Chicken Keeping - Broody Hens

Although broodiness has been bred out of most of today's breeds, you'll find that many of the heritage breeds still become broody.  Whether or not you want them to become broody is a whole different thing.

Chickens become broody when it's time to hatch eggs.  The chicken will lay an egg a day for 4-15 days and then remain on them, 24 hours a day, keeping them warm and protecting them.  Only fertilized eggs can hatch, so, if you don't have a rooster, then you don't want to allow your broody hen to sit on an egg.  It will only go bad.

Mama Claire
If you want your hen to remain broody, this is the time to place any eggs under her that you would like to hatch.  The first time Mama Claire was broody she was only sitting on one egg because the other girls kept pushing her out of the nesting boxes until she finally decided to stand up for herself.  When she did, she had chosen a box with a single little egg in it.  We decided to place another egg under her so she could hatch 2 chicks {who turned out to be Sam and Renee}.

We eventually isolated Mama Claire and the two eggs, into a dog crate that we brought in the house, because she became broody in the middle of winter {not so convenient}.

I wouldn't, however, recommend bringing a broody girl in the house, mostly because of the broody poop.  Wow is it some nasty stuff!  As I mentioned earlier, broody hens sit on the eggs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the eggs hatch.  They typically take 1 or 2 breaks per day for food, water and to poop.  Since they are holding it for so long it's a real powerful punch when it's finally released.

Hens are typically broody for 3 weeks {it takes 21 days for an egg to hatch}, although no one has ever informed Mama Claire or Little Lizzie of this chicken fact.  Lizzie and Claire are typically broody anywhere from 3-6 weeks.  We no longer have a rooster so we don't want them to be broody because their egg production halts.  I have mixed emotions on attempts to make a broody hen stop the broodiness.  I have tried removing them from their nesting boxes and putting them outside to free range.  They are a nervous wreck while outside because all they can think about is getting back in to sit on the egg {or, in the case of Claire and Lizzie, an empty box}.

Broodiness is their natural instinct so it's not so easy to convince them otherwise.  I have never been successful in stopping the broodiness. However, I have only locked them out of the coop for hours, not for days as I would suspect would be required to break it.  I just feel too bad for them and let them back in.  Now, we just allow them to stay broody and continue removing eggs from their box.

During broodiness, the chicken loses weight and they may pull out some of their own chest feathers to help
Little Lizzie
fill the nest in preparation for the new chicks.  They become grouchy, but for good reason.  Their only job is to sit on and protect those eggs.  Suddenly, the sweet coos and chirps you are typically welcomed with become warning-type of growls {Lizzie's are the best!}.

As I noted above, despite whether or not you remove the eggs on a regular basis from the broody hen, they will likely remain broody.  Each time another chicken lays an egg the broody hen will take the egg as her own, rolling it quickly underneath her and sitting on it to protect it.  You will also see them inviting the girls who need to lay into their box, side-by-side with them, so once the egg has been laid and the laying chicken leaves, the broody hen can take the egg for her own.

We have also used the broodiness to benefit us in this way.  Last year, you may remember, we brought home 7, day-old chicks.  Mama Claire and Little Lizzie were both broody at the time, so we decided to see if they would each take a few of the chicks.  If you decide to try this, you will want to stay close by and pay attention.  Little Lizzie immediately rejected the babies and began pecking them to death.  The chicks instincts told them to get underneath her and this seemed to anger her.  She kicked and pecked until I removed them.  Claire, on the other hand, began cooing and speaking softly to her chicks and immediately stood up to scoop the little fuzzy babies under her.  She was so happy.  After one additional try with Lizzie that ended in the same manner, I offered Claire the other 3 chicks and she happily took them in.  She raised them all as her own, even though they quickly became more than double her size.

Sam, our Araucana/Plymouth Barred Rock mix has sat in a nesting box for about 2 days.  I think she was confused and didn't really understand why Claire and Lizzie sit in boxes.  She quickly lost interest and has never sat in a nesting box again, except to lay eggs.

So, broodiness can be a plus or a pain.  It will force the chicken to stop producing eggs, lose quite a bit of weight, and may alter her molting cycle.  You have to decide for yourself if you will allow it or try to stop the cycle.  I will suggest you learn from my mistake and let your girls know from the very beginning it should only last 3 weeks!

Additional Chicken-Keeping Posts:Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
Supplementing A Chicken's Diet
Chicken Coop 101:  13 Lessons We Learned Building Our Coop
The Chicken Coop at Cobble Hill Farm
All You Need To Know About Chicken Roosts
All You Need To Know About Nesting Boxes


Mary Ann said...

I have four bantams broody right now, and one has not laid an egg in two weeks! She is sitting on nothing, but is crazily broody! I did let her hatch out earlier this year, the only three chicks we are having here this year. She can always hope!

Our Neck of the Woods said...

I have had several experiences with broody hens and most recently let our broody, Ellie, hatch out her own chicks. It is so neat to watch! I have heard that you can give broody hens chicks so it's great that it worked out in your situation with one of your girls! I am fascinated with broodiness. It's so interesting!

Unknown said...

How funny hens can be. Mine are all too young to lay an egg, much less become broody so I have plenty of time until this is an issue in our coop. Interesting to learn about though.