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How to “break” a broody hen

General, How to..

So, you have a broody hen, but no rooster in your flock or you simply don’t want more chickens. What next? Can you ‘break a broody’?

Here are some preventative measures to discourage broody behaviour before it occurs:

  • Collect the eggs multiple times a day so there isn’t any lying in the nesting boxes for long
  • Hang curtains or drape other material over the nesting box to conceal the eggs away from the hen’s sight.

( If you have a rooster and want to learn how to look after a broody hen so she can raise her chicks, check out our post here )

Determine if she is being broody or just taking forever to lay her egg. A broody hen is a chicken that has the natural urge to lay a clutch of eggs, sit on and incubate them (assuming they are fertile from the appropriate actions of a rooster), hopefully hatching them into baby chicks and raising them. A broody that is sitting on unfertilised eggs doesn’t know that her eggs won’t hatch, but this doesn’t diminish her commitment to the task.

A broody will usually puff up if you reach into her nest box. She might even peck at you. She will start carrying bits of straw and feathers to line the nest, and she will even pluck her own feathers from her breast to keep her eggs warm. If you bring her out for treats she will go right back to her nest as soon as she’s done. She may peck at other hens that come near her nest box.

Left unattended, a hen will stay broody for around 21 days, which is the time it takes to hatch a clutch of fertile eggs. After 21 days the behavior should stop, but sometimes, a hen will remain broody and it’s important to “break,” or stop a broody hen before she harms herself.

Broodiness is more of a problem for chickens that don’t have fertile eggs to hatch because a stubborn chicken could make herself malnourished. If her eggs are unfertilised or sitting on ‘invisible’ eggs, she needs to be broken.

She will sit until something hatches- which clearly isn’t going to happen! This prolonged period of brooding takes a lot out of the hen.

Broody hens are also at risk of getting mites and lice because they stay in the nest all day where these infestations are common. They aren’t dust bathing and they aren’t outside scratching and pecking, away from bedding material where parasites like to hide. This is when an easily preventable or treatable problem like mites and lice can turn fatal, as a broody hen will just sit and suffer in her nest.

Six steps to break a broody hen:

  1. Moving her out: The first step in trying to break your hen, is to simply move her from her nest. Don’t forget to also remove any eggs! You may need to do this several times a day, and most importantly at night. Do not let her sit in her nest box overnight. Offer her treats to stay outside.
  2. Close her out: If step one doesn’t work, close up the box or block the entrance. If you’ve repeatedly taken the broody hen out of the nest box, and she is still hogging it, this next step might do the trick. Instead of taking her out from the nest box, you’re going to restrict her access rights. Hopefully, without access to the nest, your hen will go back to normal. However, if that doesn’t happen, don’t give up. There are other methods to try.
  3. Frozen water bottle: Take an empty bottle and fill it with water. Leave it in the freezer for 24 hours. While your broody hen is on the box, slide the water bottle under her. You can also use an ice-pack but make sure that it’s tough enough to withstand your hen’s pecking!  Don’t be alarmed if her belly doesn’t have any feathers. Broody hens pluck their stomach plumage in preparation for the eggs.
  4. Give her a cold bath: One of the next tricks is to give your broody lady a cold water bath. Fill your sink or tub with a few inches of cold water and set her into the bath. You only need enough water to cover her chest when she sits. The theory is that it lowers her broody body temperature and changes the hormones. Use this time to clean her vent and make sure she is free of any stuck-on poop. Towel dry her and let her walk around the yard for a bit. Please, only give your chicken a cold water bath when it’s warm and sunny outside!
  5. Remove all nesting materials: A broody hen wants a nice, warm, comfortable nest to sit on her eggs. She’s probably been working on it without you noticing. Remember those chest feathers we talked about her plucking out? Well, she’s been using those to soften up her nest. To help break her broodiness, you want to make the space uncomfortable. Go to the chicken coop and strip the nest bare. Remove any bedding and all those feathers. The idea is if the nest is unbearable to sit on, your broody hen will stay away from it.
  6. Broody jail: The last option when breaking a broody hen is setting up solitary confinement or chicken jail. Most chicken owners use a wire cage like a dog crate. It has to hold your hen and have space for her food and water. Don’t give her bedding! The goal of chicken jail is to make your broody as bored and uncomfortable as possible — no nesting areas, no warm dark cozy corner to hide in. If possible, suspend the cage from the ceiling. It’s supposed to allow a draft under their bodies to discourage broodiness. It can take one day or several days for confinement to break a hen.

In the morning, let your broody out and observe her behavior. If she runs immediately to the egg box, back into chicken jail she goes. If she starts scratching the ground and interacting with the other chickens, success!

Many people opt to send their chickens directly to chicken jail rather than fuss with the other techniques. 

Sometimes the kindest thing to do is give your broody hen what she wants – a clutch of eggs to sit on.

In 21 days, you’ll have baby chicks in your flock. Moreover, this method is particularly clever and humane, especially if one of your chickens stopped laying eggs or dwindled their egg production. It’s a win-win situation for everyone! 

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