I’ve only kept backyard chickens for a few years. I still consider myself a newbie to the backyard farming trend. As a result, when a severe case of broodiness completely engulfed my favorite hen named Goldie shown in the picture above, I was beside myself to figure out what was wrong with her!
Fortunately, when I’d almost given up and thought nothing more could be done, a chicken savvy friend stopped by the house and diagnosed the problem within mere minutes of observing her strange behavior.
But first, let me tell you all the things I did wrong before finally solving the problem.
What is a Broody Bird?
Many species of birds go broody, not just hens.
“Broodiness” refers to a natural behavior that compels a bird to sit on her eggs continuously in an effort to incubate and hatch them out.
In some species, the male birds go broody and sit on the eggs until they hatch. In others, neither the male nor the female goes broody because they lay their eggs in other bird nests so they don’t have to do the work!
A broody bird often ceases other normal behaviors including eating and drinking. This can go on for weeks. In hens, the typical period of time for broody behavior is about 21 days if she is actually sitting on fertilized eggs.
The point is that when a hen goes broody her normal behavior changes quickly and dramatically!
Some hens will never go broody while others will do so only occasionally. A few others may tend to make a habit of it. Some chicken breeds have a tendency to go broody more than others. The top five broody chicken breeds include:
- Light Brahmas
- Dark Cornish
- Buff Rocks
- Buff Orpingtons (Goldie is a Buff)
A friend of mine who has kept a lot of chickens throughout the years said that only one of her hens had a regular problem with broodiness in all that time.
The tendency to broodiness is determined by a combination of factors. A hen’s instincts, personality, hormones and possibly environmental conditions all play a role. Even if you don’t have a rooster (we don’t), a hen can still go broody. She might even sit on imaginary eggs in some cases!
How to Tell if Your Hen is Broody
If one of your hens stays in her nesting spot at night and won’t roost with the other hens, that is one very telling sign that she is broody. She may also stay nesting all day long too not eating or drinking anything.
She might puff her feathers out and growl at you if you come near or bother her in any way. Some hens will peck or bite if you come too close. My sweet broody hen never tried to peck me, but she did growl menacingly and puff herself out. She was clearly annoyed with any disturbance to her incubating behavior.
The crazy thing is that my broody hen was sitting on golf balls, not eggs! I got into the habit of leaving a few golf balls in the laying boxes to stop one of my hens from breaking eggs. While this strategy worked very well, it may have contributed to Goldie going broody on me as she loved sitting on those golf balls!
A Broody Hen Isn’t Sick
When my hen first started going broody, I thought she was sick. She picked at her feathers constantly and puffed herself out so much that I thought she had a problem with mites.
I am sad to say I even tried poultry dust (I was desperate)!
None of these remedies seemed to help her much if at all. I started to think she was seriously ill with a virus or bacterial infection.
As Goldie’s broodiness progressed, she stopped all socializing with the other chickens. She wouldn’t eat or drink anything unless I hauled her out of her nesting box and put her right in front of her feed and water. As soon as she would finish eating and drinking a small amount, she would race right back to her nesting spot in the coop.
Thinking she was anemic because she was so lethargic, I started her on a vitamin supplement. I also began feeding her scrambled eggs and beef liver (which she loved!). Liver is the number one anti-fatigue food in the world. While she did definitely perk up from the liver, she still wouldn’t come out of her nesting spot on her own.
I continued to carry Goldie out of the coop to food and water several times a day. This process continued for well over a week. She would not come out of her nesting spot for any reason!
Broodiness Can Kill a Chicken
You can see why broodiness can be deadly to chickens even though it is a natural behavior. If the hen is sitting on golf balls, unfertilized or imaginary eggs, her behavior will never lead to hatched chicks. Hence, forgoing food and water will eventually kill her if you don’t do something to stop the behavior.
Not realizing Goldie was broody and thinking she was seriously ill, I started to consider euthanizing her. She seemed so terribly uncomfortable and lethargic all the time. Having done everything to help her feel better to no avail, I was at the end of my rope. I didn’t want her to suffer anymore.
Then, my friend who is a chicken expert stopped by and told me she wasn’t sick or lethargic – she was broody!
Breaking Your Hen of Broodiness
The process of breaking a hen of a broody mood is quite easy. I only did three simple things to bust Goldie’s broodiness:
- First, I removed all the golf balls from the laying boxes.
- Next, I locked the chicken coop after the other chickens laid their eggs for the day. This prevented Goldie from going back into the nesting area to sit. Goldie didn’t like this one bit and quickly found another spot in a flower bed to nest. But she clearly did not enjoy it as much.
- Finally, I removed all the bedding from the coop and nesting boxes. This allowed for increased air circulation underneath Goldie while she was nesting so that she wouldn’t get any sensation that she was incubating anything. The picture above shows a very broody, annoyed and puffed up Goldie nesting on a bare chicken wire in the coop.
The result? Goldie very gradually returned to normal behavior over the span of about 3 days. At first, she would still go back into the coop instead of roosting, but didn’t derive as much satisfaction from nesting on the chicken wire free of bedding. By the third night, she was roosting with the other chickens normally.
Goldie also started coming down to eat and drink herself by the third day, which was a wonderful moment for me. At that point, I knew she was completely back to her normal behavior.
Too Broody to Break?
Some sources say to confine a broody hen to a wire bottomed cage for 3-4 days with only food and drink provided. This seemed drastic and inhumane to me, but might be required for a very hard headed hen. Fortunately, my sweet Goldie returned to normal behavior rapidly with much less extreme measures.
Have you ever had a broody hen? What did you do to resolve the behavior?
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist