Broody Hens

It’s that time of year when half of my emails are about broody hens. A broody hen is one that stops laying. Instead, she is fixated on sitting on the nest as if she is going to hatch a clutch of eggs. A broody hen will sit whether there are eggs under her or not. Her feathers will fluff up and she might pluck a few out, all so that her body temperature rises, so if there were eggs there, they’d be the right temperature to develop into chicks. Broodiness varies by the hen and the breed, but it can last several weeks.

Most broody hens do get up to eat and drink and poop, although you’re unlikely to see that as it will be a brief excursion. With Hencam, I can spy on my broody hens, and I know they are doing fine. Still, whenever I go into the coop, I unceremoniously scoop up the broody hen(s) and shove her outside into the pen. She always eats and drinks before coming back to the nest. Snowball, my broodiest of hens (is anyone surprised at this?), rasps a warning at me when I pick her up, but I ignore it and toss her out. Within seconds, she is happily scratching in the yard. But only a few minutes later, the impulse to brood takes over and back in she goes.

Hens bred to supply most of the world’s eggs have been selected to lay an egg each day, and once they’ve done their job, to ignore that egg and eat and drink so that they can make more eggs. Even some of the old-time breeds of chickens were developed to lay but not sit on their eggs. This makes a lot of economic sense. So, even within a backyard flock, only a few hens might be broody at a time. I tend to tolerate the reduced productivity, but I do get the the hens off the nests a few times a day to make sure that they are drinking enough.

If you only have three hens and two are broody, you will yearn for fresh eggs and want to break the broody cycle. During the day you can lock your hens out of the henhouse and away from the nest. Or, you can put your hen in a wire cage (with food and water) – the air circulating under the hen will cool her body temperature, which will send a message to her body that the broody cycle is over. Or, to speed that up even more, put a bag of frozen peas under her. (Then feed them to the hens when thawed. It’s a welcome treat.)

Broodiness is a normal thing for many hens. First time chicken keepers often think that their hens are sick. Don’t worry, they’re not – but they are boring sitting there all day! Despite your hen’s protestations, it is good to get them up and out. But, breaking that cycle takes effort, and you have to be more determined than your chicken! I’m sorry to say that in this flock, Snowball always wins.

(Viewers of Hencam will notice that Blackie is currently broody.)

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