Ask the Expert: Broody Hens

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Brooding Chickens Without Eggs

We have raised a lot of chickens over the years, but we now have a problem with chickens that will not quit setting. Usually, if they have no eggs to sit on, in about one month, they quit sitting and go back to laying eggs. We collect eggs at least twice a day. We now have seven hens, some game and some Rhode Island Reds that have been sitting over two months. We pull them out of the nest boxes more than once a day, have even closed all of the chickens out of the barn for several hours. (Our hens and roosters are free range during the day, plus well fed, and they put themselves up at dusk.)

What can we do to make them leave the nest boxes and let the others lay their eggs? I was once told to dunk the hen(s) in a bucket of cold water, but that seems a little cruel, so have not tried that. Most of the hens are approximately three years old.

Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Marsha Kelly, Georgia

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Hi, Marsha. I turned to our expert bloggers Alexandra Douglas and Lisa Steele to get some advice on how they handle their broody hens. I’ve included it below and I think you’ll find it interesting.

Alexandra wrote: “What I have been doing is isolating the broodies in what I call a ‘pair cage.’ I do not have a nest box in there normally. It is a cage with a small run (I should emphasize I do not free range my birds in open fields but I have their pens set up in a way they still called ‘free range’ — the pens can also be referred to as bottomless brooders in the poultry world). Because one broody hen behavior can stimulate everyone to become broody, I will put them in the cage setting and let them get over the behavior. I also make sure I collect eggs twice a day and no rock or golf ball is in their pen while they are reconditioning. I also cover the pen so other birds do not see them because broodiness is contagious and ruins production.”

Lisa wrote: ”Put the hen in a wire cage, like a dog crate, in the run up on bricks with shade, feed and water, but no nesting material. A few days of that should break her. At night you can put her on the roost, after dark, so she won’t make her way back to the nesting boxes. Breaking hens is really important, especially in the summer, because they risk dehydration, overheating (being broody elevates their body temp) and mite or lice infestation since underneath their body is a warm, moist, dark environment that parasites like. They also lose their place in the pecking order from being away from the flock. The faster you break them, the faster they get back to laying. I find that if I catch one right off and block the nesting boxes once everyone else is done laying, I can break the broody in just a few days. I take her off the nest, collect the eggs, and put her at the far end of the run with some yummy treats to show her that’s more fun than sitting on an empty nest all day in the dark.”

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A Bloody Vent

We have a Golden Laced Wyandotte that just finished raising some chicks (she’s still in with them), which are about nine weeks old. She’s been laying eggs for four days (three eggs) and the one from today had some blood on the shell, so I looked at her vent and there’s a sore (it’s not actively bleeding) right at the beginning of the vent. She seems to be fine, clucking to her chicks and drinking and eating normally. What should we do? Thank you so much. I really enjoy reading your articles and learn a lot.

Bonnie Lewis

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Hi, Bonnie. I suspect she stretched her vent laying a larger egg and that caused her sore. I turned to our expert bloggers for advice and they have a few remedies you can try. Alexandra Douglas suggests putting a little Preparation H on the spot. And Lisa Steele suggests using Green Goo from www.sierrasageherbs.com or another type of natural antibiotic. Just keep an eye on the sore and make sure no one’s pecking it and that it’s fully healed before she’s integrated back into the flock.

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Broody Or Not?

I have been a big fan of your magazine  for quite some time now. My free-range pet Silkie known as Mama Holly had been brooding for about the past month. She is a bit older, as she lives with her son, Mr. Indigo.

However, she is not setting on any eggs. She acts just like a brooding chicken, and whenever we get close to her, she pecks at us to go away. We know for sure that there aren’t any eggs underneath her, so what is going on?

Katie Chludzinski

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It’s interesting because sometimes chickens go broody without any eggs in the nest. I have a six-year-old partridge cochin and she does the same thing. It’s funny because to fill her nest, she will steal eggs from the other nest boxes and put them under her.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong necessarily with a chicken going broody. It is hard on their bodies; especially in the heat. I normally take my Cochin out of the next box each day and put her in the yard. She’s free to roam back up to the nest box and normally does. But at least I know she’s getting something to eat and drink plus a little exercise.

When hens are broody, their pituitary gland releases prolactin, which is a hormone that causes them to stop laying. So if the loss of egg production is important, you can try to break her broodiness. There are some techniques, such as not letting eggs accumulate in the nest, repeatedly removing her from the nest, covering the nest box so the broody can’t get to it and moving the broody to a different house. But these techniques don’t always work, so sometimes it’s just better to let nature take its course.

