Spring is the most common time for broodiness to occur although it can happen any time throughout the year.
Depending on what you are hoping to do with your flock it can be blessing or a curse. If you are hoping to breed chicks from your girls, then lucky you to have such great little mothers. But if you just need them to get on with their daily egg laying, then broodiness may present itself as an inconvenience.
The characteristics of a broody hen consist of her constantly sitting in her layer box refusing to come out to eat and drink, flatten herself out, fluffing up her feathers, making a growling noise and look mean.
You've heard of the term 'feathering one's nest', well that's exactly what a broody hen will do. She will start picking feathers from her chest and undercarriage area to line her nesting box. So do not be alarmed if she has developed some bald spots, they will all grow back again.
Many do have a nasty peck, but don't be scared to pick her up gently around her wings against her body to move her out of the nesting box. Wear thick gardening gloves when picking her up, if necessary.
Broody hens do not lay and it may take up to 21 days before she will start to lay again. Every breed is different, some bounce back into laying much sooner, but in order to get her to start laying and stop her broodiness we have to change her behaviour on Day 1.
Broodiness can encourage the other hens to also become broody. So the quicker we fix it the better the whole flock will be.
If you do not have a door for the nesting box area, you will need to separate the broody hen from the flock. I recommend some temporary pet fencing that is high enough to stop chickens from jumping over. Even attaching a small tarp over the top for shade and to keep pigeons out is a great idea. Include water and food and make sure you have set up the fencing in a cool shaded spot in the garden.
If you do not have a temporary pet enclosure, use a large pet transport box/cage.
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The biggest problem with a broody hen is her refusal to eat and drink properly or at all.
If she is sitting on a clutch of eggs for hatching then we do need to provide her with food and water in small quantities in her nesting box so that she does not fatigue or dehydrate.
Dehydration in a chicken can lead to a quick death, but when broodiness sets in they seem to last a little longer, but my rule is to never let them go without water for their overall well-being.
How to fix a broody hen
- Remove her from the nesting box on Day 1.
- Place her in a temporary cage/yard without a nesting area in a cool shady spot. Provide food and water. Do not constantly throw the hen out of the nesting box as this can lead to unnecessary repeated stress.
- Alternatively, cut off her access to the nesting boxes. Place a soccer ball or large ice cream container in the box to stop her from sitting in it.
- Once all the other hens have laid their eggs for the day you may release her from her cage area to roam with the other hens, but close off access to the nesting boxes entirely until dusk.
- Let the broody hen roost with the other hens over night, but remove her again in the morning (just look in the nesting box to find her).
- When she finally chooses to come out in the morning with the other hens you will know that you have succeeded. This may take roughly about one to four weeks (on average) depending on the breed. Some times it may only take a day or two, if you are lucky.
- Egg laying may cease for around 21 days (as this would be the natural incubation period for the fertilised eggs).
- REMEMBER, be really persistent, be consistent. Some breeds are prone to go broody as soon as the days get warmer.
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