How to ‘Break’ a broody hen

The purpose of being ‘broody’.

A broody hen is a chicken that has the natural urge to lay a clutch of eggs, sit on and incubate them (assuming they are fertile from the appropriate actions of a rooster), hopefully hatching them into baby chicks and raising them. A broody that is sitting on unfertilized eggs doesn’t know that her eggs won’t hatch, but this doesn’t diminish her commitment to the task.

Some breeds of chickens are more prone to ‘broodiness’ than others, and dependant on the reasons you keep chickens this may or may not be a trait you desire. Silkies, pekins and wyandottes all have a reputation for being good ‘broodies’.

Although selective breeding has eradicated or reduced the desire to brood (ie. Commercial hybrids), all hens may become broody – after all it is a natural urge for chickens to mother their young.

How to tell if you hen is ‘broody’.

All broody hens have behavioural characteristics in common, including:
     • Sitting on a nest, with or without eggs and refusing to come off. They will be quite low into the nest (squatting) and will appear very puffed up and fluffy.
     • They may pull out some of the feathers from their belly, which increases direct contact with the eggs to maintain temperature. You may notice an increase in feathers in the coop/yard if this has happened.
     • She could get aggressive, screeching in a high pitched tone and even pecking at anyone who gets too close.
     • She will also have ‘broody poos’ – a very large, offensive smelling poo which is a result of not having the frequency of pooing that a chicken normally does.

Although all this behaviour is normal, it can be quite distressing initially for an owner to realise that their hen hasn’t eaten/drank, has stopped laying eggs, has a paler comb and wattle than usual, no feathers on its underside (and feathers all over the yard/coop) and behaves quite aggressively when they were previously tame and friendly.

Broody hen quiz – true or false?

• A hen needs a rooster living with her to become broody. False: A broody hen doesn’t need to have a rooster living with her to become broody.

• A broody hen needs eggs to become broody. False: You can be collecting your eggs regularly, and your hen may still become broody.

• They will ‘snap out of it’ themselves. True, but this can take quite some time (ie. Weeks) as chickens have no awareness of time or that they only need to sit on eggs for 21 days until they hatch. In the meantime, the health of your hen can deteriorate quite rapidly. The longer it takes for her to return to good health, the longer it will take for her to return to laying regularly.

Looking after their health

A broody hen’s health can deteriorate as a result of their failure to look after themselves as well as they would if they hadn’t become broody. For this reason, you need to be aware of the possible concerns and assist your broody hens to stay healthy and in good condition. • Broody hens can refuse to leave their nest, and therefore not eat or drink for days. Removing broody hens from their nest several times a day and closing off access to the nesting area will encourage them to eat and drink more. • Broody hens are more susceptible to mites and lice due to warm temperatures, dark environment and not dust bathing. We recommend the use of either Pestene powder (applied to the nest area, under wings, and around vent where mites/lice prefer) or Permethrin insecticidal spray.

Not having a separate nesting box for your broody hen can also cause problems for the normally harmonious environment of a chicken coop. The (often) one nesting box is constantly occupied, which can lead to bullying, eggs being spoilt or broken, and the nesting box being quite dirty.

‘Breaking’ a Broody Hen

There are different levels involved in breaking the brood of a hen, dependant on how determined they are to sit. Your chicken should always have access to food and water as depriving an already weak and unhealthy chicken is cruel and doesn’t help the ‘unbrooding’ process.
The first suggestion is removing the hen from the nest into a separate pen where she can’t see her old nest will do the trick. This can often take a few days.
Others find that moving the broody hen to an open pen, where there is good air circulation and no nest, is what it takes to break a brood. This is because she is uncomfortable and unable to nest, and then will return to the ‘normal’ business of laying eggs (although this can take 2-3 weeks).
Other suggestions include putting ice in the nest in place of eggs, again to lower her body temperature or dunking the unfortunate Mum in a container of cool/cold water.
All of the above suggestions mainly revolve around lowering the body temperature of the chicken and changing their environment to make the conditions less conducive to being broody. Often it will take a chicken keeper repeated ‘treatments’ before a brood is successfully broken.

My favourite way of ending a broody hen though, is to give her some fertile eggs to hatch or popping some day old chicks under her at night. There is nothing more beautiful that a caring Mum clucking and scratching around your backyard with fluffy little chicks in tow. It is a whole new chapter of chicken keeping which is truely awesome.

Good luck 🙂