Yes, I'm talking to you, dear chooky owners.
I want to assure you that just because a hen goes broody it does not mean that you HAVE TO give her eggs to hatch.
Chickens that go regularly broody such as Sussex, Wyandottes and Silkies can drive many of us crazy, wondering when they will ever just get on with regular egg laying.
But letting them hatch some chicks will not break their persistent broody habit.
Those chickies will soon be turned out by mama hen by around 9 weeks of age so that mama hen can get some body weight back on...before she goes off on another one of her broody episodes. Well, it may or may not happen so quickly after a hatch, but when you have a very persistent broody, it comes around quick enough.
What sets off a Broody Hen?
First of all, its down to breed and individual personality. Some breeds are highly likely to go regularly broody, whereas other breeds have a long stretch between broody episodes. Other breeds may not show any signs of ever being the broody type.
The outside influences on a hen that can make her become broody include:
- Hot weather
- Seeing another hen broody
- Rooster encouragement
- Leaving eggs in the nesting boxes for too long
When a hen becomes broody, her body temperature rises significantly. She becomes the incubator. So when you pick her up her heat can really be felt radiating from underneath her.
To help 'break' a broody we need to bring down her body temperature over a few days. Keeping her out of a nesting box is essential, so popping her into a fenced off area that is shaded with a cool grassy area is by far the nicest way to help cool her down.
Hens that are not removed from the nesting box will maintain their heat which is a high energy job. This is why we see a broody hen with a trance-like look in their eyes. All their energy is concentrated to keep their heat going. They will come out from time to time for a drink and something to eat, but they return to their nest fast to keep their heat up.
With all this expended energy, the hen will lose a significant amount of body condition. So allowing her to keep sitting without being 'broken' or hatching chicks can result in a very under condition chicken that will be prone to more pests, infections and diseases.
Some owners can be a little too kind to their broody hen and allowed them to stay for a month or more in their nests. Please do not let them sit for that long.
Broodiness takes a lot of energy out of a hen so replacing it with the right nutrition is very important, especially so for the long term broodies that were allowed to sit for too long.
- Protein helps build muscle again.
- Essential vitamins and minerals need replacing through products like Livamol powder in their feed or a water soluble type.
- Iron can be increased through molasses, either in dried form in their feed or as a little liquid black strap molasses stirred through a bowl of porridge twice a week.
- Plain Greek Yoghurt is great for their gut. Getting the good bacteria in there will help them fight of illnesses better as well as good source of protein.
Signs that a hen will go broody
There is one very good indicator that one of your hens is about to become broody: the broody POO!
These droppings are much bigger than a normal one, and they usually occur a few days before you find a girl hunched down in her nest with a mean look in her eye, growling.
If there is another hen who is already acting broody, you may find that the hen that visits her the most is most likely to be the next girl who will go broody.
Yes, broodiness can be 'catchy'.
In the early stages of broodiness, some hens do still lay eggs. But if they go on for too long, she will stop laying for a time.
Her egg laying can be suspended anywhere from one to three weeks. Remember that it takes 21 days to hatch chicks.
If a hen goes for a hatch with fertile eggs she will take longer to get back into an egg laying routine as she will be a busy mum with chicks gathered under her.
OK, dear chooky owner! I hear you.
Chicks are so gorgeous and you have now talked yourself into letting one of your hens go for a hatching.
First - the reality check
Just remember that there is a 50/50 chance of boys and girls in every hatch. Some hatches can produce more of one than the other. Are you prepared for this? Do you have a plan for the boys and room for more girls?
Where to buy
Search online through sites like:
Breeds are important
Make sure that you choose a breed that you would like to have. Lot of research first.
The breed does not need to be the same as your current hens.
Not every breed will suit you, your hens or your yard.
Combining small bantams with large dual purpose hens is often a bad combination. Flighty breeds need higher fencing.
Eggs or Chicks
Yes, you can pop some fertile eggs or newly hatched chicks under a broody hen.
There is a chance of rejection especially of the chicks, so play it by ear and be ready with a back up plan.
Hens can attack and kill the hatching chicks. (From personal experienced, happened twice in one year)
Rejection Back-up Plan
If the broody hen rejects the eggs, have an incubator ready.
If the broody hen rejects the chicks, have a brooder box ready with a heat source, wood shavings, chick crumble food and water.
Not all hens make great mothers, so be prepared.
The chicks NEED A HEAT SOURCE up until 8-9 weeks of age.
Chick Food Source
Chicks will require Chick Crumble from Day 1 as well as fresh clean water every day.
Transition to Pullet Shed
If hatching didn't go well with mother hen and you resorted to using a brooder box, then the chicks will need to be transitioned out to the yard to their own coop - the Pullet House - at 8-9 weeks of age. They will be able to cope with the pecking order around 16-18 weeks of age, so can join the other hens then.
Best of luck!
Please let us know if you tried to 'break' your broody successfully or if you tried for a hatch.