The Broody Hen

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.


  1. I have one broody buff right now who is driving me crazy!!! I throw her out of the box at least twice a day. Sigh, has it been a month yet?

  2. Last summer when our youngest hens were less than a year old and before we adopted a cockerel, our hybrid Skylines (Araucana x Crested Cream Legbars) went broody. We were due to go on holiday, at the time we didn’t want chicks. They drove us nuts for weeks. One neighbour who fed and watered them for us, worried they were ill, they had become hens from hell!!!

    Now, my girls have a suitable Lavender Araucana boyfriend, I would love them to have chicks… but do they want to go broody! Nope!

    Maybe I’ll borrow one of my neighbours big fluffy Cochins – I’m sure they’ll be up to the task ;-) I once had a Partridge Cochin so determined to return to her nest that she flew straight at my office window to try to get through my studio to the henhouse on the other side!


  3. Terry, I do the cage thing too, I can’t tell from the photo but if the cage is not elivated try placiing the four corners of the cage on bricks or something. The cooler air on the bare breast seems to help snap them out of “it”.
    I do put my spring broody’s to work. I buy day old (or two or three) chicks at the feeds store and slip them under the broody’s at night and let them do the work of raising them.
    My experience has taught me that the hen needs to be broody at least two weeks or the liklihood of rejection goes way up. I have done this for years and would say my success rate of adoption is 99%. I have never had chicks that are few days old reject a hen only the other way around. It sure saves me the trouble and worry of brooder lights, proper temps, making sure they eat and drink etc. Mother nature is a wonderful thing.

    • Hi Ken – She stopped being broody as soon as she got in that crate. The dirt is very cool there. She walked around for two days, looking sleek and trim. Then she saw that nesting box and her broody alter ego took over! I think Coco is an incorrigible case. I wish I could give them chicks, but I’ve got too many old hens taking up space.

  4. Chickens are exactly like teenagers! They have a status within their flock (or school), they have hormonal drives, they even intimidate the other hens to (as you said) lay their eggs on the floor (In this case with teenagers it could be called bullying.) Somewhere out there, a great poem is just begging to be written comparing teenagers with chickens! :-)

  5. My Barred Rock Nellie started displaying broody behavior yesterday. I remove eggs from under her as soon as I can to discourage her sitting in the nesting box. At night I have to put her on the roosting place with the other girls. I hope she snaps out of this soon.


    • Not to be discouraging, but it doesn’t make a whit of difference to my broodies whether there are eggs under them or not. That said, if they see an egg in a nesting box, they’ll go over and claim it. With luck, in their enthusiasm, they won’t smash it. Sigh.

  6. I had three cochin hens go broody at the same time. I gave all three eggs to set. They now are co-parenting 11 adorable cochin chicks for me! ;-)

    MUCH better than running incubators and brooders!

  7. interesting that your Broody comments mirror issues I am having with my 53 hens…all different breeds. I have a Silver Phoenix in the back of the coop sitting on way too many eggs, a Dominique who is sitting on no eggs because the other hens break them and eat them, (ding dang hens), I also have a Polish who can’t make up her mind and an Austrolop who is broody, but doesn’t want to stay in one spot. I suspect the other hens are fighting with her about the nest boxes. We have 12 boxes, but they seem to argue over 3 of them. I entered the coop to find two hens sitting on another hen. Looked like the phone booth with too many people.

  8. Must be the season…I have broody hens all over the place. My English Sussex is a mess. She has sat comatose since April when I brought her to school for show and tell…I knew since she was broody she would just sit there like a stuffed chicken so the kids could look at her. She has not waivered. My 2 buff cochins decided to be broody together so now I have the “twins” sitting side by side in the nesting box. I have given up. I gather the eggs, mutter to myself, and move on.

