What’s a Broody Hen and How To Stop It.

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.

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

  1. 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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What\'s a Broody Hen and How To Stop It.

97 Comments

  1. Mary says:

    Oh my. Karen, I SO look forward to getting the e-mail that tells me there’s a post from you to read! You make me chuckle danged near every time. Love your writing style and the info that you pass along. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

    Henopause! I feel her misery – I often want to just PECK the HECK out of someone! ;)

  2. Lynn (really spelled w/ an "e", but somebody else already has that spelling on here) says:

    Loved Cuddles photo bombing your cage pic! Also literally laughed out loud at Back the cluck off!
    Enjoyed this post!!

  3. Dan says:

    Let’s see if I’ve got this right…

    Moody – check.
    Irritable – check.
    Poor grooming – check.
    Hides in room and refuses to come out – check.
    Makes a federal case out of literally nothing happening – check.

    I think you’ve got a teenager.

  4. Teddee Grace says:

    Gotta have a corn cob, minus the corn, which you very quickly slap down on their neck to keep them from pecking you, then grab their feet and off you go. Learned that when I was five and it was my (terrifying) job to collect the eggs. We called these settin’ hens.

    • Lisa says:

      We used to put a tin coffee can over their heads before we grabbed them. It was terrifying when I was a child. I’m still have mixed feelings about chickens.

  5. Mickey says:

    Back the cluck off! Love it!!!

  6. Lisa says:

    I love the video, just like dealing with a 2 year old, stiff legs and all!

  7. Ev Wilcox says:

    Thanks for the post about the girls, and the “Henopause”! Maybe you could get a pair of long, heavy gloves for the next adventure. Cuddles looks well-you are a good chicken mama!

  8. sheila says:

    I have a hen (Golden Laced Wyandotte) that went for a stint in the “pen” for 9 days!! She was a stubborn one. Then she went broody a couple of weeks later. Got her some hatching eggs off eBay and now she has a Swedish Flower Hen chick for a baby. Three hatched, only one made it – long story. Also have a broody Swedish Flower Hen pullet hatching 8 German Bielefelder eggs (she has to really stretch and flatten herself out to cover them all) – due to hatch tomorrow. I’ll be a chicken grandma again and you’ll all be aunts and uncles!!

  9. Melissa in NC says:

    What a funny yet informative post! Too many funnies to comment on each one. Sorry you got pecked.

  10. Mary W says:

    I’ve now had hot coffee shoot out my nose – is that anything like a chicken nip to the forearm? My day is complete since it started with a laugh. Thank you.

  11. Tigersmom says:

    It’s great to see Cuddles running around.

    I’m quite certain I don’t have the patience to deal with a bitchy hormonal chicken. I tip my hat to you for being able to do it and for looking that good in short shorts while you’re doing it and then for making us laugh when you tell us about it.

  12. Ann says:

    I only have 2 hens that tend to go broody. One Easter Egger and my Wyandotte. But my Marans never do and they are a full 3 years old now.

    I used to try and break the broody cycle in my girls but I found that when I did, they just went broody again fairly soon and the cycle would keep continuing all summer if I wasn’t careful. Finally I let both my broody girls just sit on an empty nest every day for 3 weeks and then come out of broody on their own. That way, it was only once a summer, over and done. And not 6 or 7 partial broody cycles. Mine will only stay on the nest about 3 weeks and then they don’t start laying again for another 2-3 weeks. But when I tried to bring them out of the broody cycle, I didn’t get eggs from them all summer.

    I just got 2 new chicks from a friend. I now have the cutest Salmon Faverolle with an extra toe and feathered feet. And then another Easter Egger just because I love the colored eggs. I am not sure how many I have now but I love them all. Even Brownie, my brown leghorn, who got scalped awhile back by a dog and may never have the prettiest feathers on her head again. She will not be winning any chicken beauty contests any time soon.

  13. Steph says:

    Hmm so this is what I have to look
    forward to! I’ve got two 25 week copper marans hens and six 5 week old chicks at the moment! I was wondering myself if the breed went broody easily as I do want to get some chicks out of them. Seems I don’t have to worry about that now…!

