If She's Moody She Might Be Broody
Posted by Gypsy Shoals Farm on
Is your hen acting moody, vocalizing her irritation and won’t get out of the nest box? Chances are that she’s in a state called broodiness and has her intent set on hatching some eggs. She doesn’t care whether they are her eggs or another hen’s eggs. She doesn’t care whether they are fertilized or not. She wants to sit on a clutch of eggs, and will do so, until they hatch or you break her broodiness. This can be unhealthy for a hen to do habitually. Egg production also stops when a hen becomes broody.
This article offers information for the backyard chicken keeper on how to care for a broody hen that is going to be allowed to hatch the eggs and also provide useful tips on how to bring a hen out of broodiness and back to her normal, egg laying self.
What Is A Broody Hen?
The word broody is simply a reference to the hen’s desire to raise a brood. The hen’s hormones and instincts trigger her “motherly instinct” to hatch baby chicks. The broody hen will lay eggs in a nest or spot of her choosing then sit on them for 21 days until the eggs hatch. If they never hatch, because there is no rooster to fertilize them, she will sit on them indefinitely (if permitted).
Like little egg bandits, many feathered females will allow other flock members to lay their eggs in the nest box then promptly tuck them under her own wings to gather and hatch. Broody hens commonly refuse to get up off of the nest and peck at anyone or anything that she thinks might be a threat to her nest.
How To Identify A Broody Hen
A broody hen will sit in one spot on her nest and only get up to eat, drink and relieve herself only once or twice in a day. This is because she wants to keep her eggs at the optimum temperature and humidity for them to mature and that requires her to keep the eggs warm. Some broody hens will pluck out their breast feathers so that the skin on the breasts makes direct contact with the eggs to provide more effective warmth.
They take on an almost trance like state as their whole being is zoned in on hatching and will become irritable to any interruptions to this process. After a broody hen has determined that she has enough eggs to hatch, she will stop laying eggs and allow her body to put all of its’ resources and energy into incubating the eggs she is tending for the next 21 days.
The characteristics of broodiness can mimic several common poultry illnesses to the untrained eye, but there is one sure fire way to discern if your hen is sick or broody: Take her off the eggs and see if she runs back to them. A broody hen will not leave her clutch of eggs unattended for long.
How To Stop A Hen’s Broodiness
The best way to prevent broodiness is to collect eggs several times a day to remove the temptation. Some breeds, such as Cochins and Silkies, have a stronger instinct to go broody much more frequently and this can become a problem. As mentioned above, being in a “state of broodiness” frequently is not healthy for your hen. Hormonal changes, exercising less, eating less, drinking less and defecating less all take a toll on her biological systems over time. If you are hoping to have eggs for breakfast, you’d better break that hen’s broodiness because her body will stop producing them all together as long as it believes that she is in the process of incubating a clutch of eggs to hatch baby chicks.
There are many methods to stop broodiness and all of them involve the concept of breaking her out of that trance-like focus she has on hatching eggs. I have a saying when I’m in a funk that works for me as well as my hens: “Move a muscle. Change a thought.” Get your hen’s body and brain working on something other than hatching eggs with some of these successful ways to end a hen’s broodiness:
- Often evicting her from the nest box is enough to get her moving around and back to normal. Unfortunately, you may have to do this 20-30 times the first day or deny her nest box access all together for several days.
- Remove her from the flock and place her in a wire dog cage or other open-air type accommodations with nothing but food and water. The idea is to keep her safe but change up her situation so she stops desiring to hatch eggs and becomes more concerned with her unfamiliar living arrangements. Do not use a dark or covered crate because this defeats the purpose of making her feel exposed and vulnerable. Return her to the flock that night, setting her on the roost, and see if she runs back to the nest box in the morning. If so, repeat the process.
- Chicken keepers have found success in breaking a broody hen by cooling the hen’s breasts. A wire bottom cage provides maximum air circulation and will assist this process. Some poultry keepers hold the hen and treat her with gel ice packs to the breast meat several times a day. Much like you would treat human flesh, take care that you do not cause cold damage to your hen in the process.
- Shine a light on her “situation”. Although this alone will not interrupt broodiness, it can be used in addition to one of the other approaches. Hens like to lay eggs in quiet, dark and secure places. Expose her deeds with 24/7 light and she won’t like the attention.
How To Care For A Broody Hen
There are several things you can do to support your hen’s success if you want to allow her hen to maintain her “state of broodiness” and hatch the eggs. Just watching a hen proudly walk around with her chicks after she has been broody is an amazing sight to see. She shows the chicks where their food and water are located and instinctually knows exactly what to do to raise her babies. It makes you realize just how amazing nature is.
Please remember, if the broody hen sits on the nest for longer than 25 days it’s a good chance that the eggs are not going to hatch. She should be removed from the eggs and broken from her state of broodiness for the best interest of her health. The best way to avoid this is to candle the eggs to check for fertility and remove any that are unfertilized or have stopped maturing.
- Give her a quiet, sheltered and secure place where she can comfortably exist for the next 3 weeks while she incubates and hatches her eggs. If a hen goes broody in a communal nest box and we have the room to do so, we allow her to set her clutch and remain there for the entire time. However, we do relocate mama hen and her baby chicks to a separate mini coop after the hatch in order to ensure the safety of her chicks from the curious (and sometimes jealous) pecks of other hens in the flock.
- Try not to relocate a hen until after she has hatched her chicks. Much like the broody breaking method, relocation disrupts her routine and she will more than likely abandon her clutch.
- Keep her food and water very close by so that her trips away from the nest can be quick and effortless.
- Increase the protein % in the hen’s feed while she is broody to help support her body processes. Offering a 22%-layer feed or chick starter during this time will help her tremendously.
- Put high carb options on the menu in order to get the maximum calories during this 21-day diet. Your hen will eat very little during this time so it’s important to make what she eats count.
- Have oyster shells available close to hatch day. The first time that we hatched ayam cemani baby chicks the natural way, I was surprised to check on the new family and find that the new mother ate all of her baby chick’s egg shells! Her body was craving calcium so bad that she ate the calcium that was available to her in the egg shells left after her hatch. I now keep a cup of oyster shells in with the broody hen through the entire hatch. In theory, her body doesn’t need calcium while she is broody because her body uses calcium to produce egg shells and she is not producing eggs. However, after her eggs hatch, things change. She knows what her body needs and there is no harm in having them available to her.
Some hens are very good mothers and some are not. It’s important to keep a close eye on how she interacts with the chicks to determine if they need to be removed and raised in a separate brooder box for their safety. Hens are pro-adoption! They do not care if the eggs are actually all their own and will raise all the baby chicks they hatch.
We hatch both naturally and with incubators at Gypsy Shoals Farm depending on the circumstances. The incubators that we use are very dependable and we achieve higher than average hatch rates for our ayam cemanis. With that being said, there is nothing as heart warming as a mother hen raising her chicks. It should be an experience every backyard chicken owner has at least once. The entire process from the time a hen decides to hatch out eggs, the process of candling and seeing the development inside the egg, hatch day and caring for baby chicks is a great educational opportunity for children.
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