The Broody Hen

A broody hen is sight to behold. She’s perpetually in a furious mood.

Here is Onyx in the nesting box. Note the erect feathers and the flattened posture.

angry broody


Compare her to Ruby, who is in the box, laying an egg. More pleasant, isn’t she?

laying hen


A broody hen will get out of the box, at least once daily, to eat, drink and dust bathe. She’ll still look angry.

broody eating


Don’t be alarmed if you notice that your broody hen has pulled all of her feathers off of her chest. She’s not molting. She’s exposing her skin so that her body heat will be directly on the eggs (that is, if she did have eggs, if she was actually going to hatch eggs, which Onyx is not.)

bare breast


Removing your broody hen from her nesting box will do nothing to break the broody spell. She’ll plop down, in a huff of implacable feathers. The other hens will not be intimidated, in fact, they’ll beeline for the broody and peck at her head. Chickens hate changes in the flock, and a broody upsets their social structure. They’ll let her know it.

pecking the broody


If you want to break your hen of broodiness, you’ll have to use an anti-broody hutch. I’ve written about that here.

Right now there are two broodies in the Big Barn, Onyx and Pearl. Pearl is a cochin, which means that if I break her broody spell she’d go right back to it. So, I ignore her. Onyx is a Barnevelder, and it might be that if I put her in the anti-broody coop that she’d snap out of it and go back to laying. But, honestly, I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to do the work of taking care of her separately. I’m collecting enough eggs from the other hens. So, she has a bald chest, she’s taking up a nesting box, she smashes an egg on occasion (I had to hose yolk off her the other day) but, I’m leaving her to it. That’s what happens after twenty years of chicken keeping – you can relax and let them be.



  1. Thanks, Terry! I have two broody girls right now, and I’m going to leave them alone, after reading your post. I have been removing the several times a day, but to no avail. I was worried because I’ve found egg yolk in the boxes, but I guess that’s not an issue, either. What great timing for your post.

    • It only becomes an issue if the hens learn to smash and eat the eggs. Also, yolk on a chicken in the summer heat isn’t pleasant.

  2. I love the way my broody bantams chuntering all the time they are away from the nest … scolding me even as they eat and drink!

  3. Awww, isn’t she cute! :D

    My first introduction to a broody hen was as a preteen when one of my friends had a broody. The hens free ranged during the day and she would protect her ‘nest’ for 5 feet around from all comers. They put arm length gloves on to put her back in the coop at night. I was still a city girl at that point and was shocked down to my socks. Attack chickens!? Yikes! Fortunately they were patient people and got me educated! :D

    • I’ve never had a problem with attack hens, not even the broodies. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but I’m glad I haven’t had that here!

  4. Hi Terry! I’ve been a hen cam fan for a while so I know you’ve raised chicks that you’ve purchased but have you ever hatched any from a broody? Any reason why you don’t? Just curious. We have three chicks that we just hatched from our broody and it’s been so wonderful watching and learning from the whole process. It would be a fun thing for all your hen cam fans to witness. ;)

    • You need a special broody hutch to raise hatch eggs under a momma. Also, half the chicks will be roos, and since I don’t eat my chickens, I didn’t want the excess roos. But, it’d be fun! I have wanted to put day-old chicks under a broody, but of course my broody hens weren’t broody when the chicks arrived.

  5. Hi Terry; I tried messaging you last week but I don`t think it went through? Anyways I wanted to update you on what transpired with introducing 3 day-olds to my broody Ancona. Well I am sorry to say it was not successful. I waited until late that night and quietly approached her in her nesting box and tried to be as gentle as I could as I lifted out the eggs she was sitting on. Well, she totally spooked and even though her back was to me she managed to fly the coop. She is a flier and was gone out of my sight into the shrubbery. So much for great ideas of witnessing motherhood through her!
    Well, she spent the night outside alone and I spent the night fretting whether she would still be with us the next day. I had a broody box set up for the chicks( with a Brinsea Brooder heater), so they were fine. The Ancona came out of hiding in the a.m. when I went to let the other chickens out for the day. She was not greeted warmly by them and some chasing went on for awhile but soon settled down. She hung about outside for most of the day but by late afternoon was back brooding in her box, where she continues to sit with the odd foray outside to mingle on the fringes of her flock-mates. I realized that she was never going to make a good steady Mama…….sigh.
    The chicks are 2 Appenzellers and a white Ameraucana. It is so nice having that Brinsea for them(loaned to me by friend I got the chicks from). The chicks treat it like a Mama hen and I have no worries about fire. Today is the day I get my grand-daughter from Belgium arrives, and I can hardly wait to share the joys of baby chicks with her!

