Broody Hens

Broody Hens – Everything You Need to Know

Broody hens can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on a few things. I personally usually enjoy a broody hen because it means adding new chicks naturally; with no incubator and no buying chicks either. If you don’t want new chicks then this wouldn’t be ideal for you. It also isn’t ideal if you have a hen go broody and no rooster because that means no fertile eggs. So you will need to “break” the hen of her broodiness.

This is written based off my experience and knowledge with broody chickens. I’ll say that it is similar for turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas as well. The incubation time length is the maindifference.

Length of Incubation:

  • Chicken Eggs take 21 days to hatch
  • Muscovy Duck eggs take 35 days
  • Turkey, Guinea Fowl, and regular Ducks hatch in 28 days
  • Geese eggs vary from 28-35 days to hatch

What are Broody Hens?

When we say our hen has “gone broody” we are saying that their natural instinct has kicked in and they start sitting on a clutch of eggs. This typically happens in early Spring or Summer but it can also happen in the fall. The most obvious signs of a broody hen is that she won’t leave the nesting area. If you don’t see a particular hen at all, she can also have gone broody as not all will stay in a nest box of their coop.

Often I have hens trying to go broody outside the coop. We have a lot of predators in the area and although they rarely get into our yard, we do have some get in and because of that I’ll hunt down the hens that didn’t put themselves up at night as that usually means they are trying to start a nest outside the coop. I want them to stay safe so I’ll bring them back to the coop where they are safe.

A few other things you can look for to know if your hen is broody is the broody hen stare, the broody poops, or broody patch.

Broody hens

Broody Hen Stare

My hens don’t do the stare often when they are broody. It basically is where it seems they are staring at nothing, it’s an intense blank stare.

When you approach a broody hen, you might hear her go brrroooooo or see the feathers fluff up or she might peck or bite your hand. This depends on the bird and sometimes the hen will do all of them. I have one that bites my hand when I try to check under her for any extra eggs that get under her while she briefly leaves for food and water.

Broody hens in my flock tend to stay when I put my hand near them while the other non-broody hens tend to walk away or at least not be bothered by my hand.

The Broody Patch

When a hen goes broody, there goal is to obviously hatch eggs and with that, heat is required. Due to this, the hens will tend to pull feathers from their lower chest so the eggs have direct contact with skin. This keeps the eggs warmer than if the feathers were there.

It isn’t that noticeable when they walk around but is when you put your hand under there. You’ll feel their skin and not the feathers. This isn’t much of an issue to the hen if they don’t have those feathers. It’s even fine if you “break” the hen of the broodiness. They’ll molt and then grow the feathers back in time for the colder months anyways.

The Broody Poops

This is by far the worst part of having a broody hen, the broody poops. You do need to remember that a broody hen tends to only leave the nest 1-2 times per day and they make the most of that by using it to get food and water in most cases. They also take that time to go poop and after not pooping after 12-14+ hours, that’s one big poop. A chicken broody poop is pretty bad but I hear the broody poops of goose are even worse.

Why Would I Want Broody Hens?

I’m sure you are wondering why you’d ever want a broody hen after reading about the broody poops. The main answer would be for babies. Of course you can incubate them, but having a mother hen raise them is always more ideal.

Also is there anything cuter than a baby chick peeking out from the feathers of an adult hen? The answer is no.

Broody Hens

Based off my personal experience, it’s easier to let the chickens handle the hatching and raising of chicks. I’ve had chicks shipped, hatched them in an incubator, and let the chickens hatch so I’ve done all three options and prefer the last option.

How do I make a hen go broody?

This is a question I’ve been asked often as it seems I got lucky with having hens wanting to go broody often. Honestly, it’s tough to make a chicken do what you want, including going broody. The best way I’ve found to help them want to go broody is leaving a pile of eggs in the nest box. Some hens will see that and go “it’s my time” and opt to sit on them.

If you have chickens, you’ll often notice they all want to lay in the same box. You can have 20 hens and 8 nesting boxes and they all tend to lay in one or two boxes. Quite often I’ll have a pile of eggs in the same nesting box daily. If I keep 2-4 eggs in a box, sometimes that can encourage a hen to go sit on them.

Another thing that can encourage a hen to go broody is the breed of hens you have. Many say the heritage breeds go broody more often, such as Wyandotte’s. I do have a few myself and haven’t had them go broody yet but many are still quite young. The hens that go broody for me are one of my Ayam Cemani’s and the other is a silkie/japanese bantam mix.

There are some breeds that have had broodiness bred out of them, and those are your typical production hybrid breeds. If you are someone who wants to have production breeds to sell eggs, the broodiness of a hen isn’t a good trait for your chicken to have.

Broody Hen Breeds

I can give a list of breeds that tend to go broody more often but it’ll come down to the actual genetics of the hen over the actual breed in many cases. Knowing the breeds that tend to go broody though is a good way to start if you wish to have some broody hens to sit on and hatch eggs.

Some of the top breed choices for a hoping for a broody hen are Silkies, Cochins, Orpingtons, and Brahmas. I don’t have most of these breeds although I have many friends who own them. Some never had any of them go broody, some have them go broody. Even if they go broody, it doesn’t mean they are willing to raise the chicks. Some can be terrible mothers while others are great mothers after hatching.

I keep hoping I’ll have an Easter Egger or Wyandotte go broody as I have a few that seem like they’d be great mothers but again, they might be terrible mothers. I’ve had my Ayam Cemani be a horrible mother to her first set of chicks and her second batch she was a wonderful mother.

