Broody hens: The anti-conformists of the chicken world

Spring, my favorite time of year. . . Spring means birds chirping. Spring means ducklings. Spring means lethal broody hens ready to unleash their fury if you take another step..

One of our girls has gone broody!

One of our girls has gone broody! Some breeds are prone do broodiness more than others. Our hen happens to be a Silkie cross, a breed that has more mothering instincts than most.

What?

Broody hens are as much a part of spring and summer as the Lyme disease filled ticks themselves. They are the few and proud birds who rebel against the system by refusing to conform to the rest of the lay-an-egg-a-day-and-leave-the-nest hens. Most farmers hate them, and for good reason! Broody hens lay almost no eggs and are more hostile toward the egg collector than most birds.  Rather than leaving the nest after they drop an egg, these hens plant themselves in the nesting box for as long as it takes to hatch out chicks. Maybe they know something we don’t. Maybe something deep inside of the broody hen remembers what it was like before humans plucked their wild ancestors from the jungles of Southeast Asia and domesticated them into daily egg layers. . .or maybe I’m beginning to romanticize chickens way too much. . .

Signs You Have a Broody Hen

Visible brood patch under our hen. (Disregard the blue skin, it's a Silkie thing).

Visible brood patch under our hen. (Disregard the blue skin, it’s a Silkie thing).

  • A patch of missing feathers appears on her breast known as a “brood patch.” The bare skin serves to keep the eggs warmer and closer to the hens body. (Their overall body temperature rises for this same purpose).
  • The hen only leaves the nest about once every couple of days in an obvious rush to stuff herself with food and water before returning to the nest.
  • The hen’s body appears fluffed up.
  • Her voice changes to a deep, short, “broody cluck.” 

What to do If You Have One

Most chicken farmers who strive for egg-laying efficiency cull their broody hens. If you’re a bit of a softy like me, here are some other options to end the broodiness.

  • Move her from the chicken coop to a wire-bottom enclosure. The feel of the draft beneath her discourages her from nesting. After about a week of this,
    depending on the bird, her broody hormones should be put to rest.
  • Take away her access to a nesting area altogether. Providing you have descent protection from predators, keep her outside during the day and let her in toward nighttime.
  • Embrace the broodiness! Provide the hen with her own nesting box away from the others. Put some fertilized eggs beneath her, (you can even use duck eggs), and watch the magic happen!

Happy chickening everybody.

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