All About Broody Hens
So let’s set the scene here. You go out to your chicken coop one day, and open the door to collect eggs. There, in the nest box, is one of your hens. You reach down to slide the eggs from under her, but as you get close enough to touch her, she puffs up her feathers, spreads her wings slightly, and screeches out an angry “Puck-AAARRRGGGH!”
Well, congratulations. You have yourself a broody hen. This means that she has decided to ‘set’, and hatch some eggs herself.
You have two options: you can let her set, and hatch some eggs – if you don’t have a rooster, your eggs won’t be fertile, so you’ll need to buy some fertile eggs – or you can try to ‘break’ her, meaning stop her from being broody.
It is possible to ‘break’ them of their broodiness, if you wish. There are various methods recommended, some more suspect than others, but probably the most widely used is to put her in a wire bottom metal dog crate with food and water and nothing else. Some people even add a young, enthusiastic rooster in the cage with her, the poor girl certainly won’t have any time to sit or ‘set’ with him in there!
If you decide to let her set, put her in a safe place, where she will not be in danger from passing predators, but where she has room to get up and stretch her legs now and again. Put her food and water in there, in a place where the other birds can’t get to it; this is so that you can monitor whether she actually is eating and drinking. Some broody hens are so dedicated that they forget to leave their nest!
Also, try and keep her away from loud noises, dogs and enquiring childrens’ hands, she’s going to be a little neurotic over those eggs, and you need to keep her quiet so that she doesn’t abandon her nest. She’s also going to be pretty cranky and wouldn’t be above pecking at whatever part of a small child comes too close!
Answers to some commonly asked questions:
- Not all breeds go broody. Some breeds tend towards it more so than others, such as Orpingtons and Silkies.
- A bird will go broody whether or not you have a rooster.
- Some breeds will even go broody whether or not they have eggs; I have a Nankin hen who, in the absence of eggs, will gather small stones and set on them instead.
- I had someone call me once and ask me for a broody hen. It is possible to have a hen who likes to go broody more often than others, but more often than not, broody tendencies are a matter of personality, not breed or anything else. It’s just the luck of the draw.
- It’s incredible, but she just knows how to keep those eggs at the right temperature and humidity. She’ll even pluck some breast feathers so that her bare skin can be right next to the eggs, all the better to monitor them and boost humidity.
- A hen will hatch pretty much any kind of eggs you put under her. Chicken, guinea, duck; your imagination – and pen space! – is the limit.
- Not all hens are good broodies. Some will suddenly change their mind, mid hatch, and abandon their nest. Best thing you can do in this situation is to keep an eye on the nest for a few hours and see if she goes back. If not, gather up those eggs and put them in an incubator.
- If you need to make any changes to the hen’s location, or if you want to candle her eggs and remove any non-viable ones, do it at night. The hen will be sleepy, and you’re less likely to disrupt her.
A mother hen with chicks is pretty much one of the cutest things on earth – and the most natural. So many people only hatch with an incubator, that they forget they have the world’s best incubators right there in their own back yard. Like the old adage: Momma knows best.