    • The email didn’t come through. Those Anaconas are flighty. I’m not surprised you had a bit of drama, but glad that the chicks and the hen are fine!

  6. I completely understand your reasoning. We had a heck of a time during the 21 days trying to keep her where she was meant to be and keep the other girls from bothering her. I eventually sectioned off the coop so she had no choice but to sit in her little basket with the remaining eggs ( she initially had 10 but they dwindled to 4 due to many mishaps ) The 3 that hatched are 4 weeks old now and because they are mixes, I probably won’t know if they are male or female until they start crowing. I can’t keep roosters, but my brother will take them so that’s why I was ok with my odds. My brother just had luck putting two day old chicks under a broody. It’s been so fascinating watching it all.

  7. I’m like you Terry, I give up trying to break broody hens I just let them be. I spent spring taking care of baby chicks, two baby ducks. I just want the one feeder and one water container to fool with right now.

  8. My buff is forever broody..she does break if I take the time…last year she got so bad that she wouldn’t get off the nest..she became skinny and droopy so I had to put her in the dog kennel I use for her. She finally snapped out of it. We call her Crabby Patty…I put her outside of the chicken coop on her own . She fluffs around for a while…but yearns to be back in her nest box. The bad thing about her is she has layed about 3 dozen eggs total in her 3 year life time…Mostly she wants to set. This year she hatched out a dozen chicks, but a mother she is not…I love her anyway!

  9. Well I’m glad to know my chickens are acting entirely normal! I have an Ameracauna who has been broody for about 3 months now. I’ve tried taking her out every day but it never works. I don’t have a rabbit hutch to put her in, so I just sort of gave up and left her there to brood. Do you think she will ever quit? I was concerned about the other girls picking on her when she did venture out, but I’m grateful to hear that is normal behavior too.

  10. My first broody just hatched guinea fowl eggs Wednesday. It’s so heartwarming to see her free ranging with her five keets.

    How long will she Onyx and Pearl sit before they give up? A friend of mine has a flock of bantam cochins and one of her hens sat for 5 months from fall until spring. They finally got her some chicks from chick days at Tractor Supply. The point is, that is very unhealthy. Being broody takes a toll on the hen’s health, especially in the heat of summer. How will you keep your hens from getting unhealthy?

    • I make sure that the broodies get dust baths. They eat and they drink. I check that Pearl, the cochin, doesn’t get heat stressed. That done, they can stay broody and be just fine. Actually, because they lay so rarely, they don’t get the reproductive problems that other hens have and the broodies tend to live the longest.

      • My hen ate, drank, and dust bathed multiple times a day and she still got thinner. Aren’t you concerned about how much excercise they get?

        • Not worried about the exercise. However, once in awhile a hen truly does get too skinny. I make sure that my broodies go out to free-range with the others. They usually get distracted enough to eat before making their way back inside. I know, because I can see their crops are full.

  11. Question… I have a Black Star (or black sex link) who is just about 1. A few weeks ago I noticed her completely bald underside. I checked everyone else, she is the only ‘baldy’, no signs or symptoms of any sort of bugs like lice, mites, etc. I’ve been watching her and have never seen her act truly broody. She’s not hanging out in the boxes or in any specific spot, she is out and about with her sisters through out the day. She doesn’t appear to be laying every day; maybe 4/7 days. Any ideas? I wondered if she was molting, but it really seems to just be her belly.

    • Check my FAQ page – I have a number of posts that might help you. My best guess, though, is that sometimes the good layers go bald on their rears. Nothing to worry about.

      • Tessica the same thing happened to my welsummer last year when she was 13 months old. she was bald on her belly. Terry’s post helped me out. She didnt present broody symptoms at first ;the clucking, fluffed up feathers, crazy look lol. But after a few days they presented. So yours might be in a delayed onset too?!

  12. Your info last year proved invaluable. So the same 2 hens from this time last year are broody again. One of my little d’uccle. She had 2 days in the broody crate and was fine. However my welsummer, ginger has been in 4 days now. I think last year it took me 6 days to break her. But she was causing such a racket and upset with the other girls I had to put her in the cage lol. Good luck with your girls.

