Broody Hens : What are They and How to Handle Them With Care

Broody Hens : What are They and How to Handle Them With Care

One morning, you visited your chicken coop to collect eggs. Then, you saw a hen sitting on her nest like a queen. And just like you usually do, you lean towards the eggs to pick them. But suddenly, the hen went ballistic and began pecking your hand! (Ouch!)

Thinking that there’s nothing wrong with her, you ignore it. But the following day, she did it again! Your hen won’t allow you to get the eggs!

So, what’s wrong with her? Have you done something wrong? Well, it appears that you have a broody hen. Continue reading and you’ll learn everything you should know, especially how to deal with broody hens, without hurting them.

What Exactly is a Broody Hen?

A broody hen is a hen that wants to sit on an egg day and night. She will only leave to eat, drink, and poop. Then, she’ll be back again on her unusual behavior. Most of the time, she will sit on other eggs and try to incubate them. So yes, she “steals” eggs from other hens!

At first, you might think that this is not a problem. You might even think of this as an advantage because you will no longer need an incubator for your eggs, thus helping you save electricity.

But if you’re into egg production, you should be worried. This is because broody hens will stop laying eggs. And mind you, broody hens are very likely to influence others to be broody, too!

 

What Causes a Broody Hen?

You might be wondering, why did your hen become broody all of a sudden? As of this moment, there are still no scientific studies explaining why this phenomenon is happening.

However, there were some theories about its possible causes.

Hormones

If your hen is going broody, it means that her maternal instinct is starting to kick in and that it’s time for her to sit on eggs.  In short, her brooding behavior is due to her hormones, thus making them stop laying eggs for a few days.

Breed

Not all breeds go broody but some of them have a higher chance of becoming one. On the other hand, hybrid chickens (or sex-linked) are unlikely to adopt this unusual habit.  To give an idea, here are some chicken breeds that are most likely to become broody.

  • Aseels(Asils)
  • Australorps
  • Brahmas
  • Buff Orpington
  • Cochins
  • Dorkings
  • Faverolles
  • Javas
  • Marans
  • Nankin bantams
  • Old English Game
  • Orpingtons
  • Partridge
  • Plymouth Rocks
  • Silkies
  • Speckled Sussex
  • Turkens (Naked Neck)
  • Wyandottes

On the other hand, below are the breeds that are very unlikely to be broody hens.

  • Andalusian
  • Buttercup
  • Fayoumi
  • Hamburg
  • La Fleche
  • Lakenvelder
  • Leghorn
  • Minorca
  • Polish
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Seright
  • Spanish

Personality

 In many cases, being a broody hen is not related to the breed, it’s their personality.  For some unknown reason, some chickens wake up in the morning and suddenly became broody. It’s like a throw of the dice. In general, such brooder hens are not always aggressive. In fact, most of them usually remain vigilant while sitting on eggs until they are hatched. Some of them change their minds abruptly and leave the eggs unhatched.

Age and Season

It’s hard to predict the exact age of a hen she will become broody. But in most cases, it occurs to older hens. On the other hand, younger hens are very unlikely of becoming one, especially those that are in their first season of laying eggs. Hens don’t usually start sitting on their eggs during the cold months. This is because eggs need a lot of heat for them to develop. Therefore, brooding is very common only in spring and summer and is very rare during winter.

Availability of Eggs

If there are no eggs present in the nest, there is no reason a hen will sit on it. Ideally, you should collect eggs twice a day – in the morning and the afternoon. But if you prefer your hen to be broody to use her as an incubator, encourage them by leaving some eggs on her nest. You can also leave golf balls or plastic Easter eggs.

 

Signs That You Have a Broody Hen

As mentioned earlier, broody hens love to sit on eggs all the time and will peck on your hands if you attempt to get the eggs. Nevertheless, there are other noticeable signs to conclude their brooding behavior.

When your hen sits on another hen’s eggs

If your hen has no more eggs to sit on and you find her sitting with a lot of eggs. This usually happens in a dark, comfortable nest. You will notice that she plucks her feathers from her breast and use them to transfer heat to eggs as if they are her eggs. She will also growl, hiss, and create a creepy sound every time you and other hens try to approach her.

When your hen sits on a nest even if there are no eggs on it

Hens don’t usually sit on their nest unless they are laying eggs or they are sitting on them. So once your hen starts to stay longer on her nest, she is very likely to become broody.

When your hen starts to be aggressive

Aside from pecking your hand every time you go near to get eggs, she will also harm you if you try to move her. Broody hens are also aggressive against other hens. This usually happens when other hens come close to her nest, even if she is not sitting on it.

When your hen becomes noisy

Broody hens are noisy. And not just noisy. They make creepy, loud sounds when she leaves her nest, and appear to be warning others not to go near her eggs. They also tend to make soft, chirping sounds when their eggs are about to be hatched. And once they are hatched, the chick also chirps back at her.

When your hen starts to lose her chest feathers

Once you saw your hen start pulling out her chest feathers, she is mostly turning into a broody hen. There are two reasons why she is doing it.

  1. A broody hen uses her feathers as insulators. The feathers will serve as insulators to keep the eggs warm and maintain their temperature every time she leaves her nest to do her usual activities.
  2. She will use her bare skin as a better source of contact while passing heat to her eggs.

When your hen stops roosting

Your hen tends to turn broody once she stops roosting with the chickens at night. She will also not search for food and will refuse to accept treats. All she wants to do is sitting on eggs all day long until she falls asleep.

When your hen’s comb tends to turn pale

The combs or wattles of a broody hen often become very pale and shrink back as small as a pullet. This is caused by the changes in their hormones.