What it Takes to be a Good Broody Hen

It seems easy that nay hen can be a good broody hen, right? The answer to that is no. A lot goes in to being a successful broody hen and a lot can go wrong as well. To be a good broody hen you’ll need 3 things.

  1. A hen willing to sit for 21 days
  2. Can’t leave the nest after the first egg hatches
  3. Continue caring for the chicks after they leave the nest

You need all those to happen without the mother killing the babies. Chickens can fail at any step, I’ve seen and hear dit happen many times too. If you have a hen go broody and they kill their chicks, it’s definitely something you need to watch out for in the future. That might even mean, breaking them from being broody when they go broody in the future.

It’s not easy finding a dead chick, let alone the possibility of finding a few. Sometimes a hen kills the chick after it hatches, possibly even pecked apart. It happens and it can even happen to chicks hatched in an incubator, finding a chick dead. The incubator babies don’t always survive.

When it comes to hens over incubators, a lot goes into both. Incubators can cause shrink wrapping while that’s less likely when a hen is sitting and hatching out the chicks. Some hens are so good though at being a mother you can give them chicks they didn’t hatch and they’ll raise them as their own.

Caring for Broody Hens

Caring for a broody hen isn’t much different than caring for a regular hen. They need to be able to access food and water easily for the brief time they are off the nest. If she can’t find enough food and water, over time she will lose weight.

I let my broody hens pick their nest to sit in while the other non broody hens have to lay in the other boxes. This doesn’t always work out as I have many hens who prefer to lay outside their nest box and of course my hens tend to go broody outside the nest box. I can move the eggs to the nest box I want them in but my broody hens tend to just move the eggs back to where they want to sit on the eggs.

As the chicks hatch, I’ll pull the chicks and mom into an area away from the other chickens.

The more “proper” way is to separate the broody hen so the other chickens can’t add eggs under her. It happens so if you plan to leave her with the other chickens while she sits, be sure to mark the eggs under your broody hen and remove any extras that get laid and end up under her daily.

Broody Hens after Hatching Chicks

Now that you’ve kept up with the 21 days while your broody hen sits on the eggs and the eggs hatch and you start seeing chicks, what’s next?

You have a few options. One option is to do nothing. This method can be good but it can also lead to more deaths. This is because as stated previously, not all hens who go broody are good at taking care of the chicks. I much prefer to take mother hen and the chicks into their own separate coop or pen and be able to watch them all more closely and make sure the hen is caring for the babies. If she isn’t I either remove the mother or bring the chicks into their own brooder and I care for the chicks.

I do free range my chickens so I like to keep the babies separated with their mom for the first few days, usually the first week though. This allows them a head start, eating chick feed for proper nutrition, and learning from their mother before going on epic adventures in the yard and possibly running into an adult chicken who isn’t as friendly with chicks.

I keep the hen and chicks in a pen that has hardware mesh so they are safe from predators but also somewhat still part of the flock even if confined. For me, this has made integrating them into the main flock a breeze because they are basically still part of the flock. This also helps keep the mother more focused on raising the babies since she’s always close by. If she can wander, she might just go back to being a “regular” chicken and let someone else raise the baby chicks or hope someone else takes them in to care for.

How to Stop a Hen from being Broody

There are a few different methods you can try to break a hen from being broody. With that, they range from easy to difficult. The method needed will also depend on the hen too, some broody hens are more difficult to break than others are.

The easiest method to is to simply remove the eggs/nest. If the eggs aren’t there, a hen is more likely to stop sitting. If they are sitting outside the coop, just remove the eggs, bring the hen into the coop, and they usually will quit being broody. It’s trickier to do when they are nesting where they should be.

If that doesn’t work, put her in a wired bottom cage. The wire bottom should allow for a cooler breeze to hit the broody patch we talked about about earlier in this post. The cool air should be enough to break her of her broodiness.

Why Should I break Broody Hens from being broody?

Broodiness can be a great thing for some but a huge headache for others. I’ll go over some reasons of why you might want to break your hen from being broody.

You Don’t Have a Rooster

You’ll need a rooster to fertilize the eggs and if you don’t have a rooster, you won’t be able to hatch out chicks. The hen can sit on the eggs forever and they’ll never hatch, they will rot and even sometimes explode, but won’t ever have a chick form.

Broody Hens

One way to hatch out chicks though if you don’t have a rooster is to find someone local to you that has a rooster and has fertile eggs for you to put under your hen.

Another option is to just put some day old chicks under the hen. This is best done at night and isn’t guaranteed to work. Be sure you have a brooder set up or the ability to get one set up should the hen not accept the chicks. If she gets aggressive towards the chicks, remove them. She could fluff up her feathers and clucking to them, this would be a good sign she is more likely to accept them.

You Want Eggs

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting eggs. It is the reason why most of us own chickens, is for the eggs. Not all of us can wait 3+ weeks for a hen to start laying again. Honestly, it’s usually longer too because not all hens begin laying after hatching out the chicks.

Broody hens

She’s been sitting for too long

Broody hens can sometimes just enjoy sitting on eggs. It isn’t ideal and I don’t like my hens to constantly want to sit on eggs. Yes, the hen is just sitting in one place for around 3 weeks but it can be rough on the hens body. The hen could be sitting longer if the eggs are infertile, unsure which nest is actually hers that she should be sitting on, or she simply just likes to sit on eggs and sit forever.

If you have further questions, feel free to reach out on Instagram. You can also follow us on Instagram to see cute photos of chicks, chickens, and our barn cats.

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