What is a Broody Hen and How Do You Handle One?

Maat van Uitert

Have you ever had a chicken that stopped laying eggs and seemed determined to sit on a nest all day? Chances are, you had a broody hen on your hands.

So, what exactly is a broody hen? It's a chicken that has the natural instinct to incubate eggs and raise chicks. This behavior is triggered by a combination of hormonal changes and environmental factors.

While having a broody hen can be exciting (who wouldn't want baby chicks?), it can also be a bit of a hassle. For starters, broody hens stop laying eggs, which can impact your egg production. Additionally, they can be territorial and may become aggressive towards other chickens or people who come near their nest.

So, what can you do if you have a broody hen? 

Here are a few options:

  • Let the hen do her thing: If you have fertile eggs and want to hatch chicks, go ahead and let the broody hen sit on the eggs. Just make sure to give her enough space and keep an eye on the nest to ensure everything is going smoothly.
  • Break the broodiness: If you don't want chicks or simply can't accommodate them, you'll need to break the broody cycle. To do this, you can try moving the hen to a separate coop or pen without a nest. You can also try interrupting her sitting schedule by gently removing her from the nest and placing her in a different part of the coop a few times a day.
  • Prevent broodiness: If you don't want to deal with broody hens at all, there are a few things you can do to prevent it from happening. For example, you can keep the coop well-ventilated and make sure the hens have plenty of space to move around. You can also remove eggs from the nests on a regular basis to prevent hens from feeling the need to sit on them.

How do you know if your hen is broody?

One way to tell if your hen is broody is by observing her behavior in the nesting box. If you go to gather eggs and find one of your hens sitting in the box but unwilling to come out, this could be a sign that she is broody. She may also become aggressive if you try to remove her or the eggs from the nest.

Additionally, a broody hen may pluck out feathers to create a comfortable nest for incubating eggs. If you notice these behaviors, it's likely that your hen is broody.

As the owner of the chickens, it is up to you to decide whether or not to let your broody hen stay on her eggs. Here are some things to consider when making this decision:

Not sure whether your hen should hatch her eggs?

  • Do you have a rooster? If not, the eggs will not be fertile and there will be no chicks, no matter how long the hen sits on them. While it may be tempting to let the hen continue to brood, it will ultimately lead to disappointment for both the hen and the owner.
  • When a hen becomes broody, she will stop laying eggs. If egg production is important to you, it may be necessary to try and break the hen's desire to hatch eggs. Additionally, other chickens in the coop may also become broody if they see one of their coop mates exhibiting this behavior.
  • If you do want your hen to produce chicks, it is important to be prepared for the responsibility that comes with raising chicks. Make sure you have the necessary resources and knowledge to care for the chicks before allowing the hen to brood.

The location of the nesting boxes can have a significant impact on the success of a broody hen. In my experience, the key to success was having a coop setup that allowed for easy separation of the broody hen and her chicks from the rest of the flock.

I used to have a movable chicken coop with two levels, an upper level with the nesting boxes and a lower level without a floor for the chickens to forage. When a hen became broody, I would simply close off the ramp leading to the lower level, allowing the broody hen and her chicks to stay upstairs while the rest of the flock remained downstairs. This setup worked well because the chicks were unable to fall out of the nesting boxes and were able to follow their mother to access food and water.

However, when I moved and upgraded to a barn with two coops, the nesting boxes were elevated off the ground. This posed a problem because the chicks were at risk of falling out and being exposed to the cold or getting pecked by other chickens. Additionally, the chicks were unable to follow their mother to access food and water, which also posed a risk to their survival. It is clear that the location of the nesting boxes can have a major impact on the success of a broody hen and her chicks.

Make sure your hen has plenty of food & water

Before the broody hen begins incubating eggs, it is important to prepare the space and ensure that she has easy access to food and water. This will help her stay hydrated and nourished during the sitting and hatching process. Providing protein-rich treats in the nesting box can also be beneficial for the hen's health.

Once the eggs have hatched and the chicks are born, it is important to make sure that they are able to access food and water as well. Unlike wild birds, mother hens do not feed their chicks in the same way, so it is up to the owner to provide the necessary resources. If the chicks are unable to access food and water, they may not survive. It is important to be mindful of this and check on the chicks regularly to ensure that they are getting the nourishment they need.

How long do broody hens sit on eggs?

The hatching process for eggs incubated by a hen can vary in duration, as opposed to incubating eggs in a controlled environment such as an incubator, where the eggs will hatch after exactly 21 days. This is because the eggs must be kept at a specific temperature and humidity level to properly develop, and these conditions may be less consistent when a hen is incubating the eggs.

In some cases, it may take up to 30 days for the eggs to hatch. From my personal experience, the hatching process typically takes about 25 days when I allow a hen to incubate the eggs. It is important to avoid handling the eggs after the 18th day of incubation, as this may interfere with the chicks' ability to peck out of the eggs.

During my first experience with a broody hen, I initially thought that the eggs had not hatched, but I decided to wait a little longer just in case. To my surprise, the eggs ended up hatching on the 25th day, much to my delight. It is always worth giving the hatching process some extra time, even if it takes longer than expected.

How do I stop a broody hen from hatching eggs?

If you want to prevent a broody hen from hatching eggs, there are a few steps you can take to try and redirect her behavior. However, it is important to note that it can be difficult to hinder a hen's natural instinct to brood. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Remove the broody hen from the nesting box and take away any eggs that may be present. Repeat this process several times a day. This may discourage the hen from continuing to brood if she becomes tired of being disturbed. Some breeds may be more prone to broodiness, so this method may not work in all cases.
  • Place a frozen water bottle under the broody hen. While this may seem harsh, it can be an effective way to disrupt the broodiness.
  • Consider changing the hen's location, such as moving her to a different coop or shed without a nesting box. This disruption may shift her focus away from hatching eggs.
  • Remove all nesting material from the nest box to make it an uninviting place to brood. However, keep in mind that this may also discourage your hens from laying eggs in the boxes.

What Chicken Breeds Are Especially Broody?

  • Silkies
  • Cochins Buff
  • Orpingtons
  • Sussex
  • Brahmas

    What Chicken Breeds Are NOT Especially Broody?

    If you already know you simply don’t want broody hens, you should consider buying hens that don’t usually go broody. Here are a few to consider. Keep in mind it’s pretty safe to target hybrid chickens because they were developed to be high egg producers that don’t go broody.

    • Leghorns
    • Polish Sex
    • Links
    • California Whites

    In conclusion, a broody hen is a chicken that has the natural inclination to incubate eggs and raise chicks. While this can be a fun and rewarding experience, it can also be a bit of a hassle. If you don't want to deal with broody hens, there are steps you can take to prevent it from happening. Regardless of what you choose to do, it's important to be patient and understanding with your feathered friends.