What Is a Broody Hen, and How Do You Stop Her Being Broody?
Most hens lay their eggs with minimum fuss. They might make a bit of noise to announce their egg-laying achievement, but will soon return to the daily business of exploring and scratching for food. Some hens, however, are a bit more moody. Broody, to be more accurate.
A broody hen is one who sits on her egg with every intention of staying there until it has hatched – no matter whether the egg is fertilised or not. This is very useful if you want to hatch some chicks, but otherwise it can be a problem.
The cause of broodiness is linked to body heat, backed up by maternal instincts. Hens who are cooped up together in a hot henhouse may suddenly heat up to a level that makes them think “I’m going to hatch an egg!”. Certain breeds seem more susceptible to broodiness than others, with the Silkies and Cochins being particularly moody-broody.
Signs of Broodiness
A broody hen undergoes a personality change. The most obvious sign of this is her refusal to leave the nesting box. She will sit there with the air of a bird who will happily wait until Doomsday for the egg to hatch. This misplaced dedication will also make her grumpy and liable to peck or cluck angrily if you try to move her.
When you do manage to oust her from the box, she’ll simply head back there again and resume her brooding. Once she feels established in her new maternal role, she will fluff out her feathers and may begin to self-pluck her chest feathers to line the nest.
How to Stop a Hen Being Broody
Appearances can be misleading. The hen may look as though she will sit in the box for eternity, but in reality she will only stay there – usually – for three weeks. This is the length of time it takes a chicken egg to hatch. This means, if space allows, you can simply let her brood for 21 days, and then the mood will lift and she will return to business as usual.
Having said that, you need to make sure the hen gets food and drink during this time, and this may involve forcibly removing her from the nest box and shutting it off until she has taken refreshments. Wearing sturdy gloves is a good precaution when doing this, to make sure you don’t get pecked.
Dipping the hen’s rear end in cool water is a common way of bringing broodiness to an end. Again, the condition is linked to body heat, so a sudden cooling of the rump will usually do the trick. The method is unsubtle – you take the hen and dunk her hind portions into the water for ten seconds.
A related anti-broody trick is to place a packet of frozen peas or sweetcorn kernels underneath the hen in the nestbox. Crushed ice cubes in a bag will do the trick, too. This has the dual impact of cooling the chicken down and making life in the nest box too uncomfortable for brooding.
Sometimes a simple obstacle such as a plant pot or a couple of bricks will have the desired effect. If the hen can’t access the nest box, she can’t sit there and brood.
Some owners use a so-called ‘broody enclosure’ to break the habit. This is a wire cage or crate, in which the chicken is placed along with food and water. The wire is slightly uncomfortable, and will also help cool her down. After three days, this gentle form of solitary confinement will usually break the broody habit. The signs that the brood-mood is over are obvious – the hen will stop fluffing out her feathers and will stalk around the cage, rather than sitting and brooding.
Then again, you could purchase some fertilised eggs and let the broody hen get on with it. If you want chicks, this is by far the easiest, and most natural way of producing them – under the fluffy belly of a broody hen.