What To Do When You Have A Broody Hen
Broody hens, one of those exciting yet also frustrating aspects of chicken keeping. Broody hens are usually first recognized by their refusal to leave their nest. Another tell-tale sign of a broody hen is her readiness to peck anyone or anything that comes near her! Broodiness seems to be brought on in a very random fashion, but a few factors that I noticed within my own flock are breed, season, and an opportunity of a clutch of eggs. Disclaimer to all is that while these factors seem to play into broodiness, there is no tried and true scientific explanation of why and when hens go broody.
Broody breeds are noted as Cochins, Orpingtons, Silkies, Brahmas, Marans, and Speckled Sussex. While these breeds have broody tendencies, having these breeds does not mean they will go broody and some breeds that are not necessarily known for brooding can also go broody! For example, I have had a Golden Buff hen go broody and she was a wonderful mom.
When your hen is determined to hatch eggs, you first must decide if you want baby chicks or not and then move to the next step.
If you want chicks, here are options for a broody hen:
- Let her sit on fertilized eggs. If you have a rooster in your flock, the eggs will likely be fertilized. If you have no rooster, you can replace the non-fertilized eggs with fertilized eggs. Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch from the start of incubation. When hatch day is near, you can create a “maternity ward” for the hen where has her own food and water and will not be bothered by other flock members. She can keep her chicks safe in this space.
- Replace the eggs with baby chicks for an adoption of sorts. Broody hens don’t care color or kind of chick, they just want babies! Broody hens have also been known to raise other species such as ducks or guineas. For successful adoption, the chicks should be no older than a week and should be placed under the hen at nighttime. Remove any eggs that are under her and replace them with chicks. This a great option if you have been wanting to add to your flock, but don’t want to maintain a brooder. A mother hen does all the work of feeding and caring for the babies!
If you do not want chicks, here are options for a broody hen:
- Try to “break” her broodiness by removing eggs and relocating the hen to somewhere she won’t have access to any more eggs. Putting her in a cage or crate, where the bottom has airflow, will help to discourage her broodiness
- Remove eggs and do not let the hen have access to any other eggs. It may take a bit but she will eventually give up and abandon the nest.
When you first recognize that you have a broody hen, it is important to make a timely decision. Broody hens are determined to have babies and will let their own well-being suffer in their motherly pursuits. When broody, hens will only leave the nest a few times throughout the day to eat and drink and then quickly return to brooding. This leaves her no time to dust bathe, forage, or otherwise do any “chicken-ing”. When left to brood and no arrival of baby chicks, hens will sit and sit, sometimes for weeks, even months.
It can be nerve-wracking to have a broody hen and to make the best decision for your flock, but watching one of your own hens raise babies is one of those great joys of chicken-keeping!