Those of us with only a few backyard hens appreciate each and every egg that our girls lay. As daylight lengthens and the weather warms, our younger hens lay an egg a day. For a while we bask in the riches. And then it stops. One hen, or two, or more go broody. They huff up, they sit in their nesting boxes, in bad temper and they stop laying eggs. Instead of having cartons of eggs in the fridge, and the resulting “problem” of what to do with them, (will it be a custard? bread pudding? frittata?) there is an egg shortage. On top of that, the pleasant, chuck-chuckling hen that you enjoy being around has turned into henzilla.
Chickens bred for modern production facilities don’t go broody. I’ve never had a hybrid go broody. However, at one time, before modern hatcheries, farmers needed a few broody hens in order to get chicks. A farmer could even sell a broody hen to her neighbor for a premium. If you keep heritage breeds of chickens, you’ll probably have at least one broody hen in the lot. And you’ll wish that she’d snap out of it.
You’ll know when your hen is broody. She claims a nesting box and keeps everyone else out. She stops laying eggs. She’ll fluff up her feathers and look twice her size. She’ll pull out some of her breast feathers – if she had a clutch of eggs to hatch, her bare skin would keep them warm.
Here is Twinkydink, showing broody behavior. Notice how she is hunkered down and her feathers are strewn about.
Typically, a hen will stay broody for almost a month. If she had fertile eggs to hatch, she’d be on the nest for 21 days. But chickens don’t count and the time they spend broody is variable. Some persistent hens will stay broody all summer, which makes the chicken keeper mutter things like “useless bird!” when doing coop chores.
Some people give in to their hen’s hormonal drives and put fertile eggs under her. Some people don’t mind having fewer eggs and just leave her alone until one day she pops out of the nesting box and resumes her normal daily routine. Other chicken keepers try to break the broody cycle.
I’ve heard of people who put a bags of frozen peas under their hens. This brings down the body temperature and supposedly stops the broodiness. I haven’t tried that. I have tried isolating a broody hen in a wire crate, in a cool, shady place. After two or three days of this, her body temperature falls back to normal and she forgets about the nesting box. I did this when Coco went broody. As soon as she got in the crate (notice there’s food and water) she looked like a normal, laying hen. She was active, sleek and cheerful.
Three days later, I put her back in the coop and she immediately became broody again.
I would give up, except she’s so intimidated the Polish hens, that they’ve started laying their eggs on the coop floor. I found one broken, and one here:
So, today I have put the two broody hens, Coco and Lulu, out in the goat paddock. They’ll pace the fence to get back to their nests, but I’m going to ignore them until the other hens have had a chance to lay their eggs in the boxes. I’m hoping to get five eggs today. I’d like to make chocolate pudding.