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How to Break a Broody Hen

Broody hens just want to sit on eggs until they hatch. But what if your eggs aren't fertile? Then its in her best interest to break her. Here's how to break a broody hen.

A broody hen can be a godsend if you are trying to hatch chicks.  No worries about incubators, brooder boxes or heat lamp...the hen will take care of it all.

However, if none of your eggs are fertile, or you aren't interested in hatching any chicks, a broody hen is not something you want. 

How to Break a Broody Hen

Before you can worry about what to do about a broody hen, you need to understand what being "broody" means and why it can be a problem.

What is a Broody Hen

A broody is a hen that wants to sit on a nest of eggs for three weeks until they hatch, instead of laying her egg and then hopping back out of the nesting box to go do all the normal things that chickens do.

What's Wrong with Letting a Hen Be Broody?

If the eggs the hen is sitting on aren't fertile (i.e. you don't have a rooster), then those eggs won't ever hatch and the chicken is wasting her time. 

Once her nest is full (a "clutch" of eggs is usually 10-12), a broody hen will stop laying eggs. And won't start up again, possibly for several months - the 21 days it takes for eggs to hatch plus the time she would spend caring for her new chicks.

But even more importantly, a broody hen will only leave the nest for short periods of time to eat and drink a bit (but not nearly as much as they really need, resulting in weight loss and possible malnutrition).

They also make it difficult for the other hens to lay their eggs by hogging the nest. 

Other hens may start pecking at the broody trying to get her to leave the nest, which can not only injure her, but lead to cannibalism, not to mention result in broken eggs - and that can lead to the bad habit of egg eating.

More Problems for a Broody Hen

Also, she might be bullied once she returns to the flock since she has been virtually absent for several weeks.

Broodiness is also thought to be "contagious" to some extent and one broody can induce others to go broody.  (I guess kind of like women who work or live together who's menstrual cycles start to coincide with each other. Hormones can be tricky like that!)

Broody hens also have a greater chance of contracting mites and other parasites by creating a warm, damp, dark environment that bugs like, although using herbs in the nesting boxes can alleviate the parasite concern to a great extent.

Bottom line, though, it is far healthier for a hen to be out 'being a chicken', scratching for bugs, dust bathing, and socializing with the others than sitting on an empty nest.

Are Some Breeds More Prone to Go Broody?

Although the broodiness has for the most part been bred out of today's breeds, some breeds tend more towards broodiness, including:

  • Australorps
  • Brahmas
  • Buffs
  • Cochins
  • Columbian Wyandottes
  • Cornish
  • Partridge Rocks
  • Silkies
  • Speckled Sussex 

How Do I Know if I Have a  Broody Hen?

Once you have had one broody hen, you will immediately recognize when the next one goes broody. The signs are pretty unmistakable.

Your first clue that a hen might be broody will likely be that every time you go to collect eggs, she is sitting on the nest.

Your second clue will be when she puffs up and growls at you.  She will also make a deep, throaty cluck cluck noise (that's the "voice" she will use to call her chicks incidentally). Some broodies will also peck at your hand when you try and take the eggs, so a pair of gloves is helpful.

Feathering Her Nest

The best clue that you have a broody hen is finding feathers in the nesting box.

A broody hen will literally "feather the nest: and start pulling out her breast feathers and depositing them in the nesting box.

She does this both to cushion the eggs and because her bare skin will keep the eggs (and chicks once they hatch) warmer being right up next to her.

You can easily figure out who the broody hen is by checking their breasts. The broody will have a bare breast.

So, in summary, if a hen isn't sitting on fertile eggs, it's not healthy for her to sit all day in the dark nesting box, although that is what her maternal hormones are telling her to do.

But she needs to be outside getting exercise and fresh air, laying eggs, and 'being a chicken'.  So it's in BOTH your best interests to break her as quickly as possible.

Normally, the peeps of the hatching chicks signal to a broody that she is done sitting - but clearly if eggs never hatch under her, she never gets that signal to stop, so you need to "discourage" or "break" her.

How to Break a Broody Hen

The key to breaking a broody hen is to cool under her abdomen and vent area. It is the elevated temperature in part that signals to her hormones to sit.  Here's are some suggestions to try to break a broody hen:

  • Collect the eggs as quickly as possible from her her, as many times a day as possible
  •  Remove the broody hen from the nest and deposit her at the far end of the run, preferably where you have scattered treats to distract her, as many times a day as you can
  • After dark, remove her from the nest one last time for the day and place her on the roosting bar. She will most likely stay there for the night since chickens can't see well in the dark and she won't chance trying to get back to the box
  •  Block the nest that she has chosen to sit in
  • Put a frozen water bottle in the nest
  • As an alternative, take all the nesting material out of the box she has chosen. Most broodies have picked a specific nest and if you move them to another one, many will give up on setting. 

In extreme cases, close up the coop after the other hens have finished laying so she has no access to the nests. 

After a few days of this, I have found the broody hen starts getting really annoyed with me, but realizes that I am more stubborn than she is - and besides it's a lot more fun to be outside with the others than sitting alone on an empty nesting box - and she gives up.

In Extreme Cases of Broodiness

More drastic measures I have read, but never tried, include putting ice cubes under her or putting her in a raised metal cage or dog crate raised up on bricks or boards with no bedding for a few days with feed and water, but I have never had to go that far to dissuade a broody hen.

Part of the reason a hen goes (and stays) broody is a warm vent, nature's way of timing most chicks to be born in the warm months - there's a reason you rarely have a broody hen in the winter - as well as an increase in her hormone levels, so part of breaking her broodiness has to include cooling off her vent and abdomen area and getting air to circulate under her.

To read more about why breaking a broody hen is smart, read HERE.
To read about raising chicks under a chicken, read HERE.
For tips on encouraging a broody hen, read HERE.