Broody hens can be useful or a nuisance. “What’s a broody hen?” you may wonder. For those who are unaware, when a hen decides that she wants to hatch a clutch of eggs and proceeds to sit on the eggs day in and day out, THAT is a broody hen. Hens can become broody whether the eggs are fertilized or not. If you want to take advantage of this broodiness, you can obtain fertilized eggs or baby chicks and watch the wonder and fun that is a hen and her chicks. But if you don’t, then you need to “break” the hen’s broodiness.
When is it useful? Broodiness is useful when you want to brood another batch of chicks without the work–the mother hen does it all! No heat lamp needed, no cleaning of a brooder. Plus, watching a hen and chicks is just so…darn…sweet. I figured that if one of my hens went broody in a year or two, I would use it to save some work while getting replacement chicks. I didn’t count on it happening when they were 8 months old.
When is it a pain? It’s a pain anytime you don’t want it to happen. One of the issues with a broody hen is that she will stop laying eggs (not a big deal as I’m not a commercial operation with my 9 hens), but she will also stop eating as she devotes her time to sitting on a clutch of eggs, and will rip out the feathers on her abdomen to provide eggshell-to-skin contact for incubation. I had a hen who was broody for two months and became so darn skinny, she looked like a shell of herself.
So did I get fertilized eggs? Chicks? Or try to break her? While making contact with folks offering fertilized eggs on Craigslist and perusing pending baby chick deliveries at local feed stores (it is currently “chick season”) I decided to still try and “break” the broody hen, a Double-Laced Barnevelder who went broody a mere 2 months after she started to lay. “Breaking the broodiness” may sound mean, but it’s not. All you do is try and stop the hen from sitting on the eggs.
How did I know she was broody? I noticed that when I went to check for eggs, the hen, “Velma” would be in the nest box. I thought she was in the midst of laying an egg but 3 hours later she was still there (while other hens had laid their eggs). She wasn’t sitting there 24HRS a day until several days later and I KNEW she was broody when I went to collect the eggs and she did this:
Breaking the broody hen
There are several ways to break the broodiness, but I chose to combine two methods that worked for me in the past: tossing the hen off the nest whenever I found her there and setting her in a bucket of water (so that she floats). I decided if Velma remained broody two weeks after I started my campaign, I would get her some chicks. Well, the first day I combined the two techniques, I also kept her AWAY from the nest box by letting the girls out to roam. She stayed away for a while before trying to sneak back in. When I would find her sitting on the nest, I would put her in the bucket and hold her there–the goal is to maximize contact with the bare skin she uses to incubate the eggs. You are NOT trying to drown her!! The contact of cold water with her skin lowers her body temperature and lessens either the ability or desire to incubate. I ended up doing this several times over two days.
Only two days later, she was back to roosting with the girls. I thought I was in the clear until I saw her in the nest AGAIN, at which point I just tossed her off the eggs she was hoarding. In addition to the issues mentioned, another is that a broody hen gathers the eggs laid by ALL the hens: she moves the eggs from one nest box to another by hooking her beak over the eggs and pulling them over. The eggshells are quite tough and can withstand some serious force (especially these eggs–they’re like breaking rocks it seems), but Velma’s repeated efforts would occasionally crack an egg. If the egg cracks enough that the contents are accessible and a hen starts to eat the egg, it can become a serious problem to have an “egg-eater.”
Chicks or Eggs?
If the broodiness would not stop, I had settled on getting chicks simply because the chicks would be sexed. With fertilized eggs, there is a 50/50 chance of getting roosters–I did NOT need 6 roosters. And certainly not 6 roosters when other folks would be trying to get rid of their own roosters.
Thankfully, thankfully, she stopped being broody–Velma has been out and about with her coop mates.