  14. Dominic says:

    Yep, it’s chickenpause. And just like women, sometimes the stars cause their cycles to align, and you get more than one that go batshit crazy at once. Like when Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, June Carter Cash, Foof and Frannie all go broody at once… and poor Johnny Cash is a lonely rooster out in the run, wondering what the hell he’s done this time. Then Dominic has to go out, welding gloves on, and remove all 5 of them from the nesting boxes, then remove the nesting boxes from the coop for a week. That worked.
    But sometimes, you just stuff some eggs under your broody girl, and you get 3 chicks for Frannie Frizzle, and 2 for June Carter Cash. Then you get to see them be mommies, and it’s cool, you get it now…

  15. Dana says:

    I found your blog a month or so ago and it’s one of the best things ever! You always make me laugh and smile. I was having an awful day today (house hunting isn’t fun in 100 degree temps) and I read your post and you turned my whole day around. Probably my week, too. Poor Josephine! Menopause is terrible but with feathers? That has to be hell on earth. I hope she’s back to laying and behaving normally. If you ever get down south come to Alabama and we’ll ride around in my truck, it’s yellow and named Tweety, and you can listen to Sweet Home Alabama while I ignore it and we’ll whistle at all the hot guys. I’d imagine they’re younger than me, I’m 56, but men are simple creatures and they’d probably enjoy it. P.S., I don’t normally name my vehicles but a Tweety yellow Ford Ranger was begging me to buy it and name it.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Dana. I will look you up if I head to Alabama! Glad to make your house hunting day/week a bit better. House hunting only sucks until you find the perfect house though! ~ karen

  16. Paula says:

    Perfect timing! Thank you.

  17. Rondina says:

    I agree that the “Menopause with feathers” line is one of your best ever. Maybe one of your sponsors could take it and make wooden signs for coops.

    And it was nice to see Cuddles looking healthy.

  18. Danni says:

    I hope that those eggs are deeeeeeelicious to put up with all this. I grew up on a farm and say ‘thank you jesus’ everytime I buy my eggs at the store. Lice, maggots, stuck eggs, skunks, raccoons, labradors- I hear it all from my urban neighbors who LOVE their chickens. To be fair, my dad STILL lives on the farm, so oftentimes I still get to enjoy fresh eggs from happy free-range chickens so I get the best of both worlds. But I’d never have the patience. That chicken looks mean as hell. We play the game at our house “If this pet was human-size, would it kill me or not?” We’re about 50/50 now, broody hens would tip the balance.

  19. Kathleen says:

    I can SO identify with Josephine! (Not about the broodiness though!) Had it been me you were attempting to capture, you might not have been left with an arm! :)
    Oh, and I do have feathers… beautiful hand crafted purple feather earrings!

    Another enjoyable read, Karen. Worth waiting for! :)

  20. Danny says:

    Nice post Karen. Doing much research on chickens before we get our own Ladies in the fall…moved to Guelph where chickens rule our downtown neighbourhood. Proud to say my ‘chicken mentors’ are Dorothy and David, the later of whom is your old family doc and the former my best buds mom! Thanks for your most excellent blog Karen!

  21. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Love the video..that’s the most laughs I’ve had at 1am in a long time…HAHAHAHAHAHA..funny…

    • Sherry (BTLover2) says:

      Me too!!! Karen is always good for belly laughs and hard giggles!! Don’t you just love her?

    • whitequeen96 says:

      I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I can’t find the video!!! Where is it?

      • Karen says:

        You probably have an ad blocker on. Which (aside from preventing me from making an income) prevents videos from showing. But that’s just a guess. It could just be your browser. ~ karen!

      • whitequeen96 says:

        Oops! That was it – my bad. I’ve rectified that now, as you certainly deserve the income. So I watched the video; get some gauntlets, woman!

      • Karen says:

        Thanks! ~ karen

  22. Pam says:

    As a woman going through perimenopause (which has the all joys of menopause with the added bonus of still getting your period…oh joy!) I am in love with this line….”She’s hot, nasty, irratible and barren. She’s menopause with feathers.” Ha!! Coming in a close second…”Back the cluck off!” Karen, you rule!

  23. Karen says:

    Oh my,first the maggots, ad, now this….lol
    I just love reading your posts! And love the honesty in which you write….you almost always make me laugh. Not at you, with you.
    I hope all is better now with them both. :)

  24. Becky says:

    Last year my barred rock went broody and I put frozen water bottles under her in the nest box…. it worked.

    this year, it is the hottest its been in two years, and the water bottles aren’t working. If I could find some hatching eggs locally, I’d just giver her a handful and let her hatch the darn things.

    silly birds. Oh, and i noticed that my hen comes out once a day to eat, dust bathe, drink a bit, and empty her bowels… which smells more than normal…. and is a LOT more than normal. but hey, she’s holding it in all day, and night, which isn’t normal.

    • Karen says:

      omg. That’s a Broody POO Becky. They’re the WORST. It’s is literally a shitload. A great, big pile of pent up poo that they let out once a day. It is a mountain of poo and it smells horrrrrible. ~ karen!

    • Kristin ferguson says:

      I’ve heard of people who just buy fertilized eggs from Trader Joe’s and a couple of them hatch!

  25. Theresa says:

    Ouch!

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