If you aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of keeping chickens, you have still probably heard keepers grumble about one of their chickens going “broody” before.
It is usually accompanied by a roll of the eyes or a sneer. It seems that this is undesirable behavior much of the time!
But in the same token, some keepers seem happy that finally have a broody hen to watch over their eggs. It’s confusing. Is brooding good or bad behavior for chickens?
Broodiness can be both good and bad, depending on your objectives. If keeping chickens for egg production a broody hen is a nuisance. However, if you want to expand your flock, then a broody hen can be a real asset.
Whether broody behavior is good or bad is a matter of perspective. It is natural behavior in chickens, that’s for sure, but it can help or hinder your operation or your flock.
In any case, you can learn a lot more about it in this article.
What is Broodiness?
Broodiness or brooding is a term that describes instinctive behavior that will see her want to sit on, incubate and hatch the eggs she lays.
A broody hen will stop laying eggs, and instead will sit on a clutch of eggs, turning them frequently and keeping them warm.
She will rarely leave the nest, and will become very aggressive if you try to move her, or take her eggs.
This behavior is natural and instinctive in chickens, but it isn’t always desirable, as we will explore.
Do All Chickens Get Broody?
No. Only hens get broody, and though some breeds are far more disposed toward broodiness than others all laying hens might, in time, go broody.
What Will a Hen Do When She Turns Broody?
The hen’s urge to hatch her eggs is accompanied by behavioral and some physical changes, including increased vocalization (especially when away from the nest) and the plucking of feathers from her underside, as this will help to better warm her eggs.
Broody hens are notoriously aggressive and hard to handle and will peck, bite and hiss at you when you try to approach her nest, remove her eggs, or take her away from them.
Broody hens are also known for rarely, if ever leaving their nest, usually only making quick dashes to relieve herself, or get a little food and water before running right back.
What are the Downsides of Broodiness?
The obvious downside to broodiness is if you are keeping your chickens principally for egg-laying.
A broody hen will, for the duration of her brooding, stop laying eggs. This can be a real problem if you rely on your chickens for regular egg production, as it can put quite a dent in your output.
Not only she will not lay any more eggs while she is sitting, but she can be quite aggressive toward other flockmates, potentially disrupting the harmony of the coop and flock.
Some keepers even swear that broodiness will “jump” from one hen to others, meaning that pretty soon you have a bunch of laying hens who are no longer laying!
A single broody hen could conceivably disrupt your entire laying operation.
What are the Advantages of Brooding?
Now, brooding isn’t bad by default. This is behavior that has propagated chickens as a species for a very long time, and they will do the same thing on your homestead if you let them.
A broody hen will hatch her own chicks without any extra work on your part and can even raise them successfully if you want her to.
Broody hens will even hatch and raise duck eggs if you can pull the ol’ switcheroo on her!
This is a great way to get started with chicken breeding since the hen will do all of the hard work for you, and believe me she knows how to do it.
All you need to do is provide her with a good nesting area, some quality food, and plenty of water, and then sit back to let nature take its course.
If you want to grow your flock, a broody hen can be a huge asset.
How Can You Stop a Hen from Being Broody?
There are many methods floating around on the internet and in the annals of recorded farming history that proclaim they can “break” a hen of her broodiness, i.e. stamp out her aggression and get her laying again. Many promises, but few deliver.
One of the only methods that seem to offer a reasonably high chance of success is taking the eggs from the hen and then confining her to a small cage for a time.
Upon letting her out, if she shows you any signs of broody behavior, she goes back into the cage.
Combined with encouragement to get back out on the run and into “flock life” this technique seems to show promise. It will take diligence and repeated effort, however.
If it is working, the hen in question should spend successively more time eating, drinking, and moseying around the yard before she heads back to check on her nest. When she does, she goes back into the cage.
Confinement away from her nest seems to help her “get over it,” though you should be prepared for some serious protest in the meantime!
Can “Breaking” Broodiness Cause Problems?
It is possible to try and break hens of the instinct and get them back to work but it is hardly a sure or easy bet.
First, it is important to remember that a broody hen is exhibiting a very natural behavior.
She is not “sick” or “crazy,” she’s just being a chicken! If you can find another way to work around her broodiness, that might be the best option.
Second, breaking a broody hen can be highly stressful for her, and that stress can lead to health problems.
A broody hen that is denied the chance to hatch her chosen clutch of eggs will usually get over it in a couple of weeks, but some don’t. Some chickens actually enter a sort of depressive state.
This entails her refusing to eat and sometimes drink, and sometimes she will isolate herself from other members of the flock. Hens will usually pull up out of this depression after a time, but some do not!
Last, there is always the chance that breaking a broody hen’s broodiness simply will not work.
She will go back to acting broody as soon as she is released from confinement no matter how much you try, and you’ll be right back where you started.
This can be frustrating and discouraging, so be prepared for it if you decide to take this route.
Note that this type of “serial broodiness” is rarely encountered outside of breeds that are known for intensive broody behavior.
You might be able to give hens that are particularly prone to broodiness an outlet by providing them with a fake egg or two to sit on.
This gives them the chance to satisfy their maternal urges without actually hatching anything.
What Should You Do if You Want to Avoid Broodiness in Your Hens?
The only thing you can really do to reduce the chances that any given hen will go broody is to stay on top of egg collection.
When eggs start to accumulate under a hen, she will be keener on the notion of hatching them. If the nest stays empty, she will be less so, all things equal.
Other than that, it is all down to genetics and individual temperament. Some hens will go broody no matter what, while others will seemingly never have the urge.
A better solution, if you do not want broodiness in your flock, is to choose chicken breeds that are less likely to go broody in the first place.
As mentioned above, some breeds are much more likely, while others are far less likely.
Breeds that are well-known for broody behavior include:
Breeds that are less likely to go broody include:
- Plymouth Rocks
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.