On broody hens

Chicken Patty is sitting again.  And she’s cluckingly, spittingly mad.  Doesn’t she look tough?

Amanda asked what one does with a broody hen determined to sit on unfertilized eggs.  I had been hoping at least one of our 25 hens would get the urge:  the clock is ticking as we do want some chicken in the freezer this year.  This is our first year with roosters, too, so with hope the eggs, should someone decide to sit them, would be fertile.  I had even gone so far as to secure the lease of an incubator when blammo! Everyone has the urge to sit.

Last year we had no roosters but Chicken Patty (our lone meat bird) went broody.  Not willing to miss an opportunity, I let her sit on some duds for a week and THEN I stuck six day-old chicks under her, one at a time, substituting chick for egg.  This worked!  Jerusha and Johanna and Nice Rose are clucking around the barnyard today and their three brothers went to Freezerville.  But I know this plan only works if you actually want more birds.

I have no direct answer for you, Amanda, but I am sure others will tell you in the comments.  Eventually, this too shall pass…perhaps harvesting the eggs while wearing gardening gloves is an option.  I have heard extremes like sticking the girl in a wire dog kennel, off the ground, and she’ll come out of her broodiness in a day or two.   Me?  I wouldn’t go that far, but then again I want a broody bird or three.  Like most of chicken-keeping, it’s a matter of adjusting to their quirks (“Hey, my chickens are digging up my garden!”  “Well then get them out of your garden!”) that I have found to be both fun and somewhat frustrating about having them around.

I suppose they could say the same thing about me.  We’ve certainly got each other very well trained.

10 responses to “On broody hens

  1. We just had our first hen go broody (on unfertilized eggs). We take her off the nest several times a day and put her near the food and water. Mid-afternoon, when everyone has laid for the day, I shut the door to the coop so she can’t get back in to sit on the nest. It’s been about a week and a half and she is finally coming out on her own and is sitting on the nest for a shorter time each day. She’s gotten a little skinny and is very hungry! I’m glad that we got her off the nest regularly because I don’t think she would have eaten or drunk much otherwise.

  2. We had a hen go broody last fall, and we needed to break her out of the brooding. Our eggs were probably fertile since we have an active rooster, but we were not ready for more chicks, especially going INTO winter.

    We read that a hen can just brood until the eggs hatch, to the point of starving (dying of starvation – literally), if the eggs do not hatch.

    We did what Andrea did, removing her from the nest, several times a day, putting her next to food and water, and shutting the door to the coop. It worked.

  3. I concur. I remove the hen out of the coop and take the eggs. I don’t even close the coop door but that is a good extra measure. My hen snaps out of it after a few times.

  4. I don’t know nuthin’ about broody hens, but that is a gorgeous photograph, absolutely Old Masters-ly.

    Cheers~ Brett

  5. Chicken Patty does not look tough, but she sure does look like she means bidness….get it?

  6. We haven’t dealt with that yet. I assume we’d try to break her of it, but the food is by the boxes. Take the eggs, for sure. It would be nice to get babies if we wanted them. . . but no.

  7. Thanks, Andrea. Your method surely makes a lot of sense. And indeed, these normally omnivorous birds do forget to eat…so it’s great to tip them over into their desire to eat!

    Great, Sylvie, glad to see this is road-tested. It’s funny: we had a bit of a cold snap this week and it seemed everyone wanted to sit on the nest. Problem is we only have 3 nest-boxes. Yep. They all had 3 birds in them! My experience with Ruby (turkey hen) is that she loses about a third of her weight when sitting. Unlike the chickens, she is not at all tempted by food even if it is right under her beak. Any and all chickens will gladly take a peck or two.

    Esperanza, again, good to know! I love all this feedback…there surely are a lot of people out there with girls trying to make peeps.

    Aw thanks Brett. You say “Old masters,” I say “Smelly coop.”

    Paula, check!

    Stef, well…now you know!

  8. Weighing in late, but… yes, a really determined broody will get very weak and skinny. When I do want chicks, I still take the girl out once a day for some grass, a dust bath, food and water. And if I really don’t want chicks, I’ll put her in one of the chicken yards with a rooster. He doesn’t usually get a chance to cover her because she’s buzzing around like a feathered soccer ball, but it always works: after two days, she’s no longer thinking about setting.

    Last year I let a Delaware broody set on four wooden eggs for three weeks. Then I put 14 chicks from the hatchery under her at night. It was magical: they were peeping and wiggly, but the second I put one under her chest it would go silent and quickly squirm further in. They knew what to do, and so did she. I would only do this with very new chicks, and at night, and watching carefully. And I wouldn’t do 14 unless the really cold weather was past, as it’s hard for even a well-feathered breed to keep more than 10 warm. But I had 14, and I knew she’d do better than I. She raised every one.

  9. El, we have 5 hens and 3 egg boxes. They generally insist on laying their eggs in the same box. Occasionally, they decide they want to change the box they are using. Sometime there is line for the ONE box (and sometimes there are 3 heads and 3 butts sticking out…)

  10. Thank you everyone!!
    I’ve been taking her out when I can. Have closed the door after I know everyone has done their business (typically after 1pm) for the day.
    Time to put on my wellies and do it again today. I’m glad to read comments about hens getting too skinny from all of this. I had myself convinced she wouldn’t let herself starve, but apparently that’s not the case. Sheesh.

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