  9. One more thing about nest box crowding – did you know that a hen lays her egg standing up? They sit in the box, but just as she lays it, she stands. It’s hard to stand when there’s a six pound hen sitting on your head. Ask Tina. I picked up Lulu today, thinking to check under her for eggs, but instead found Tina! Who, once relieved of the chicken weight, stood up and laid an egg. She then got quickly out of that box. Lulu huffed and sat back down.

  10. We use a wire crate on our back screened porch to break the broodies. We call it “broody jail”. My hen, Gloria, has been thrown into broody jail quite often and she knows the drill. After the first day, I will let her out in the morning to enjoy scratch with the others, and she simply walks out of the crate, through the screened porch door and down the path to the coop with me. Later, I scoop her up and place her back into her jail cell, where she goes willingly. It usually only takes 3-4 days. The trick seems to be to keep her perched so she can’t “set”.

  11. I am enjoying all the comments on broody hens. I have a cukoo moran, Freida, that has gone broody big time! I have only had these chickens for a little over a year, started with 3 chicks and now have the 2 hens, one died of no apparent reason. So I was thinking about adding one back and reading about getting a chick and putting it under her seems like something I would like to try. My other hen, Miss Tilley, would lay an egg a day up until 3 days ago when it has been difficult for her to get into the nest and when she does get in there they are crammed tight. I just put another nesting box in so I hope Miss Tilley will start laying again. Here’s my question – should I get a fertile egg or a chick? Can I get just one or do I need two? Any advice is appreciated!


    • You can certainly make use of her broodiness by adding eggs or chicks. However, there are some things to think about – what will you do if the chicks are roosters? Do you have enough space for more chickens? (You should have more that one chick. They need company of more their own age.) It’s best if the broody hen and her chicks are kept separate from the others. I have never used a broody hen, but some of my readers have. Feel free to contact them!

      • I think I will stick with the hens I have, the neighbors would not be happy if I had a rooster :). Thanks for your advice, I enjoy reading about everyone’s experiences.

  12. It’s funny because I have heard also and read that hybrids don’t go broody. I had a sex link (Abby) that every year would go broody on me for well over a month, once up to 3 months! I had only 3 hens at the time and a small coop and one nest box. She would pile all the eggs under her and I would have such a hard time getting her off the eggs to retrieve them. I would do everything I could to stop her from shutting her out of the roost box (playhouse coop design) to which she would somehow fly up on top of the roost box and sit so far back that I couldn’t get her. I tried the peas, they just got warm and then I fed it to the rest. I would finally end up putting her in a dog crate and bring her inside in the air condition for several days which most of the time did work. The other problem I had with her going broody is I live in the south with very humid hot summers. Inside that roost box even with it all opened up would get HOT. The only way she would get water and food was if I forced her out.

    Here is the strange thing though and I wonder if anyone ever had this happen. She used to be (before she ever went broody) a very funny delightful hen. After the first time she came out of brooding the other two hens became vicious towards her. They plucked a hunk of flesh from her and would chase her to the point she wouldn’t come out of the coop or roost box if they were anywhere near her. After a few months of this they settled down and would leave her alone but from that time on she was a loner. The other two were two peas in a pod. Abby also changed herself and would attack anyone who went into the run/coop after that. Every year she would go broody and when she was done the same thing would happen with the other two attacking her badly. Her attitude never changed and she was always mean after that. She was my best egg layer and she also is the one who suddenly died about a month ago. I felt bad for her as I think she got like that from the way they treated her. She did hurt though and people were afraid to go in to see the hens.

    • Flock dynamics are funny things. Sometimes the hens are responding to signals that we aren’t aware of. Being prey animals, chickens hide illness from us, but the other hens might know, and when a hen is weak, they are pecked to the bottom of the order.
      Sometimes, there are hormonal changes that make hens aggressive (some even turn rooster, and crow!). Sometimes hens are simply vicious to the lone, different hen and never let up. I have two flocks, partly so that I can separate the hens that don’t get along. The hens in the big barn would have killed (I am not exaggerating) the two Polish girls. But, in the HenCam coop, those Polish hens are in the middle of the pecking order and all is peaceful.