Has my chicken gone broody?

Author: Aussie Chook Supplies  

Broody chickens are often viewed in one of two perspectives – a lovely stage in a potential Mum’s life that you will satisfy by providing her with fertile eggs and letting her hatch/raise some chicks or a really annoying inconvenience that has stopped your eggs supply. If you are in the latter camp, this information is for you…

The purpose of being 'broody'

A broody hen is a chicken that has the natural urge to lay a clutch of eggs, sit on and incubate them (assuming they are fertile from the appropriate actions of a rooster), hopefully hatching them into baby chicks and raising them. A broody that is sitting on unfertilized eggs doesn’t know that her eggs won’t hatch, but this doesn’t diminish her commitment to the task.

Some breeds of chickens are more prone to ‘broodiness’ than others, and dependant on the reasons you keep chickens this may or may not be a trait you desire. Silkies, pekins and wyandottes all have a reputation for being good ‘broodies’.

Although selective breeding has eradicated or reduced the desire to brood (ie. Commercial hybrids), all hens may become broody – after all it is a natural urge for chickens to mother their young.

How to tell if your hen is 'broody'

All broody hens have behavioural characteristics in common, including:

  • Sitting on a nest, with or without eggs and refusing to come off. They will be quite low into the nest (squatting) and will appear very puffed up and fluffy.
  • They may pull out some of the feathers from their belly, which increases direct contact with the eggs to maintain temperature. You may notice an increase in feathers in the coop/yard if this has happened.
  • She could get aggressive, screeching in a high pitched tone and even pecking at anyone who gets too close.
  • She will also have ‘broody poos’ – a very large, offensive smelling poo which is a result of not having the frequency of pooing that a chicken normally does.

Although all this behaviour is normal, it can be quite distressing initially for an owner to realise that their hen hasn’t eaten/drank, has stopped laying eggs, has a paler comb and wattle than usual, no feathers on its underside (and feathers all over the yard/coop) and behaves quite aggressively when they were previously tame and friendly.

Broody hen quiz - True or False?

  • A hen needs a rooster living with her to become broody.
    False: A broody hen doesn’t need to have a rooster living with her to become broody.  A quick comparison is a woman doesn’t need a boyfriend to have that ‘longing’ for babies. Same thing… nature is funny like that 
  • A broody hen needs eggs to become broody.
    False: You can be collecting your eggs regularly, and your hen may still become broody.
  • They will ‘snap out of it’ themselves.
    True, but this can take quite some time (ie. Weeks) as chickens have no awareness of time or that they only need to sit on eggs for 21 days until they hatch. In the meantime, the health of your hen can deteriorate quite rapidly. The longer it takes for her to return to good health, the longer it will take for her to return to laying regularly.


Looking after their health

A broody hen’s health can deteriorate as a result of their failure to look after themselves as well as they would if they hadn’t become broody. For this reason, you need to be aware of the possible concerns and assist your broody hens to stay healthy and in good condition. 

Broody hens can refuse to leave their nest, and therefore not eat or drink for days. Removing broody hens from their nest several times a day and closing off access to the nesting area will encourage them to eat and drink more.

Broody hens are more susceptible to mites and lice due to warm temperatures, dark environment and not dust bathing. We recommend the use of either Pestene powder (applied to the nest area, under wings, and around vent where mites/lice prefer) or Permethrin insecticidal spray.

Not having a separate nesting box for your broody hen can also cause problems for the normally harmonious environment of a chicken coop. The (often) one nesting box is constantly occupied, which can lead to bullying, eggs being spoilt or broken, and the nesting box being quite dirty.

Yep - she's broody. What now?

When you have a broody hen, you have two options. You can give her fertile eggs to hatch out/raise some baby chicks or try and 'break' her brood.
Both options require different tactics and behaviours and you will find that information on the links above.