Broody Hen - and what to do
Raising chickens for eggs means a broody hen is in your future. Every now and then they get that way. Some chicken breeds are more susceptible than others.
Let's discuss what the term "broody" means, and what you can do if one of your hens get broody. It's no big deal, but you need to be prepared.
There are options to consider. Some are simple and pleasant, and others aren't. The choice is yours.
So let's take a look at this broody behavior and see what it's all about.
Broodiness interferes with our plan for frugal living based on self-sufficiency with respect to egg production, so let's look at some options to address the issue.
What is Broody?
It isn't contagious, at least not for you. It's just a hen trying to be a mother. Broody refers to her trying to hatch eggs - her future brood of chicks.
Having a hen that's broody occurs more often in breeds that are identified as good mothers. The Black Australorp and Buff Orpington are known for these traits. Silkies too are known to be quite broody and will often be raised as a bird to sit on the eggs of other birds that are desirable, but not good at hatching their own eggs.
When a hen is broody, she'll sit on her eggs day and night for about three weeks, only leaving the nest occasionally to get food and water. She knows (or thinks) it's her job to hatch the eggs, and that's exactly what she stays focused on.
So what is the big deal about a broody hen? Well, nothing really, except that she doesn't lay eggs when she's broody. And, she'll get other hens to follow suit. That means your egg production is cut back to the extent that your hens think it's time to hatch eggs.
While sitting on the eggs the broody hen will rotate them a bit with her beak, and then sit back down on them. She'll even allow other chickens to lay eggs, and then she'll sit on them as well.
If you're gathering eggs, she may defend her clutch by pecking at you. A broody Buff Sex Link can get a little irritated when you try to gather their eggs, but the Black Australorp is very understanding about your need to gather eggs, and rarely puts up a fuss.
What to do about a Broody Hen?
When your hens get broody, you have options. Each has it's ramifications.
- You can butcher the chicken and make a nice soup. This seems extreme, but it's always an option, even if the chicken just looks at you the wrong way. The downside is that this stops egg production permanently for that hen.
- Isolate the hen from the nest boxes for a few days. This will require a separate enclosure with food and water, but no nesting box. In fact, it's preferable to place the hen in a cage with a wire bottom so that it doesn't resemble anything like a nest. After a couple of days, you can see if they still have a tendency to sit on the eggs. If so, return to isolation for another couple of days.
- Purchase hens that aren't good mothers, or aren't otherwise known for becoming broody. The White Leghorns have never shown tendencies towards broodiness, so I recommend these birds to keep a continuous supply of eggs.
- Let the chickens do as they wish. That will require about three weeks per chicken to get the broodiness out of their system, and then they will slowly return to laying eggs again. It's the lazy man's approach to dealing with the issue, but it works. If you're up to your neck in eggs, this might be an option, but you're still feeding the birds all the while they aren't producing eggs. If you're really up to your neck in eggs, you might want to exercise option #1 for a hen or two.
That's about it. Having a broody hen isn't a real problem, it's just a recurring issue with some of the breeds that you'll have to deal with from time to time. Shaking your finger and giving them a good talking to just won't do any good. Neither will writing them a note or asking them nicely.
If you have a broody hen, you'll just have to take a little action or wait her out. The choice is all yours.
Done with Broody Hen, take me back to Backyard Chickens
Done with Broody Hen, take me back to Chicken Eggs