Sometimes we would like to have a broody hen to hatch eggs, but if you don’t want her to hatch eggs or the wrong time of year, it’s kinder stopping a broody hen.
Breaking a broody hen stops her from running herself down and lets her get back to being a normal hen (laying eggs again).
This article provides advice on stopping a broody hen by using a ‘broody hen cage’. It is part of our Broody Hen Advice. If you came here looking for information on hatching eggs with a broody hen or caring for a broody hen with chicks, then please see the following articles:
Any breed of hen can go broody, but some breeds are more prone to broodiness than others. If left, some hens will stay broody for many weeks and during this time, they will not eat or exercise as much and will lose condition. A persistent broody or a hen that wasn’t in good health to start with can also die on the nest, especially if there are red mites in the house coming out to feed on her at night.
Is she broody?
The signs of a broody hen
Chickens tend to go broody in the spring or early part of summer, but it’s not that uncommon to have a hen go broody in late summer or autumn, and some prolific broody hens will go broody when there are more than a couple of eggs in the nest!
If you find a hen sitting on a nest, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s broody. Of course, hens lay eggs on a nest, and some can take some considerable time to contemplate before and after laying.
Sometimes hens will sleep in nest boxes, and they might hide in a nest box if there’s a bully nearby.
There are some classic signs of broodiness.
When a hen is broody:
- She will sit tight on the nest, usually on a couple of eggs that your chickens have laid.
- She often clucks on and off the nest.
- When you approach your hand, she will puff up her feathers and make unhappy, scalding sounds.
- You are likely to get a sharp peck to your hand!
- When you take her off the nest and put her outside with the other hens, she will remain puffed up and usually start clucking.
- She will keep returning to nest in the same place or another location.
Clucking might not be immediate. Some hens only start to cluck after they have been sitting for a while. Hens cluck to communicate with their chicks inside the shell. It’s earned broody hens the name ‘cluckers‘ in America.
During the last few days of incubation, chicks start to cheap. They will communicate to synchronise the hatch and start learning their mother’s call from inside their shell.
Chicks will soon learn the sound their mother makes because within hours of hatching, they have to be up on their feet to follow the sound of their mother when she takes them to food.
How to stop a broody hen
Hens are not predictable. We can’t make a hen go broody, and on some occasions, a determined hen will sit almost anywhere and won’t give up sitting.
If you can react within a day or two of her sitting, she should go back to being a normal hen within a couple of days and start laying again after a week.
If you wait for 4 or 5 days before reacting, it can be as long to break her out of it and a couple of weeks before she lays again.
If she sits for a week or longer, you may not be able to break her free for a fortnight and may stop laying for the season.
So, SPEED is essential to stop a broody hen.
There are several techniques for stopping a broody hen that I have read about, and I have had little success with most of them.
1. Remove eggs from the nestbox and remove her from the nest
You can remove eggs and take her off the nest, but a broody hen will usually come back and sit without eggs and may switch nests if she sees eggs other chickens have laid.
It is good practice not to allow eggs to accumulate in a nest anyway to discourage broodiness in the first place.
2. Cooling off
One of the more popular suggestions is ‘cooling a hen off‘ by wetting her breast feathers. With her temperature dropping and having wet feathers to think about preening, she is supposed to forget about nesting. She does, for a while, but I find a determined broody will hop back on the nest within the hour.
3. Shutting her out
A potentially successful technique is to shut her out of the nesting area or block her nest off. It can work, but most of us have a flock of hens who also want to enter the coop to lay, so you end up using another house and run for her.
Moving her to another house can be successful, providing you can shut her out of the house during the day.
The most successful technique
The method I use the most (and is the fastest and most successful) is by using a broody hen cage.
It may look a little cruel at first, especially considering we are so accustomed to hearing about battery hen cages. Remember she will only be in the broody hen cage for a matter of days, and compared to being broody for weeks on end, losing weight and condition, I consider this as ‘being cruel to be kind.’
Broody hen cage
The broody hen cage does the opposite of a broody hen house. It is bright and airy; there is nowhere to nest and no nesting material, so it discourages her from sitting.
- She must have shelter, food and water at all times while she is confined.
- There must be no nesting materials to sit on or places to nest.
- A wire floor with air circulation will discourage her from sitting.
- Traditionally, cages were hung, but I get good results raised off the floor on bricks.
- Choose a brightly lit location out of direct sunlight where she can stay cool. I use my garage floor.
Providing I put a broody hen into the broody hen cage within a couple of days of her going broody, she has usually lost all broodiness within 2-3 days.
The longer a hen has been broody, the longer it can take to break her broodiness and get her back to egg-laying.
If you don’t have a broody hen cage, I have found the cheapest option is a dog crate such as this one (with the plastic tray/floor removed).
When she has stopped clucking and is behaving more like a normal hen, you can reintroduce her. Chickens that have been away from the flock can get bullied as if they were a new hen.
The flock will need to re-establish their pecking order, and other hens may challenge her if she’s a little weaker and out of condition after a broody spell.
But that’s the subject of another article!
- Introducing New Chickens to the Flock – How to introduce or re-introduce a new chicken to your flock.
So there you have it. That’s how to stop a broody hen. Don’t forget to leave me a comment below and tell me how you’ve got on!