What to Do with a Broody Hen

Around this time of year, when Spring is in full swing, your hens’ egg production has picked up, their appetites are good, and the sun is shining, you may notice a few hens going broody. Broodiness is triggered by hormones, daylight, and the availability of eggs to sit on. What does this mean to you as a chicken keeper? It means you may need to get involved and change your hen’s behavior.

What does “broody” mean and how do I recognize it?

When a hen is broody, it means her maternal instincts have kicked in. Her hormones are surging and telling her it’s time to sit on and hatch some eggs. It is pretty easy to recognize a hen that has gone broody. She will not be in her usual active, curious mood. She will stay camped out on a nest, whether there’s eggs in it or not. When approached by you or other birds, she will puff her feathers up, get very defensive, make a unique growling sound, and even peck at intruders. She means business and is insistent when it comes to sitting on those eggs!

broody hen, nesting
A broody hen that is puffed up and sitting on a clutch of eggs

If there are fertile eggs for her to sit on (and if you want baby chicks) –

If your broody hen is sitting on a clutch of fertile eggs, and if you don’t mind having a few baby chicks added to your flock, you are more than welcome to leave her sitting on those eggs. She will incubate the eggs at just the perfect temperature and humidity for about 21 days, and then you’ll have some new chicks added to your flock!

If your eggs aren’t fertile (no roosters present) or you don’t want chicks to hatch –

If your hen has gone broody, and there’s no possibility of her hatching eggs, you will need to intervene and put an end to her broody behavior, otherwise known as “breaking up” her broodiness. Why you ask? Because a broody hen will continue brooding until she hears the little peeps of baby chicks. Otherwise, she will sit on eggs indefinitely. This can have a seriously negative impact on her health.

The consequences of unwanted broodiness –

While a hen is broody and sitting on a nest, she will put all her energy in to sitting on eggs, and neglect herself in the process. She will only leave the nest to eat, drink, and relieve herself once or twice a day. She will become pale, lose sheen in her feathers, and lose weight. In hot weather, she can easily become dehydrated. While she can keep this routine up for 21 days, it is hard on her. Allowing her to sit on eggs that will never hatch is not fair to her and not in anyone’s best interest.

At the same time your hen is brooding, she will not lay any eggs, and she may inspire other hens to go broody as well. Broodiness begets broodiness. Before you know it, your whole flock could be on strike!

broody hen
A broody hen will occupy a nesting box and encourage other hens to become broody as well

How to break up the broodiness –

As soon as you identify broody behavior, get to work on stopping it. The longer a hen is broody, the longer it takes her to snap out of it. There are many techniques out there for how to break up a broody, but many of them are ineffective or even inhumane. The best, easiest (for both of you!) course of action is to put her in a “broody breaker” pen.

A broody breaker pen is basically a wire bottomed cage. It can be a rabbit hutch, a dog crate, or something of your own construction. It will need to be raised off the floor, to allow air to circulate underneath. Your broody hen will live in the broody breaker pen with food and water, but no bedding. The design of the broody breaker pen is two-fold; is allows air to circulate and cool down the hen’s breast, and also makes her generally uncomfortable. Broody hens prefer small, dark, private areas where they can snuggle up in the nest and incubate eggs. By placing her in a location without these amenities, it sends a signal to the hen’s brain that it’s not time to hatch eggs.

broody breaker
This wire cage will make a perfect broody breaker pen

It is essential to keep her in the broody breaker pen until she is fully back to her normal self. You can always test this by letting her out of the pen and watching her. If she gets all puffed up and hightails it for the closest nest she can find, right back in the pen she goes! Otherwise you are starting back at square one.

Some breeds of chicken are more prone to broodiness than others, and your hens’ individual personalities will also come into play. Some hens are frequent residents of the broody breaker pen, while others never quite feel that maternal need.

Unconventional & Alternative Watchdogs

Keeping animals on your property, whether they be birds, rabbits, goats, sheep, cattle, horses, or any combination in between, will attract outside visitors. They might be small prey animals looking for a peaceful nibble of your livestock feed, or larger predators looking to make a meal out of your animals. You may want to consider getting a guard dog or watchdog to protect your herd. Who better suited for the job then, well, a dog? There are a few alternatives that might surprise you.

Guinea Fowl

guinea fowl
Guinea Fowl make great livestock guards

Guinea Fowl are incredibly noisy birds, and make excellent alarm systems. Fans of guinea fowl claim that they are able to recognize familiar faces, and will alert the arrival of any strangers. They are also incredibly brave, and are not phased one bit when standing up against cats, dogs, even people. One especially great quality of guinea fowl is that they will even take on snakes!

Geese

geese
Geese are notoriously territorial!

Anyone who’s ever met a goose knows that these birds are all business. They are alert, with keen eyesight and hearing, and can detect unwanted visitors quickly. They will sound the alarm, and honk loudly when they sense something suspcious, easily heard by even a sleeping human. Geese are also notoriously territorial, and aren’t afraid to stand their ground. Their first instinct is not to run, but to confront, and they will hiss and bite in defense.

Llamas

llama
Llamas will spit, scream, bite, and kick at intruders

Llamas have been used to guard small flocks on farms for years, and farmers will a good guard llama will tell you they’re worth their weight in gold. Not all llamas will have great guarding instincts, but those that do will not only alert you to intruders, but handle the intruders all on their own. There are numerous accounts of llamas battling with coyotes, foxes, or dogs to protect their herds. It is advised to only have a single llama on guard, as having two means they will ignore the herd and just hang out with each other.

Donkeys

donkey guard dog
Donkeys make great guardians for sheep or goats

Donkeys are a great option for guarding grazing animals like goats or sheep, because they have very similar care requirements. Donkeys are the silent guard animal, and will rarely notify their humans of intruders. Instead, they will fiercely protect the herd themselves, using kicks and strikes with their hooves and bites with their large teeth. Not only are these territorial animals excellent for guarding, but they can also function as pack animals, making them useful in more ways than one!

Ostriches & Emus

ostrich emu
Ostriches and emus can be very intimidating to intruders!

If you’re looking for something really exotic, how about getting an ostrich or emu to guard your herds? Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing over 150 pounds, these birds are incredibly intimidating! They can run over 40 miles per hour, and can deliver deadly kicks with their strong, powerful legs.