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Broody Hen and Adding Chicks to Flock

Next month I will be adding four new birds to my established mixed flock that is over a year old. The new birds are four weeks old. What kind of problems should I look for? Also, I have one hen that appears to want to set. I don’t let her. I noticed she has no feathers on her underside. Also, she pecks at herself a lot. I am fairly new at this, but really enjoy my birds.

Thanks for your help. I really enjoy your magazine.

Jerry G. Bair

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Hi Jerry,

We ran your question by our experts and their answers are below. We think you’ll find them helpful for your mixed flock and your broody hen.

“Your hen is very broody. I would like to know what breed she is and maybe how her general health is, but a hen that is “building” her nest will pluck her feathers to line the nest. Breaking a broody hen can be a challenge. You have several options: 1) You can continually watch her (time consuming) and keep putting her off the nest; 2) You can be sure she hasn’t any eggs under her and let her sit on an empty nest for three weeks then remove her. She should adjust in a day or two. If she is broody enough to set, she won’t be layin  anyway; or 3) Put her in a pen with no soft place to “nest,” no straw or litter of any kind. If you have a rooster to put in with her, he will keep her hassled so her mindset will be on other things. Even if you break her up, she will not lay for another 2-4 weeks. Good luck.” — Rhonda Crank

“Chicks shouldn’t be added to a flock of adult birds until they are 10 to 12 weeks old. At 4 weeks, they probably still need heat and should be indoors. At about 8 weeks, weather dependent, they can be outside in an adjacent pen to let everyone get used to each other for a few more weeks before you let them mingle. The hen with the plucked breast is broody. She’s ’feathering her nest’.” — Lisa Steele

“Introduce the new birds at night, that way they all wake up together. That always works for me. There will be some disruption to the pecking order, so expect squabbling. Watch the new birds, they may get beat up being so small. That broody hen might adopt them actually, and the feather picking on her chest is normal for a broody hen.” — Jeremy Chartier

Good luck with your flock!

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Death By Broody

I’ve only had chickens for about a year and a half now. I had a broody hen sit on eggs for about five days now and she recently passed away sitting on them. She never did drink water or eat. I was wondering if I should try to incubate the eggs or not? She just died today. What should I do?

Bonnie

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Hi Bonnie,

We were sorry to hear about your hen dying. As you learned, broodies can be very determined when sitting on eggs. We like to keep a watchful eye when we have a broody and we actually remove her from the nest once a day. At that time, we make sure to have lots of food and water nearby so she’ll grab a bite. If anything like this happens again, you can try to incubate the eggs. Many people who have broodies experience problems with them abandoning the nest or their chicks. So, it’s good to be prepared to step in and take over the parenting.

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Broody For Too Long?

We have a six-month-old Bantam hen, “Little Girl,” who has been brooding for 24 days. We took away her eggs in the chicken house and in the barn, so she laid eggs in a very large slash pile behind the barn and we can’t see her. She comes out once a day to eat and drink. She and the rooster, “Rooster,” also a Bantam, were together a lot before she started nesting. He is a one-year-old rooster, so we assume the eggs were fertilized. We can’t see her and so far we don’t hear any peeping.

My questions are: wouldn’t the chicks come out with her when she comes out to eat, and do the chicks stay quiet in their nest?

Thanks for your help. We really love “Little Girl.” She is very smart and affectionate. All our chickens die of old age and they all have names, so we want to do whatever we can.

Lynn Woehrle

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Hi Lynne,

We are so excited for you and your possible new chicks! At this point, we wouldn’t worry. It takes 21 days for eggs to hatch but this is not an exact science. They can hatch on either side of that timeline. We find it helpful to remember that it takes a hen a few days to lay all the eggs in her clutch. So, some will naturally take longer than others.

A momma hen is attuned to her eggs. She can hear and feel the chicks inside the eggs. She will even cluck to them to offer comfort. As the last few days approach, a momma hen won’t leave her nest. And the babies don’t need to leave the nest for three days after they hatch because they can live off the yolk they got during hatching. So, it may be a few days before Little Girl comes out. She’ll determine when the hatch is over and when it’s safe for everyone to venture out. A momma hen will initially try to keep everything quiet so she doesn’t attract predators.

Good luck!

