Let’s talk about broody hens…
First off, I’ll explain what a broody hen is for those who might now know. “Broody” is what you call a hen when she decides that she is going to try and hatch a clutch of eggs. A hen can decide to go broody whether you have a rooster or not. The hen won’t know the difference between fertile or infertile eggs. Those are the basics.
There’s no way to force a hen to go broody, but you can do some things to encourage her; on purpose and accidentally. Broody hens like to pick a spot for their nest that is dark, comfortable and safe. A cozy nest box, dark corner of the coop or even a hollow tree for free rangers are all preferred spots. A broody usually has very good judgement on where she decides to nest so you don’t have to make her nest elsewhere unless she is in danger or you’re worried about other hens picking on her. I didn’t have to move Anne because she picked a nest box in the coop to stay in and my hens are all very gentle, so I don’t know what the best way to transfer a broody and her nest would be. You’ll have to do some research on that yourself. 🙂
The two main reasons a hen might decide to go broody are these:
- You let her build a clutch of eggs whether infertile or not and she decided to hatch them.
- The eggs in the nest box weren’t collected soon enough and she took a nest full of eggs as a sign that she needed to hatch them.
Now, how do you know if your hen is broody? The first sign is if she has been on the nest for a long amount of time(3+ hours). If she is a mature hen and is still on the nest box when all the other hens have gone to roost, that is another sign(I say mature meaning not a pullet who hasn’t gotten the hang of roosting yet). When you try to touch her or the eggs she may 1. Peck your hands, 2. Fluff up her feathers(kinda like a dogs fur on its spine going up), 3. Make low “cluck-growl” sounds, and in general, pull feathers from her chest to line the nest and make it so that the eggs are right up against her and are perfectly warm. These are the main ones I noticed with my hen, but another way to know for sure is if you pick her up and set her anywhere she will either settle down on the ground or make a mad dash back to her nest.
If you’ve “diagnosed” your hen as broody, you can either leave her or try to break the habit. I decided to leave her since I had eggs for her to hatch, so I won’t go in to how to break a broody in this post. Some things you can expect are if you pull an egg out from under her and put it in a different part of the nest box, she will readjust herself and gently push the egg back under her with her beak. If you have a good broody mother she will not only do that, but also turn the eggs as needed. Hens are also amazing in that they keep the eggs at the exact temperature and humidity they need to hatch. Another thing to keep in mind is that broody hens will stop laying eggs for 2-3 months while they hatch their eggs and brood their chicks.
Here are some questions I had and was able to find answers for:
How often will a hen get off her nest and when should I be concerned that she isn’t on it? A broody will get off her nest briefly 1-3 times a day to stretch, eat, drink, relieve herself and preen her feathers and then its back to the nest. She will know when it’s safe to get off the nest and will not let the eggs get cold. You should be concerned if she is off for 4+ hours and its a cold(40 degrees or lower) day. If you can’t entice her back to the nest I would intervene and set up an incubator. This would only be in extreme cases though.
What do I do if other hens try and get to the nest box? Don’t stop them unless they are bullying the mama. Other hens may try to get in the nest box if she has picked, say, the preferred nest box in the whole coop(everyone has one). Make sure that there are plenty other alternative nest boxes but don’t fret if they want to use the one with the broody. They just want to get in, lay their egg and get out. This can actually be really helpful if the broody is off her nest because the other hens will keep the eggs warm while they are laying theirs. Be sure to mark the broody’s original clutch of eggs with a small sharpie mark so that if any extra eggs are laid by other hens you can collect those and not the brooded eggs.
Will a hen abandon her eggs? In some cases, yes. She might be inexperienced or decide its not worth the effort but usually once she has decided to go broody, the mothering instinct has taken over and she won’t stop being broody unless you intervene.
Will a hen adopt eggs that aren’t her own? Yes. In fact, some hens find a clutch of eggs that a different hen laid and then decide to take over and hatch them. If you have eggs that you want her to adopt, slip them under her at night(Wearing heavy gloves, mind you. She will be mad.) so that she will wake up and accept that they are all hers.
How long will a hen be broody for? Until her eggs hatch. It is a slightly different amount of time for each type of fowl but a hen won’t know the difference and will brood until they hatch. For this reason, its probably best to only hatch one type of bird under her at a time. ex. She might have both turkey and chicken eggs under her and since the chickens hatch sooner, she will stop brooding the turkey eggs and focus on her chicks. Once a hen decides that she is done, she is done. And you can’t make her go back to the nest to hatch any straggler eggs if there were any.
This is all I have on the subject for now. I speak from experience and a ton of research but each broody is different 🙂 Thank you very much for reading! And as always…
Blow up your tv, move to the country, homestead your life.
Have you ever had a broody hen? Do you have any questions about broody hens? What is your favorite number?
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