been using bantams as "mama hens", but it's good to hear that French Marans apparently don't have broodiness bred out of them. I'm planning to get some next year if I can find a source for them. I occasionally have a Buff Orpington hen go broody, and they have hatched chicks before, but they aren't very reliable when it comes to being broody. Thanks for the post!

    Stephen Clay McGehee
    Confederate Colonel

  5. Rena, I agree that if you have a rooster, allowing them to do what they do naturally is probably the best idea. But I don't have a rooster and I need the eggs to offset my costs right now because our budget is tight. And not having a fertilized eggs might cause those girls to sit longer than normal. Also, a lot of urban/suburban communities do not allow roosters although they allow hens, so some are faced without a choice.

    Bobbiray, I"m so sorry to hear that your husband lost his job! I'll definitely keep you in my prayers! Keep us posted.

    I wrote this post almost a week ago, and I'm happy to report that it only took about 3 days in "nestless confinement" as I call it and the hens were back to normal. It worked really well and they don't seemed overly stressed or anything.

  6. I'm glad your hens are back to normal :) :) This was raelly interesting..and the way you described them acting all "broody" did make me laugh...sorry :) :) :) well, here's to amiable hens who'll lay nice eggs!!! Have a great weekend :) :) :) love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  7. What great information!
    I have a story on my blog about a broody hen named Miss Marshmallow Smarty Pants. It is a story that my Uncle Tom and Aunt Karen shared with me about their hen. Now I know the name of the behavior. The story is here and,their solution. It's cute.

    Have a great Saturday,

    Have a great

  8. I just jumped over and read your post. Oh, such a sweet story and happy ending! Your aunt and uncle are much wiser than me to have found such a practical solution. I just may have to give this a try next time the girls go broody!

  9. Nice post! Pretty hen. I have had success breaking my broody hens by penning them in the outside pen (day and night) with food and water, but no nest. If I do this when they first go broody I have had them quit in two days, some take three or four. I wouldn't mind the hens going broody except for the hens not eating or drinking hardly at all and getting thin.

  10. Oh boy, do I have broody hens! When you have 15 hens...somebodies got to be broody...kind like having a houseful of women!!!!! :) I have a rabbit hutch that I pop them in. It does have a little box that they can sit to their hearts content on a golfball, and they usually stay....oh until they look like they REALLY need some sunshine. Their combs start fading and I let them back out. It seems to have worked so far. But boy does a broody hen mess up the whole bunch. I find it very aggravating that these ladies have 6 boxes to lay eggs in.....but NOOOOOOOOO, they can't lay in a different box. They like their favorite box!!!

    The joys of owning chickens! Now I know why I was encouraged to have at least 6! Now with the 15 I'm lucky to get 2 eggs a day. In good times I was getting a dozen a day!!! The feast and famine of farming...ewww nice title!

  11. Diane, That "title" is very true! I think a post on that would go well with the one where the gal asked you what you do all day!

    Callie, I basically did what you mentioned, only indoors since we have a predator problem, and it worked really well. I'm glad you clarified this because upon re-reading my own article, I realized that I didn't mention I segregated them without a nesting box. My new term for it is "Nestless Isolation".

  12. When we have broody hens we just let her hatch a few chicks them everything is fine. That is because we have two roosters:) Right now we have black sex links and white leghorns and they have no broodiness. We have no problem collecting the eggs then. We do have some bantams... but they aren't too bad! We once had two bantam hens hatch 18 eggs together(we removed them from the flock and they had a big nesting box.)It was great! Great post! Love reading your blog.

    The Chicken Keepers

  13. I'm a little embarrassed to be the only non-chicken-owner in the group, but I love all of your comments and information. Keep it coming! Will trade for baskets if anyone is coming to orange county!

  14. Hi Amy,
    I've got a Buff Orpington hen who regularly goes broody. I just keep taking her out of the nest and put her outside or down by the water dish. At night I take her out of the box and I have a sheet that I pull down over the nesting boxes so she can't get back inside. She's figured out ways to get back in but this time she's flown up onto the roost so hopefully tomorrow she'll be out with the others. We just took our meat chickens in to be butchered...20 were cockerels and we have two other roosters so you can imagine the ruckus around the barnyard all day long. Those poor girls! Anyway...everyone seems to be breathing easier now and hopefully the 'girls' get a well deserved break. I hope you had a wonderful day...enjoy your Sunday. Maura :)

  15. Golf balls! I love it, great idea! And good idea to put a rooster in with her, don't need her putting her feet up eating bonbons!

  16. We've had a broody hen for weeks now and I was just going to wait it out. Now I might move her to the baby chick pen and see if she gets over it! Egg production has dropped some, but I thought it was the heat. We added more boxes and some hens are laying in them, but the definately have their favorite box! Why does it have to be the one the broody hen sits on?

    She has knocked all the grass out of it, so I'm thinking she's about done with this season. Thanks for a great post and comments!

  17. If you have a brooder hen, but no rooster, you can just buy fertilized eggs and stick them under mama. ;) (I learned this not experience, but reading.)


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