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Feeding Broody Hen and Chicks

I have a broody hen sitting on eggs that will hatch in a few days. What should I feed her and her new baby chicks? It seems like it will be nearly impossible to feed her layer feed while feeding the chicks their chick feed. And how can I keep the rest of the flock from eating the chicks’ food?

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I actually recommend separating a broody hen and her chicks from the rest of the flock. That serves two purposes: it keeps the chicks safe from the older hens and rooster until they’re a bit bigger, and also keeps the older hens from eating all the chicks’ feed. Although a broody hen will usually protect her chicks from the others, I like to give her the chance to care for her babies instead of having to always be vigilant, so separating them works well for both these reasons. The best way to separate the new family is to put them in a small cage or dog crate right on the floor of your coop. That way the older hens get used to the chicks right from the start, making eventual integration very seamless, and the chicks are exposed to the various environmental bacteria and pathogens in small doses and start building up their immune systems.

As for feed, the broody hen and the chicks can all eat chick feed. Layer feed has added calcium that can be harmful to the chicks and cause kidney problems later in life, so you don’t want to feed them layer feed. The added calcium is necessary for laying hens to make strong eggshells, but since a broody hen won’t start laying eggs again until her chicks are five weeks or older, she will be fine eating the chick feed (which has lower calcium levels) until the chicks are ready for grower feed at about eight weeks of age. Likely by that time, the mother hen will have abandoned her brood and will have returned to the flock, leaving the chicks on their own.

Lisa Steele

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Broody Hens

Can you make hens broody or is it something only nature can do?

Donald Landry

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Hi Donald,

A broody hen is influenced by her genetics and time of year, so it’s virtually impossible to make a hen go broody. With that said, when one hen in a flock goes broody, it can sometimes entice other hens to go broody. So you may see more than one hen in a flock broody at the same time.

If you’d like a broody hen in your flock, the best course of action is to get a breed that tends to go broody. Silkies are renowned for being great broodies. Other breeds that tend to go broody include Cochin, Orpington, Sussex, and Brahma.

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Broody Hen Smashing Eggs

My hens had laid eggs and I wanted them to sit on them and hatch them. But after a few days, I went out and all the eggs were smashed. What do you think is wrong?

Judy Kelly

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Hi Judy,

That is disheartening!  There are a number of things that may have happened, depending on the individual circumstances.

First, it’s unclear to whether or not you actually had a broody hen (one wanting to incubate)? If you don’t, it’s generally best to remove the eggs and store them in a cool place (around 55-65 degrees) until you have a broody hen. They can usually be kept for about 10 days and still remain viable. They will stay much cleaner and have less chance of being broken. There isn’t a reliable way to “make” a hen go broody, and some breeds are much more inclined toward broodiness than others.

If the nest is in the main coop, where other hens have access to it, there may have been issues with other hens. This happens fairly often. If you have a broody hen, it’s best to move her and her eggs to an isolated place. If the other hens have access, they may try to get in the nest with her, which can result in broken eggs. On a side note, they may also lay fresh eggs in her nest, and this can lead to a huge headache later on. The eggs will take 21 days to hatch (from the start of incubation), so eggs added later will hatch later. When the first chicks hatch, the hen will leave the nest with the chicks, and those later eggs will need to be incubated artificially (or with another broody hen), or they won’t survive. If you absolutely can’t move the broody hen, it’s best to mark the eggs and check daily to remove any fresh (unmarked) eggs.

If the shell quality is poor, eggs can be broken easily. Briefly, poor eggshells could be caused by nutritional imbalances, excessive heat, genetics, excessively large eggs, etc.

It could also be that the hen is not a very good broody hen. Some heavier hens have trouble with breaking eggs. Feather-footed hens can sometimes have more difficulty.

Finally, something else may have broken the eggs. Lots of things like to eat eggs, so I’d look for evidence of an intruder. Dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums, skunks, rats, and other chickens would all be potential suspects! Depending on where you live, there could be others, too.

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Hens and Eggs

Do you have anyone that’s had this dilemma? I have 3 hens sitting on the same batch of eggs. There is 3 Silkie hens: a black one, a buff one, and a white one. Does anyone know what will happen when the eggs hatch?

Hens in Nest

Onnie Jo

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Hi Onnie Jo,

In my experience, this isn’t an ideal situation. Often, the jostling among the hens can cause an increase in broken eggs prior to hatching. Maybe Silkies will be light (in weight) and docile enough that this won’t be a big problem.

