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Perhaps you’ve seen a broody hen or had one in your yard. If you’re a new chicken owner or currently only have chicks, then this post will help explain the signs of a broody hen.
What does it mean if you have a few hens that stop laying eggs simultaneously? Does it mean they’re sick, or are they all broody? Either is possible, but having multiple hens that aren’t laying eggs is pretty excessive. Unless they are sick, stressed, or molting. However, there are other reasons hens won’t lay eggs.
In another post I covered various illnesses and problems that, if afflicting the backyard flock, could cause hens to stop laying eggs. Although, in this blog, I’m going to go over signs of a broody hen or hens.
THE BROODY HEN
What is a broody hen? The dictionary describes ‘broody’ (as in this case) as disposed to sit on eggs to hatch them. This is a really great definition, because that is exactly what a broody hen does. She sits on eggs, usually none of which are her own, all in order to have babies.
Her metaphorical, biological clock is ticking. And that hen wants some chicks. So, instinctually she no longer will lay any eggs herself. Instead she will lay on any and all eggs. Typically there are one or two favorite nesting boxes in the coop. And the broody hen will remain on the eggs faithfully, waiting until a chick will hatch.
Throughout the day or days, the other hens will lay their eggs, which will greatly upset this mother-to-be when she gets uprooted. However, nature calls, so it can’t be avoided. But it increases her chances of having more chicks. Because, she will even steal other eggs from nearby nests if she can.
SO HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE A BROODY HEN?
- The first indication that you have a broody hen is she’s always on the eggs:
Morning, noon, and night. She doesn’t leave the coop, that’s rule number one. She will barely eat and drink, she’s that dedicated to her task of having some chicks.
- The second sign of a broody hen is more of a guideline than a rule:
She’s nasty if you check on her. I mention that as more of a guideline, because some hens are just mean when they’re laying their eggs. It doesn’t necessarily indicate they’re broody.
- Most broody hens will also make screeching noises and fluff themselves out to twice their size if you try to touch them or their eggs.
But again, I have hens that have never been broody display this behavior. However, if you have a hen fluffing herself out and staying on the eggs all day, chances are high that she’s broody.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
Most hens get maternal in the spring or summer. Though, that doesn’t mean a hen can’t go broody at some other time. All of our hens have gone broody spring or summer, like clockwork. Also, when the hen is preparing her nest, she pulls out feathers from her chest. And if you put an egg in front of her, she will immediately take it and put it under her.
Some breeds are more prone to broodiness than others. Silkies and Cochins are two of the best egg-setter breeds around. Go here for a more detailed list. But since broody hens don’t produce as many eggs as non-broody hens, most hatcheries breed the broodiness out of their chickens, for the most part.
2 of our broody hens last year were incubated and raised by us, while 1 hen was hatched and raised by one of our broody hens from the year before; and only 1 broody hen was from a hatchery. This year we’ve had 2 hens go broody so far.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A BROODY HEN?
If you have a rooster and want more chickens, then having a broody hen is the easiest way I know of to accomplish that. Hens are better suited, most of them anyway, for doing the work of incubating chicken eggs. They also make sure the chicks are taken care of properly, unless you want a lot of chicks.
It’s generally not a good idea to put a lot of eggs under a broody hen if they aren’t going to hatch the same day. Because, once the chicks start moving around, the mother will leave behind the eggs. And the rest of her brood will die. For the most part I have put only 2-3 eggs under each of my broody hens.
HOW TO CARE FOR A BROODY HEN
If you have a broody hen and want the chicks, then put her in a place by herself or at least closed off from the rest of the flock. This is so that they can’t steal anyone’s eggs. In this way you will know her eggs from everyone else’s. Although, you will have to make special bathroom breaks for her and set aside food and fresh, clean water daily, especially for her in this spot.
A word of caution: If you completely remove your broody hen from the flock, it is possible you will break her broodiness. We have observed this from trial and error first-hand with several broody hens. They don’t like to leave the flock. And they would rather keep their place in the pecking order than have chicks.
We tried doing this twice, removing the broody hens. The first time we separated the hen from the flock, we ended up accidentally breaking her brood. It was sad, because the chicks were so close to being hatched.
The only hen we had who managed to go broody and raise chicks until they were old enough to be on their own was Davis, one of our Ameraucana hens. She wasn’t mean when we’d go check on her, and once her 2 chicks hatched, she even let us pick them up. She remains one of our favorite hens.
When Davis went broody, we decided to leave her in the coop after several attempts to move her, all unsuccessfully. She left her eggs when she needed food, water, and to use the bathroom. And we solved the problem of whose eggs were whose by dating hers with a Sharpie. No one crushed her eggs, and in three weeks, her chicks hatched.
My husband finally ended up making something to enclose the setting hens inside the coop, so that none of the other birds would disturb them. It took some experimentation, but we finally have something that works for our broody hens. However, I can honestly say that I was relieved when they stopped wanting to have babies last year, because it was a lot of work.
CAN YOU GET MULTIPLE BROODY HENS?
Now all of that is fine, but is it possible to have multiple broody hens? Absolutely, let me tell you! Last year we had 4 hens go broody, one after another. All at the same time, they all got baby fever. And one even went broody a second time shortly thereafter. Most of those hens had just turned into adults themselves, I couldn’t understand it. Why were they all going broody at the same time? And how could I stop it?
Well, I learned that sometimes it’s contagious, being broody. Some hens will copy this behavior and yet not really want chicks. And still others will end up going through the process and end up new mommas. We’ve had hens that wanted babies before. But, thankfully it never exploded like it did last year.
HOW TO BREAK BROODINESS
There are several suggestions out there about how to break broodiness, but the one proven and effective method that most people agree on is what is called the broody box. There are several ideas on how to make it. However, it doesn’t need to be special. The main thing is to separate the hen from the rest of the flock. You do not need to make anything special. Or buy anything special. Separating the hen from the rest of the flock will fully motivate her to give up the idea of wanting to have chicks.
When we separated our broody hens from the flock, we just put them in a big Rubbermaid box. (This was at different times.) And then placed the box in the garage. They had straw for bedding, food, and water. In fact, we weren’t trying to break their broodiness. Though, it happened anyway. Because, the birds have their pecking order established. And the hen who leaves, doesn’t want to have to start all over again at the bottom.
I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have anything to say, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Thank you!