Michele Cook shares ideas for getting a broody hen off the nest.
We have a hen around here we call ‘Broody Betty’. She is a Rhode Island Red hen and she seriously wants to have some babies. I don’t want any more chicks but she doesn’t seem to care. Starting in spring and going until early fall, Betty goes broody at least four or five times. A few of our other hens have also tried to hatch a few eggs, but nothing to compares to this girl. If you have a broody Betty of your own, here are a few things you can do to break the broody cycle.
Signs of a Broody Hen
Before a hen goes full on broody there are a few signs you might observe. A hen might start staying closer to the coop then normal, go off their feed, or stay away from other hens. The biggest tell-tale sign for me is when a normally docile hen starts being nasty to her fellow coop mates. The hen might hiss or peck at another chicken or they might fluff themselves up and threaten the other hens.
If you notice any of this behavior, start collecting eggs as often as you can. If she doesn’t have any eggs to sit on, you may be able to stop the cycle before it begins.
If you free range your chickens and suddenly see a big drop in egg production, this is also a sign there is a broody hen hiding somewhere on your property. Just before a hen goes broody, she will start collecting eggs for her nest. This means stealing them from your nesting boxes. She will tuck an egg up under her wing and carry it to her decided spot and go back for another. Earlier in the year I caught Broody Betty with 15 eggs. We only have 22 hens. She had managed to steal almost all of the eggs that day!
Remove the Eggs
For most chickens, removing the eggs from under them for a few days will break the broody cycle. They seem to get bored with finding new eggs to sit on every day and decide those little chicks just aren’t worth it. Broody Betty will steal eggs for at least a week before she decides to give it up.
To remove the eggs, gently reach your hand under the chicken and pull out the eggs. Go in from the backside as most broody hens don’t appreciate this and might peck at you if you try going in from the front end. You shouldn’t need to lift the hen up or push her off the nest. This just creates a cranky hen and gives her the opportunity to turn around and strike at you.
Once you have all the eggs some chickens will hop off the nest and wander away and some will sit there and pout. Broody Betty cries. I am serious ya’ll. This girl stands outside of her empty nest, puts her head down and whimpers. I feel like a giant monster each time.
Remove the Bedding
After you remove the eggs, removing the bedding can discourage a hen from jumping back on the nest. Hens who plan on sitting on a nest for a few weeks want to be comfortable, removing the bedding makes the nest less than comfortable. Would you want to sit on a hard board for a few weeks? Me either, and the hens feel the same way.
If you have multiple laying hens be sure to leave bedding in your other nesting boxes. Broody hens tend to have one particular box they prefer to sit in, removing the bedding from that box can discourage them.
Fake them Out
If you have a hen like Betty, and you can’t stand to see them cry, you can fake them out. What I mean by that is to replace the eggs with something else. Golf balls or fake eggs work great. This technique will work on some hens and some will call your bluff. I have reached under a hen and removed an egg and replaced it with a golf ball thinking I was slick, only to find the golf ball kicked out and new eggs under the hen the next day.
So much for dumb chickens.
The drawback to this method is it will keep the hen in the broody cycle for longer. Meaning no eggs from her and a nesting box you can’t use.
Aggressive Broody Hens
Broody hens are not the friendliest creatures on the planet but some can be down right nasty. The good news is, most do a lot more posturing then they do actual attacking. If you have a hen that is extremely aggressive you will need to take some simple precautions to keep yourself safe when dealing with your girl.
- Wear a long sleeve shirt or sweat shirt
- Use heavy leather gloves to protect your hand
- If available, have a friend there to help you. (decked out in the same wardrobe)
- Always reach under the hen from the back. If your nesting box doesn’t allow this, you may need to move her off the nest.
Even if your broody hen is aggressive you will still need to remove the eggs from under her at least every other day. Otherwise you will end up with more chicks or a stinky mess in your coup. (ask me how I know!)
Having a broody hen isn’t the end of the world. It might be a little inconvenient for a few days, but this too shall pass. If you are interested in hatching chickens with your broody hen, check out Amy Fewell’s article.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author, and communications specialist for the National Federation of Press Women. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in the beautiful Allegheny mountains of Virginia. If she is not outside caring for her farm you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.