When Breaking a Broody Hen is Necessary
5 Reasons to NOT Let Your Hen Hatch Eggs!
Reading Time: 4 minutes
I have raised poultry for the past six years, and I’ve had my share of broody hens. What I’ve learned is this: people love seeing photos of mother hens and chicks. A fluffy chick, duckling, or turkey poult with its mother melts the human heart.
The ability to raise mother hens and chicks together is a process that we truly appreciate on our homestead. I also love sharing this experience with others. However, the experience isn’t always perfect, making it necessary to prevent a broody hen from hatching out eggs. Shocking, I know.
I often hear from individuals that it’s unfair to prevent a broody hen from hatching eggs. I am told more times than not, “Just give your broody hen eggs.” I shake my head and remind myself that these individuals may not realize why it is necessary to break a broody hen. And I can promise you, it’s not because we are uncompassionate to the hormonal hen’s needs. Oh, no, not at all!
So, before you think I’m cruel, I will share why it is often necessary to not allow a hen to remain broody.
What Causes a Hen to Become Broody?
Hormones. The increase of daylight encourages the hen’s body to release a hormone from the pituitary gland known as prolactin. This increase causes her to become fixated on hatching eggs. And sometimes this fixation becomes quite extreme, requiring the poultry keeper to intervene.
Why Break Broody Hens?
This is the hard truth. As stewards to our livestock and property, there are times when we must step in and say, enough is enough.
The Health of a Hen
A broody hen leaves the nest once a day to drink, eat, dirt bathe, and drop waste. The rest of the time she is on the nest, which can be an issue when the temperature is extremely high. The heat can cause a nesting hen to overheat, become dehydrated, and even die.
Extreme cases of broodiness may result in deterioration of the hen’s health. A hardcore broody may not leave the nest for days on end, whereas some may not leave at all, starving themselves or dying due to dehydration.
A stubborn broody hen will often defecate in the nesting box. The waste draws flies, which in turn can lead to flystrike on a nesting hen.
Let’s be realistic: if there is no rooster available to fertilize eggs, there is no reason to allow a hen to remain broody. The hen will monopolize a nesting box for 21 days, many times longer. The process of allowing her to “sit it out” is unnecessary, especially during the warmest part of summer.
City Zoning Ordinances
Offering fertilized hatching eggs may seem like a kind act to the broody hen, but many cities have strict laws regarding how many poultry can be kept on the property. Hatching chicks could exceed allocation based on city livestock ordinances.
Also, rehoming poultry is not always easy, especially if there are cockerels in the mix. Prior to allowing a broody hen to hatch eggs, make sure to have a solid plan in place to rehome chicks.
Aggressive, Inattentive Mother Hens
Speaking from experience, not all hens make good mothers. They may make excellent broodies, but when it comes to raising chicks, their behavior often turns aggressive. Aggressive mother hens tend to peck and even abandon chicks, resulting in injury or death.
Inattentive mother hens are a major cause of death to chicks, crushing them due to stepping or laying on them.
Broodiness is Contagious
Though not scientifically proven, poultry keepers often claim broodiness tends to be contagious.
Egg production is nonexistent during the period in which a hen is broody. Allowing a hen, especially in a small flock, to remain broody reduces the number of eggs. Imagine if two or three flock members become broody at the same time.
The Best Broody Breeds to Avoid
Hatching chicks should be intentional. My preference, as a homesteader, is to keep breeds which are prone to broodiness in order to have them hatch eggs and then care for chicks. I specifically selected duck, turkey, geese, and chicken breeds to perform this task. These specific breeds generally become broody at least once between spring through fall.
If you’re not prepared to deal with a broody hen, avoid adding these breeds to your property. And remember, all poultry breeds can become broody, but those on this list are highly susceptible.
Our Java, Orpington, French Black Copper Marans, and Speckled Sussex are extreme broody hens, which means I must watch them closely while they sit on a clutch.
- Speckled Sussex
We have had Welsh Harlequin, Cayuga, and Khaki Campbells become dedicated broodies throughout the summer months. The Welsh Harlequin breed tends to be quite extreme, refusing to leave the nest for days at a time. The Muscovy breed is highly prone to broodiness and will often set clutches two to three times a year.
- Domestic Mallard
- Khaki Campbell
- Welsh Harlequin
Heritage turkey hens, once mature, often go broody at least once between spring through fall. Out of all our poultry breeds, turkey hens appear to be the most intense broody of them all. Their determination to hatch eggs often results in potential health risks due to neglecting their needs. Turkeys should be watched closely throughout the time a hen sits on eggs.
The Chinese goose tends to be more broody than other goose breeds.
As you can see, it’s not all peaches and cream when it comes to allowing a hen to “just hatch eggs.” Poultry keepers must be aware of our birds’ behaviors, as it may save the life of the hen and her chicks.
Originally published in the February/March 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.