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How to “break” a broody hen

General, How to..

Breaking a broody hen can be a challenging task for many chicken owners. Understanding the behaviour, health risks, and effective strategies to manage or break broodiness is crucial for maintaining a healthy and productive flock. Here, we provide a comprehensive guide with practical tips and detailed steps on how to effectively break a broody hen and discourage this persistent behaviour.

A broody hen exhibits a strong, natural desire to sit on and incubate eggs with the hope of hatching them. This instinctual behavior can occur regardless of whether the eggs are fertilized by a rooster. Signs of a broody hen include puffing up, pecking at perceived threats, and consistently sitting in the nest. Although this might seem like a harmless act, it can lead to significant health issues if the hen is not actually incubating fertilized eggs or if she neglects her own well-being to sit on an empty nest.

Preventing Broody Behaviour

Preventative measures can be the most straightforward approach to managing broodiness before it fully takes hold. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Frequent Egg Collection: Regularly collecting eggs several times a day ensures that there aren’t any eggs lying around in the nesting boxes for long, thus reducing the hen’s temptation to brood.
  • Nest Concealment: Hanging curtains or draping material over the nesting boxes can conceal the eggs or the empty space, making it less attractive for the hen to start brooding.

Identifying a Broody Hen

Distinguishing between a broody hen and one that is simply slow to lay is important for applying the right interventions. A truly broody hen will show several behavioral changes:

  • She may puff up aggressively if you reach into her nest.
  • She often collects bits of straw and feathers to line the nest.
  • The hen might pluck her own feathers to create a warm environment for the eggs.

Health Risks of Broodiness

When a hen becomes broody, she exposes herself to several health risks. These include:

  • Malnutrition: Since the hen spends most of her time sitting, she might not eat adequately.
  • Parasitic Infestations: Staying in the nest for extended periods increases the risk of acquiring mites and lice, as the hen is not engaging in regular dust bathing or other activities that help prevent these issues.

Six Steps to Break a Broody Hen

Breaking broodiness can be challenging but is often necessary to ensure the health of your hen. Here are six detailed steps to help break a broody hen effectively:

  1. Move the Hen Regularly: Physically remove the hen from the nest multiple times a day and particularly ensure she does not return to the nest at night.
  2. Restrict Nest Access: If the hen persistently returns, consider closing up the nesting box or blocking the entrance to discourage her.
  3. Cool the Nest: Placing a frozen water bottle or ice pack in the nest can lower the temperature and make it less appealing for the hen.
  4. Cold Water Bath: Submerging the hen in a cold water bath can disrupt her broody hormone levels and body temperature. This method should only be used when weather conditions are warm.
  5. Remove Nesting Materials: Making the nest uncomfortable by removing all bedding and nesting materials can deter the hen from wanting to sit there.
  6. Broody Jail: Setting up a wire cage with no bedding and a drafty environment can discourage broodiness effectively. This should be used as a last resort.

When to Let Nature Take Its Course

Sometimes, the best action is inaction. Allowing a broody hen to incubate a clutch of eggs can be beneficial, particularly if you have hens that have stopped laying or have reduced egg production. This can lead to a win-win situation where the hen fulfills her broody instincts and you gain new chicks to rejuvenate your flock.

Managing broody hens involves a balanced approach of intervention and understanding. By using these detailed steps, chicken owners can effectively break broody behavior, ensuring their hens remain healthy and active. For those who choose to support their hen’s natural instincts, providing a clutch of eggs can be a humane and enriching solution for the entire flock. For further insights into supporting broody hens and ensuring the well-being of your poultry, check out our extensive post on nurturing broody hens with the aid of a rooster.


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