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How to look after a broody hen

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When Spring is in full swing, your hens’ egg production has picked up, their appetites are good, and the sun is shining, you may notice a few hens going broody. Broodiness is triggered by hormones, daylight, and the availability of eggs to sit on. 

When a hen is broody, it means her maternal instincts have kicked in. Her hormones are surging and telling her it’s time to sit on and hatch some eggs. It is pretty easy to recognize a hen that has gone broody.

She will not be in her usual active, curious mood. She will stay camped out on a nest, whether there are eggs in it or not. When approached by you or other birds, she will puff her feathers up, get very defensive, make a unique growling sound, and even peck at intruders. She means business and is insistent when it comes to sitting on those eggs!

Whilst your hen is broody, she will not continue to lay eggs.

A broody hen will sit on a clutch of eggs for 21 days for large fowl and 19 to 20 days for bantams, providing the heat for the embryos to develop. After the eggs hatch, she will care for the chicks. During this time, a safe environment, food, and daily care are needed.

Broody hens always put the health of their eggs before their own needs – therefore you need to take extra special care of them to ensure they stay healthy.

The best nesting material for your broody is the Ultimate Broody Nesting Material. Whilst a hen is brooding, she is highly susceptible to red mites. This nesting material will combat these pesky problems. You can also dust her, and the bedding, with diatomaceous earth to really make sure she isn’t attacked.

It is really important to ensure that your broody hen is consuming food at least once a day. Broody hens consume 80% less feed than when in their normal state, which means they are at risk of malnutrition.

Keep a feeder and waterer close to the broody hen so she can access it without straying too far from her eggs. If she doesn’t seem to be eating anything at all, try giving her some treats to spur her appetite – the high calories will help restore the nutrients she is lacking in faster. Also, ensure her water is always fresh and available to her whenever she needs it.

She will only get up once or twice a day to eat and poop so don’t expect a lot of activity from her. Broody poop is notoriously stinky and rather large, so you might want to clean that out when you see it. Keeping the nest clean is essential – otherwise, the fertile eggs the hen is sitting on may become soiled and go bad. Change the bedding regularly and quickly, getting rid of any poop, broken eggs, or foul-smelling eggs that may be in the nest. Note: You may get a few pecks from the expectant mum whilst doing this! The more a broody hen is interrupted, the more likely she is to quit sitting on her eggs and abandon them throughout the hatch.

A broody will be happier if moved to a box such as their own small coop and kept in a quiet, secure place, out of direct sunlight. If hens sit together, they constantly steal each other’s eggs.

When it comes time for the eggs to hatch, the broody hen should not need any help from you. The hatch can take up to 48 hours. Any eggs left behind can be discarded when cold.

Chicks will stay underneath their mother hen at night up until about 3 weeks old. The weather will also affect whether chicks are underneath mama hen or not. 

Mother hen is going to switch over into forage, teach, and protect mode. This means her first priority is to forage for food so her chicks have enough to eat. She wants to teach her chicks everything they need to know to survive and she does this by parading them around, teaching them how to forage, and showing them what to eat and what not to eat. Lastly, she is going to stop at nothing to protect her chicks. That means she will always be on the lookout for predators and in some cases work to keep other hens away. 

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