For those of us that don’t have the inclination to buy an incubator and brooder and spend months rearing chicks by hand ourselves every day while loosing a substantial amount of space to the brooder in our homes, there is an all new invention: The Broody Hen.
Okay so it’s not so new, but it is a rare and beautiful find to possess. I figuritively cry when I see forum posts about broody hens when the owner just doesn’t want thier hen to go broody. Of course, I understand in smallscale operations you just want a couple of egg layers and no fuss, but don’t break your broody hen – give her to someone who really needs a broody prone hen and swap her for an egg laying machine. Not only is it kinder to the hen, it’s also vital for many natural method chicken owners. Personally not only do I find it MUCH easier to get a broody hen to rear your chickens, but I can’t stand the fact that many breeds of chicken now simply do not go broody, it’s been specifically bred out of them to ensure relentless egg laying machines for your supermarket eggs. If we didn’t incubate them, they would be in serious trouble as it’s quite rare for them to get broody and raise chicks naturally. Surely that isn’t something we should be encouraging just for our own convenience?
Clear Signs you have a broody hen
1. You hardley ever see her outside anymore
This is a big one. If your hen is outside all day – the eggs are not being incubated. Eggs can be left without a hen sitting on them for approximately half an hour maximum before you start to loose eggs. Therefore, during brooding the hen has a strong urge to make sure they do not get off those eggs except to feed, drink and poop. For the first few days this can mean they don’t get up at all – as if they are making absolutely sure the ball is rolling before they risk anything. If you don’t think your hen has budged an inch for a couple of days, you may wish to consider picking her up off the nest and plopping her down by the food to encourage her to eat and drink before she sits down again.
2. Her poop is big and smelly
Because she isn’t eating and drinking throughout the day she also isn’t pooping regularly. This means when she does get up off the nest she has a nice big poop before she get’s back to work. All that extra stored up poop is going to be pretty ripe and much larger than her regular poops.
3. She has stopped laying eggs
Sometimes, she will brood even with no eggs underneath her! These are what I refer to as “Hardcore broodies”. But whether she has enough eggs or not, she will stop laying if she wants to sit and brood. If she still hasn’t “set” try adding some extra eggs into the nest box as it may be she doesn’t have the right number for what she wants to brood. Unless she is an old bird (4 years ish for most breeds to hit ‘menopause’ up to 7 years in some cases), not laying eggs is a good indicator that she has decided to try to brood.
4. She makes the “Broody noise”
I made a little video of an example of a broody noise from quite a tame broody hen which you can watch below. Basically, while she is sitting on the nest if you go anywear near her she will make a gutteral warning noise telling you to stay away from her and her eggs. The severity of this can vary depending on the hen, broodier breeds like maran and maran hybrid types can get quite upset puffing up to increase thier size, pecking at you and being very noisy! Your tamest most gentle hen can suddenly turn into a viscious rapter ready to eat you alive.
Video not working? Use the direct link instead and click here.
5. Missing breast feathers
In order to get her lovely hormone elevated hot skin on the eggs to transfer her body heat more effectively, the hen will often pluck a few chest feather out (little downy ones). She will then use these to line her nest for extra insulation. What a clever mommy! Seeing breast feathers in nest boxes is a great indication someone in the flock is getting ready to brood.
Q. My Hen refuses to eat/drink what should I do?
A. I have had this happen once, during the first week or so of brooding. Even picking her up off the nest did not deter her, she would storm right back to the eggs immediately. The brooding was strong in this one! My solution was to bring the food and water to her. I made sure they were both within reach from the nest if she stretched out her neck, she seemed happy with this solution as it meant she could have a drink and didnt have to leave her precious eggs uncovered. After a week she calmed down and fed/drank/pooped off the nest and I moved the food and water further away. If you have to do this, keep an eye out for pooping on the nest, a hazard caused by the hen’s unwillingness to get off the nest which can kill eggs.
Q. My hen is showing signs of broodiness but isn’t staying on the eggs enough. What is going on?
A. Your hen is thinking about brooding but something isn’t quite right yet. Sometimes I never figure out what it is! It could be not enough eggs, not dark enough, not private enough, not the right size nest area, the weather turned a bit too cold, she doesn’t feel safe there, it’s just not her favourite place to nest or her breed is ‘easily broken’ i.e. a commercial chicken breed that likely will never brood. Good luck!