Having a broody hen isn’t always a good thing, and you might have to break a broody hen from time to time. Here’s how.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I love a broody hen. There is nothing like having a broody mama in the coop. Their ferociousness is adorable, comical, and a bit scary at times, but sometimes, it happens at the wrong time. Then, you need to know how to break a broody hen.
Broodiness, at times, is contagious. As soon as one hen turns broody, all of the friends decide that they need to go broody as well. If your goal is a sustainable flock, then this might be a great thing, but your egg supply will greatly suffer.
If you sell eggs as part of your homestead income, then this will hurt your pocketbook, and it might be time to step in and stop Mother Nature from doing her thang.
What is a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is a hen that decides she wants to be a mama, so she sits on a clutch of eggs to hatch them.
Not all breeds are prone to broodiness, so if you want a broody hen, make sure you buy a breed that likes to do so. Chicken breeders have bred it out of many, but as your hen gets older, instinct still takes over.
The time of year matters as well. Most hens go broody in the late spring or summer, encouraged by the long day. As the day gets longer, a hen’s body releases prolactin, a hormone, and combined with more sunlight, she becomes broody.
Signs That Your Hen is Broody
So, how do you know your hen is broody rather than being a mean girl?
First, you might notice that your hen is making a nest in a dark spot. She spends a lot of time there during the day. She might carry straw or feathers in the area. Some broody hens pluck out their feathers to keep their eggs warm.
Then, your hen gets feisty. If you get near her, she might growl or grumble at you. She might try to peck you, and she’ll puff up her feathers to make herself look bigger. Broody hens want to look like a bad B to keep you away from her eggs.
As the days go on, she will leave the nest from time to time to eat and poop, but she won’t eat as much. Don’t be surprised if she starts to lose weight. Her poop will smell terrible as well.
Why Should You Break a Broody Hen?
Broodiness is a natural instinct for chickens; it’s Mother Nature’s way of continuing chickens before incubators were invented. Without this, we wouldn’t have chickens now, but we have way to hatch eggs without broody hens now.
There are some downsides to having a broody hen. Here are some reasons you might have to break a broody hen.
The Eggs are Infertile
Hens have no way of understanding that the eggs they sit on need to be fertile for all of their effort to amount to anything. If you don’t have a rooster, having a broody hen is pointless. She will never hatch the eggs, and it will be a wasted month.
Unless you have access to fertile eggs that you can slip under her, this is a good reason to stop your hen’s broodiness in its track.
The Hen Might End Up Unhealthy
Despite broodiness being natural, it takes a lot out of the hen. She doesn’t eat well for weeks, and only drinks a few times per day – in the middle of summer! It often leads to dehydration issues.
It’s not impossible for hens to starve themselves to death in an attempt to hatch eggs.
Not only that, but broody hens are more susceptible to respiratory infections and diseases because her immune system is lower after not eating and drinking enough. They have an increased risk for mites and lice because they aren’t dust bathing as often.
If you have a small flock, losing one or two hen to broodiness will amount to a lot of mixed eggs. If you sell your eggs for income, it can be problematic to have a broody hen in your prime egg season.
How Long Does It Take to Break a Broody Hen?
How long it takes to break a broody hen varies greatly. Often, it only takes a day or two to stop broodiness, but in stubborn cases, it might take over a week to break the broodiness out of your hen. That’s why you need to have several methods up your sleeve.
7 Ways to Break a Broody Hen
Once you decide that you need to stop a broody hen, you have a few options to try. I typically stick to the mild and gentle ways to stop broodiness if I need to do it at all. This is a controversial topic at time because some believe separating the hen is inhumane since chickens are a flock member and suffer when lonely.
Here are some options to try when breaking a broody hen.
1. Remove Her and The Eggs
In my experience, this step is often enough to break a broody hen. You need to remove her from the nesting area – watch your fingers! – along with the eggs. Put her with the rest of the flock and feed her treats.
You also might need to carry her around and keep her with you for the day. Her hormones are determined, but so are you. Often, if you do this for a day, the hen gives up and goes back to living her best chicken life.
However, if she’s extra stubborn, move to the next step.
2. Close the Nesting Area
The nesting area that she chose is now under construction. You have to close it down for the time because most hens won’t move nesting areas. She’ll try her best to get into the nest, but without access, she might decide it’s not worth her time anymore.
However, she could steal eggs from another nesting area. Persistent broody hens might need several nesting areas closed down.
3. Take Away Nesting Material
Try this extra step if you have a small flock. It’s nearly impossible if you have a large flock, but removing nesting materials sometimes convinces the hen to stop trying to gather eggs. If she has no materials for nesting, she will often stop her broodiness.
4. Give Her a Cold Water Bath
One of the next tricks is to give your broody lady a cold water bath. Fill your sink or tub with a few inches of cold water and set her into the bath. You only need enough water to cover her chest when she sits.
The theory is that it lowers her broody body temperature and changes the hormones.
Use this time to clean her vent and make sure she is free of any stuck-on poop. Towel dry her and let her walk around the yard for a bit.
5. Use Frozen Water Bottles
By now, your broody hen is proving that she’s a tough one, so it’s time to bring out some bigger guns – frozen water.
Try putting cold or frozen water bottles under her while she’s sitting. Some say that this helps switch off the broodiness. It works for some hens, but you should only use this method if it’s warm outside.
6. Prevent Coop Access
It’s not practical to prevent coop access if you have a large flock and only one hen is broody, but if you have multiple broody hens, it’s time to close down the coop for a day or two. When they have no way to get close to the nesting areas, they’ll give up.
Remember, broodiness is contagious, so it’s possible to end up with multiple broody hens at one ti
7. Move The Hen to Confinement
The last option when breaking a broody hen is setting up solitary confinement or chicken jail. Most chicken owners use a wire cage like a dog crate. It has to hold your hen and have space for her food and water.
Don’t give her bedding!
If possible, suspend the cage from the ceiling. It’s supposed to allow a draft under their bodies to discourage the broodiness. It can take one day or several days for confinement to break a hen.
Sometimes, She Needs Eggs
The best thing you can do for a stubborn broody hen is to give her what she wants – eggs to hatch. If you don’t have fertile eggs, make a social media post to see if you can find any locally.
Broody hens will sit on eggs for 21 days. Then, you’ll have new babies in your flock with any work on your end, and when a broody hen takes care of the chicks, you don’t need heat lamps or anything. Mama figures it out!