Is my hen broody? How to help a broody hen

So, Bluebell has decided to abandon all her fresh air, free ranging and freedom and situate herself firmly in the nesting box. My chicken has gone broody so what can I do about it?

Any hen can become broody at any time. I initially wondered whether she took herself in to the nesting box because of the thunder and lightning last night, or perhaps it’s a coincidence and she fancies trying to hatch her eggs. Unfortunately for her we don’t have a cockerel so whether she sits on those eggs for two weeks or two months, they are never going to hatch as the eggs are not fertile.

If your hen is broody she will want to stay in the nest box the whole time. She will hopefully come out for food and water but her aim will be to keep her eggs warm and try to hatch them.

What does broody mean?

Basically broody means that your hen has the desire to hatch some eggs so she will sit on them and keep them warm until they hatch.

How do I know if my hen is broody?

If a hen positions herself on the eggs – hers or other hens’ eggs and won’t come out for food or water or a run around, then chances are that she is broody. If you try and disturb her, she won’t like it, I tried to stroke Bluebell and she made a weird grumbling sound and fluffed up all her feathers. Your hen may even try and peck you, even if she wouldn’t do normally.

What should I do if my hen is broody?

You have a few options of how to deal with a broody hen; you can either give her some eggs to incubate and hatch – your local farm may have some fertile eggs for sale. From a personal point of view, we made the decision not to do this. Although there is no denying it would be very cute to have some little chicks running around, the reality is that possibly half of the eggs may contain cockerels – and unfortunately not many people want cockerels so it would be very hard to find them loving homes. Alternatively you can just leave her be – as long as she is fairly young and healthy and is importantly coming outside for food and water, it won’t do her any harm. The other choice is to try and break the habit by bringing her outside and discouraging her from going in to the nesting box.

The option we chose was to try and encourage her outside as much as possible. We were lucky enough that sometimes she did come outside with the others first thing in the morning to get her share of food and to drink some water. However she didn’t do this every morning. Some mornings she just sat there firmly on the roosting bars – not even on eggs – and she didn’t want to budge so needed gentle encouragement and a bit of a lift to get her out the house.

You can imagine the conversations we had!

“Hey Bluebell out you come.”

“No!” (Well ok technically it was a squawk, but that’s the interpretation.)

“Come on, it’s really boring just sitting inside, come out and enjoy the sunshine.”

“N-O- spells no!”

Cue gentle persuasion including stroking her and trying to appeal, leading to indignant squawking, a flamboyant fluffing of her feathers and an even more determined mother hen sitting on her eggs and not going to budge stance.

“Hey Bluebell, good girl out you come.”

“Cluck off!”

In the end the only thing to do was to take the bull by the horns – well literally speaking take the chicken carefully under the chest, holding her wings – and gently lift her out and pop her onto the grass in the outside run.

Knowing that a broody hen won’t lay for the whole time she is broody also brought about the question – shall we just close the door into the nesting area so she can’t go in there at all? If we only had one hen this may have been a viable option, however having three others who were continuing to lay, this would not have been fair on them.

So each day we just continued to bring her back out of the nesting box to enjoy the sunshine whenever we could and actually she didn’t really made that much of a protest once she got used to it. I guess she just thought, “oh yippity cluck here we go again, it was good while it lasted…” An interesting behaviour we spotted when she was first taken out of the nesting box was that she would pick up bits of grass, twigs, straw and any other matter lying around and throw it over her shoulders. This is because she is trying to make her own nest.

If your chicken is broody you may also notice less feathers on their tummy area, this is because they want the warmth of the skin to keep the eggs warm. You can try and cool your hen down by moving her from the nesting box, or using alternative methods to try and cool her down. We did try putting a cold towel in there, or some people suggest ice cubes. Another alternative is to put your hen separately in a dog crate or separate hen house (with the nesting box door closed) with her own supply of food and water and no nesting material. This might be an option if all else fails and you are worried about your hen’s health. This method may also help to break the broody cycle faster than just sitting it out, hopefully about three days of being in a cage and cooled right down will stop the habit.

How long will my hen be broody for?

The good news is that because eggs hatch within two to three weeks, usually your hen will only be broody for about 21 days. After that, she should be perfectly back to normal as if nothing different had happened.

If you are in any doubt about your chickens’ health please consult a professional.

After two or three weeks on the nest, hopefully your chicken will be back to normal and enjoy spending time outside with the rest of the brood.

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