Any hen can become broody at any time, broodiness is a natural tendency that all hens have that makes them want to sit on and hatch a clutch of eggs.
There is no way of knowing exactly what makes a hen become broody as it’s a combination of her hormones, instinct, and maturity that can cause her to become broody.
A broody hen will take up a position in her favourite nest box and will be agitated if you try to disturb her. Feathers ruffle and she will squawk at you in protest if you attempt to dislodge her – you may even receive a peck on the wrist for your efforts!
Even hens that have lived in a colony cage system and have never had access to their own eggs before can go broody.
The understandable reaction from many worried hen owners is to seek out fertilized eggs to put under their broody girl. This is one answer but you have to be prepared – a good half of the eggs are likely to be male when they hatch.
If you have no cockerel and have no intention of rearing your own chicks it can be infuriating to see your hen sitting in the nest box day after day. Some hens will lose feathers and develop a bald patch on their belly. This is because this bald spot would provide extra warmth for her eggs.
It is important that you lift your hen off the nest every day to feed, drink and to defecate. Even if your hen’s nesting desire is so strong that she runs straight back to the nest – it will at least provide her with some exercise. You should remove any eggs from the nest and be firm with your hen. You may need to shut her outside the coop entirely to collect them.
How long will this behaviour last?
If she were hatching eggs she would be sitting on the nest for two weeks, but may well be broody for up to six weeks. Continued cooling of her underside, you can do this by lifting her out of the nest box, will help to break the cycle.
What can I do if my hen is broody?
If you find yourself with a broody hen, there are several things you can do to calm her down and reduce her broodiness. The first thing to do is to remove her from the nesting box and collect her eggs regularly. This can sometimes be hard to do if she particularly doesn’t want to move. You may have to do this several times as she may try to go back into the nest box as soon as you remove her.
If she does keep returning to the nest box the next thing to do is to block off the nest box that she has been using. One way to do this is to pail in a piece of wood to the entrance (if you have a wooden hen house).
Another way is to try placing a clutch of ice cubes into the nest box so that when she tries to go back in, she will find it unpleasant to sit on and it will also reduce her temperature. When hens are broody it makes their body temperature rise, so, reducing her temperature will make her think she’s no longer broody.
Of course, you can always just let your hen be broody and let the cycle run its course. Eggs take around two to three weeks to hatch so she will be broody for at least that long. If this is something you want to do, you should make sure that she has access to food and water, which you may have to make her go find by removing her from the nest box as suggested earlier. If there are other hens in the nesting box, your broody hen should be happy to share the box, however, some hens can become aggressive and will peck at the others if she feels they are getting in her space so watch out for that one!
If after all that your hen is still broody, you can remove her from the coop completely and place her in a cage with a wire bottom to it. This can be a large dog or cat carrier with chicken wire on the bottom of it, and room to move about in. Make sure to place food and water in the cage as well but no bedding.
The wire cage is uncomfortable for her and will hopefully cool down her chest and vent area to reduce her broodiness like the ice cubes. Three days is usually enough time but it does depend on the hen. You will know when your hen is no longer broody when she no longer fluffs her feathers out and she won’t hurry to the nest. As Omlet says “This may seem cruel but in the long run it can be kinder than allowing her to sit on an empty nest whilst her health deteriorates”.
If you have any other queries about broody hens, check out our Hen Health FAQs where we have short snippets of information all about hens.