When her poop is very stinky

A broody hen eats less than she usually does. So when she relieves herself, she releases her poop at once. You may also notice that her droppings are big and very stinky.

 

How Long Does a Hen Stay Broody?

If you can stop your hen from being broody, she may be back to her normal behavior in only a few days. But if your broody hen will not be disturbed, she will probably remain broody for 3 weeks or 21 days, which is the number of days a fertile egg should be hatched. On the 22nd day, she is likely to break her broodiness. She is also likely to lay eggs within a few days. However, others need a month before they start to lay eggs.

 

What Can Happen to a Broody Hen?

Aside from losing a significant amount in your egg production, your broody hen may also pose some risks that you should be concern about.

She might never leave her nest at all

Some hens became broody even if there are no fertilized eggs to sit on, while others don’t realize that eggs should be fertilized for them to hatch. Therefore, they may never want to leave their eggs even if they will never hatch.

She might abandon her chicks

As mentioned above, some broody hens suddenly leave their eggs while incubating them. In some cases, they also abandon their chicks or newly-hatched eggs, just like bad mothers who leave their newborn babies anywhere.

Other hens might attack her

Because broody hens “steal” other eggs and won’t allow other hens to nest, she is likely to become their target. Therefore, annoyed hens may attack her at any time. Once you are not able to separate them at once, this can result in broken eggs or even the death of any or some of your hens.

She is more susceptible to various parasites

Broody hens tend to get lazy cleaning themselves. Although they will leave their eggs for a while to eat, drink, and poop, they are very likely to avoid dust bathing even if they feel dirty. If that happens, parasites such as mites and lice are very likely to attack her and she will be prone to diseases.

She is likely to get dehydrated

Aside from not cleaning their bodies, broody hens may also decide not to drink even if they are thirsty. Instead, she will use all her energy in sitting on eggs. Therefore, she can easily get dehydrated, especially on hotter days.

 

How to Deal With Broody Hens Without Hurting Them

Having broody hens can be either an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your purpose. If you don’t want them to lay eggs, they are good for you. But still, you have to do something. On the other hand, if you prefer the massive production of eggs, you should act immediately to break their broodiness.

What You Should Do If You Don’t Want Your Broody Hen To Hatch Chicks

Hens cannot distinguish if an egg is fertilized egg or not. Therefore, you can allow them to sit on a nest of eggs all day if there is no rooster around. However, you should still encourage her to dust bathe. Likewise, there are times when broody hens don’t want to sit on eggs. But still, you should stop or break her broodiness. Otherwise, she will not stop brooding every time she hears the chicks chirping. In that case, she will sit there “forever” and that is bad for her health.

Also, being broody is contagious. This means that other hens can also be broody. So if you prefer having eggs only instead of chicks, you should immediately break her broodiness.

What You Should Do If You Want Your Broody Hen To Hatch Chicks

Having a rooster around means your eggs are most likely to be fertilized. Therefore, you’re lucky to have a broody hen. Note also that broody hens love to sit on other hen’s fertilized eggs. With that, it will be easier for you to offer those eggs to her to be hatched. In fact, you can also offer duck eggs, quail eggs, and others.

However, you should be aware of the dates. As mentioned earlier, it takes 21 days before a fertilized egg will be fully developed. To help your broody hen incubate her fertilized eggs and will not leave them for long, move them to another area where there is plenty of supply of food and water. This is to make sure that everyone is safe, including the eggs. As you probably know by now, other hens tend to peck on broody hens.

 

How to Move Your Broody Hen

Aside from avoiding broken eggs, collecting eggs regularly may help stop broodiness. However, it’s hard to predict the exact time as to when the eggs will be laid. You may also have no time to check them every hour. Therefore, moving them away from the eggs is the best way to break a broody hen. But no worries, it’s not really as difficult as you think. As a matter of fact, there are many ways to do it without harming her.

Let her join other chickens

Transfer your broody hen to another pen with other chickens. The perfect time to do it is during feeding. For your protection, wear gloves in case she decides to peck your hands. However, keep in mind that moving your broody hen does not mean you have already stopped her broodiness. You should watch her very closely as she might attempt to go back to her nest. In that case, be patient as you may have to go back and forth repeatedly.

Block nesting areas

You might get tired of moving her over and over again. The solution? Block her nest box (and other nests) by nailing a small piece of plywood at the entrance. Similarly, you can also remove all the nesting materials from the nest boxes. However, this might be quite impractical to do if you have a lot of egg-laying hens.

Isolate her

If you’re having a hard time breaking her broodiness, the best thing you can do is to isolate her. To do this, you should build a so-called “broody breaker” pen. This is a wire cage, which will serve as a house, exclusively for your brooding hen. Similar to a dog kennel or rabbit hutch, you should raise it off the floor and let the air circulate inside. But then, use a wire floor instead of bedding. In short, make sure that she has nothing to nest on. Nevertheless, don’t forget to give her food and drink regularly, and check her from time to time. After a few days, you may notice she is already laying eggs.

Note: Some people suggest that instead of moving a broody hen to another pen, put frozen vegetables or ice inside her nest box. This might also be effective because hens find it uncomfortable sitting in cold places. However, this technique is somehow inhumane.

 

Conclusion

Broody hens are inevitable and are present in almost every poultry backyard. She may cause trouble sometimes and her broodiness may be hard to break at once. So before taking any action, make sure you know why you are doing it. But more importantly, be patient and vigilant on her. And because she does eat and drink as much as usual, offer her some quality food supplements, such as soft scrambled eggs and mealworms. After all, they also have feelings and they can still help in your hobby or business.

 

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