When they hatch, I’ve seen different things happen. In a best-case scenario, they may all take care of the chicks together. They may fight among themselves, and one will drive the others off, then keep the chicks. It is possible that they may separate and each take some chicks.

Another concern when the hens are together like this is that some hens may continue to add eggs to the nest. If all three are broody, and there aren’t any other hens around, this won’t be a problem. If hens add eggs in at a later date, they will hatch at a later date, as each egg will take 21 days of incubation. This becomes a big mess, as chicks are hatching and need to leave the nest, while other eggs still need more incubation.

If possible, it is best to separate a broody hen and her eggs to avoid these concerns.

Ron Kean

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Stopping a Determined Broody

I am having a problem with an Orpington hen, who was sitting on her eggs, but the eggs were removed, and she has been crying for them and won’t stop! My husband has been trying to discourage her, but she refuses to believe that they are gone! (That has been for over a week, and she had laid the eggs in our garden, on top of some stones, so she keeps sitting on those stones, and won’t go back to her coop!) I’m concerned about her eating and drinking, as she doesn’t seem to care about food or water, just her ‘babies’ who are gone. What can we do to help her realize that they are gone?

Patricia Barboza

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Hi Patricia,

The main concern for your hen is being unprotected from the elements and predators. The best place for her at night is inside a predator-proof coop. If the pile of rocks she’s sitting on is inside a protected area, then try removing a rock each day until there are no more rocks for her to set. Also make sure to remove her from the rocks a couple times each day so she can get some exercise and some food and water. If the area where she’s setting isn’t protected then you can try two things. One, just remove her from the rocks in the evening before dark and put her in the coop. She will make a fuss, but it’s paramount she’s safe. You could also take the rocks and move them into the coop for her to set there. Sometimes just the movement of the “nest” will break her broodiness.

Good luck with your hen. It seems like she’s one determined broody!

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How Do I Get Them To Be Broody?

I live in Spain and my Embden goose is laying one egg every other day but she does not sit. Please give me advice.

Walt Conde, Spain

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Hi Walt,

It’s good to hear from one of our readers in Spain. Your question, though, is not as inviting as your beaches. It’s a tough one. Embden is a breed that is usually strong with going broody, but as we know, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Giving them a safe space to nest and sit would be a good place to start. We would suggest building a separate area for her to be broody, as from our experience, one of the main reasons geese will not sit is due to fear (or shyness). We have also heard success from breeders by decreasing protein levels in their diet, as well as making sure they have enough daylight. But that gets more complicated, and you can actually cause damage by changing daylight suddenly or experimentally, so we suggest starting by building her a safe nest that’s away from everyone/everything, and seeing if that doesn’t help.

Also, this could just be a timing issue. Sometimes, geese will not go broody until they have laid several eggs. Keeping a few of the eggs in the nest, and the rest of the eggs alive until then might be your chore, and you can add the eggs back carefully once she has decided to go broody.

Anyway, we hope this helps!

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Broody For Too Long?

We have a six-month-old Bantam hen, “Little Girl,” who has been brooding for 24 days. We took away her eggs in the chicken house and in the barn, so she laid eggs in a very large slash pile behind the barn and we can’t see her. She comes out once a day to eat and drink. She and the rooster, “Rooster,” also a Bantam, were together a lot before she started nesting. He is a one-year-old rooster, so we assume the eggs were fertilized. We can’t see her and so far we don’t hear any peeping.

My questions are: wouldn’t the chicks come out with her when she comes out to eat, and do the chicks stay quiet in their nest?

Thanks for your help. We really love “Little Girl.” She is very smart and affectionate. All our chickens die of old age and they all have names, so we want to do whatever we can.

Lynn Woehrle

*********************

Hi Lynne,

We are so excited for you and your possible new chicks! At this point, we wouldn’t worry. It takes 21 days for eggs to hatch but this is not an exact science. They can hatch on either side of that timeline. We find it helpful to remember that it takes a hen a few days to lay all the eggs in her clutch. So, some will naturally take longer than others.

A momma hen is attuned to her eggs. She can hear and feel the chicks inside the eggs. She will even cluck to them to offer comfort. As the last few days approach, a momma hen won’t leave her nest. And the babies don’t need to leave the nest for three days after they hatch because they can live off the yolk they got during hatching. So, it may be a few days before Little Girl comes out. She’ll determine when the hatch is over and when it’s safe for everyone to venture out. A momma hen will initially try to keep everything quiet so she doesn’t attract predators.

Good luck!

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