What's a broody chicken and what can you do about it? Or what should you do about it? Or should you do anything about it? So many questions.
So what's a broody chicken. I could have told you a few years ago what one was but it would have just been regurgitation of stuff I read on the Internet not anything I'd actually experienced, which is why I never did a post on chickens going broody. Unless I've experienced it, I try not to talk about it. Which is how you get gems like how to cure a bladder infection, yeast infections and the frozen yogourt tampon and everybody's favourite Ass Maggots.
Now that I have experienced the wrath of the broody chicken first hand, I can tell you all about it. And it's almost as huge a pain in the ass as maggots.
Table of Contents
What's a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is one that has decided she wants to sit on a clutch of eggs to hatch them. Hens can remain broody for up to 7 weeks.
Signs She's Broody
Chickens, like most living things are instinctual. One of their instincts is to incubate and hatch eggs. When they feel that instinct to hatch eggs coming on they do a few different things.
- They go into a dark, quiet place (the nesting box) and don't come out.
- They pluck the feathers away from their chest to "feather their nest" and so there's direct contact between her warm skin and the eggs.
- They get moody and hormonal and a bit aggressive.
- When out of the nesting box or when you go near her she'll have big puffed up feathers and look defensive.
When a hen goes broody it makes no difference whatsoever whether they have a clutch of eggs to sit on or not. They will sit there day in and day out for over a month even if there isn't a single egg under her, because her instinct says ... sit here and hatch eggs ... be broody ... even if there are no eggs in the vicinity. So, instinctual, not intellectual.
Like teenage sex.
How to Prevent it
It's pretty hard to stop animal instincts but you can lower the chances of having a broody hen by doing a couple of things.
- Own hens that aren't prone to broodiness.
When I got my Marans chickens a few years ago I had no idea if they were a broody breed or not. Some breeds you see are more prone to broodiness while others never go broody. That's why I had never experienced broodiness before. My other chickens just didn't have that instinct. (They take after their mother.)
- As soon as you notice your hen getting broody and sitting in the nesting box, remove her and don't let her back in.
If you can catch it early and keep her out of her chosen broody spot there's a chance you'll break the cycle before it gets too bad. But honestly, the chances are slim. Again - it's their instinct the same way your instinct is to eat the entire container of ice cream.
You can either leave a hen to brood for 4-7 weeks OR you can stop it.
How to Break It
You need to do 2 things to break a hen of broodiness: cool her down and put her in an environment where she can't nest.
- The most effective, most humane way to break a chicken of broodiness is to put them in a crate that's elevated off the ground. A dog crate or rabbit hutch work well.
- The crate should be hung just above the ground from a rafter, or you can just set the crate on some bricks to keep it off the ground.
- The crate should have food and water but no bedding material in it.
- Leave the hen in the crate until you can see she isn't broody anymore. She'll look more relaxed and her feathers won't be puffed out when she's stopped being broody.
The crate will keep her away from the nesting box and all nesting materials and allows cool air all around the chicken to bring her temperature down. A chicken's hormones change when she gets broody which stops her from producing eggs AND elevates her temperature. She's hot, nasty, irritable and barren. She's menopause with feathers. She's in henopause.
After living in the crate, cooling down and getting bored and uncomfortable(ish) for a few days she's no longer broody.
Why You Should Break Them
- Hens that are broody don't dust bathe as often as they should which makes them susceptible to mites. This in turn can cause a mite infestation which you do NOT want.
- Broody hens don't lay eggs.
- The heat can kill them. Hens normally go broody in the summer, in an enclosed space with little air flow (the nesting box). Their instinct to brood is so strong that a hen will die from the heat before leaving the nest.
A chicken that goes broody goes into an almost meditative state. That is until you try to touch her or another chicken comes close to her. When broody, Josephine will fluff all her feathers out and scream at the other chickens. BACK THE CLUCK OFF. She's also not fond of me when she's broody.
So there's that little bit of drama to contend with when you have a broody chicken too.
Step by Step
- Most dog crates have a tray that fits into the bottom, but you want the chicken to be cooled from underneath so remove the tray. At this point you'll have big holes that the chickens legs would just slip right through. So cut a piece of hardware cloth to fit the bottom of the cage. If you can do this with your Skeletor forearm that'd be great. Chicken wire would work too.
2. Elevate the crate so air can get underneath. You want as much air flow to cool her down as possible. Some people hang the cage but that seems kind of extreme to me and a little too Tweety Bird so I just put it on bricks.
3. Make sure the hen has water that won't tip over and a bowl of food and put the hen in there. To do that, you have to drag her out of her nesting box which she doesn't want to leave at ALL.
At night make sure the crate is in a safe place away from predators. In the morning you can open the crate door. If your hen makes a beeline for the nesting box you know she isn't broken yet. If she saunters out and gives you a disgusted look over her wing she's probably been broken.
It generally takes 2 sleeps for my chicken Josephine to get back to her normal self. I on the other hand take weeks to heal and recover.
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