  13. Hi Terry. I have my third broody babe since the summer hit and I’ve been successful breaking them, however I brought my white rock in today because she went totally turkey on me but then proceeded to lay an egg in the broody breaker. This threw me off completely because I thought Broodies didn’t lay eggs?

    • I thought the same thing, but my Silkie hen laid another egg about a week and a half after she went seriously broody. At the time she was sitting eggs stolen from my other laying hen. It was the only egg she laid, and she stayed broody… last Friday she hatched out three chicks from hatching eggs.

      • If left to her own devices, a hen will lay a clutch of eggs (one a day until she feels that the nest is full) and then sit on them to brood. My guess is that your hens are trying to do that.

  14. We have had broody hens, and they look like Onyx. In fact we let one of our Partridge Wyandottes sit on 5 of our Muskovy Duck eggs, and she hatched out all 5. It is so cute watching a momma and her babies. This is actually our first successful hatch via a hen. Other hens have gone broody but didn’t hatch the eggs. Right now Mrs. Partridge is in our anti-broody hutch with the babies. We also use this for babies.

  15. Terry have you had any updates on Amber’s sister buff orphington’s who went broody a lot and you rehomed last year up north ? Have they had a chance to hatch some chicks for their new owner ?

  16. Wow, Onyx can really give an award-winning “stink eye”! :-)

  17. I cannot believe how relevant your post is to me today. I have never experienced a hen going broody till this week. I only have four Goldlines all of whom have laid constantly since they were 20 weeks old. They are now 18 months old. This one hen has stayed in the nesting box (there are 4 to choose from but they all use the same one) all fluffed up and belligerent, for 3 days now. I’ve been lifting her out, much to her annoyance, to retrieve the eggs the other girls have laid. Will she eventually get over it herself if I leave her to it? The others have a go at her when I shift her into the run and she squawks a bit and shakes her feathers but no harm done and then she returns to the box.
    I’m happy to leave her be as long as she won’t become ill because of it. I would welcome your expert input Terry.
    Regards Sue

    • At 18 months, not only is she going broody, but she’s about to molt! If it were me, I’d leave her be. She won’t become ill from being broody – just bad tempered. If she begins to look moth-eaten, it’s the molt.

  18. Ok Terry thanks for that, I appreciate your speedy response xxx

  19. I was told that plain scratch is fine for laying hens but it looks like cracked corn to me and terry said lay off the
    cracked corn
    I have been feeding laying pellets and scratch daily and also lots of veggies, alfalfa hay and some fruit on alternate days.
    I was also told that scratch is not high enough in protein and to buy turkey feed??

    • Some brands of scratch are just cracked corn, others are mixtures of grains, but none are complete enough to keep your hens healthy. Feed laying hen pellets (they’re 16% protein, which is right for hens), and don’t give scratch grains. Veggies and alfalfa are good for treats. I’ve written about feeding here.

  20. I have a bantam among my flock of Rhode Island Reds. The bantam is the only one I’ve noticed going broody, but it only lasts a day on average, and hasn’t caused any problems (except the cursing out she gave me when I collected eggs: maybe that’s why the rooster steers clear of her). The others are starting to lay eggs, so I guess I’ll see what happens.

  21. Terry, I just love your laid back style! Because of all your wisdom, I was completely non-plussed when I noticed my Buff girl, Winnie, going broody (a first for me!) – I did just like you – completely ignored her broodiness for the past 3 weeks! ha! I would pick her up and put her out in the yard with the other girls and she would reluctantly peck and dust bathe and go right back to her broody ways. But just the other day, voila! She was done with all that nonsense and the first one on the roost that night! So…my first broody experience was just another wonderful learning experience – THANK YOU so much!

  22. Thanks Terry! My Barred Rock (Betty) was broody back in the Spring so, for fun, I got some fertile eggs and let her hatch them out. She hatched out 6 chicks and it was a wonderful experience to watch mama raise her chicks. At 6 weeks of age, I observed Betty started coming out of her broodiness and laying again. One egg a day faithfully. She picked on the chicks (not too hard) to get away from her as if to say “I’ve done my job now leave me alone”…lol! It was interesting to see this behavior as she was so protective of the chicks prior. Now that the chicks are 4 months and will be laying soon themselves, Betty gets along with them being that they are more her size now. Two of the chicks were cockerels so they were re-homed and I kept the 4 pullets. Nature is so interesting!