What’s a Broody Hen? What Does Broody Mean?

If you’ve been spending any time around chicken owners, or reading chicken articles on the internet like this one, you’ve probably seen the term broody come up before. You’ve also probably seen references to broody hens. It’s an odd word, one you don’t really hear in any other context.

silkie cross broody hen with chickens
silkie cross broody hen with chickens

But it’s an important one if you’re going to raise chickens of your own. So what is a broody hen exactly, and what does broody mean?

A broody hen is one that’s intent on hatching a clutch of eggs. To be “broody” means that her maternal instincts are kicking in toward raising her young.

And it’s really that simple. If a hen isn’t broody, she will lay an egg and not care what happens to it. But if she’s broody, she will lay more and more until she has a clutch of eggs and then she will stop and sit on them, intent on keeping them warm until they hatch.

All birds do this, but if your chickens do it can either be a huge pain in the butt or a welcome way to expand your flock naturally with little effort from you. It all just depends! There’s a lot more you’ll want to know about broodiness, though, so keep reading to learn more.

Is Broodiness Bad?

Not necessarily, but it really depends on your purposes. If you want your hens to produce as many eggs as possible, and you want to collect them without getting pecked half to death, then yes, broodiness is bad.

On the other hand, if you want your hand to grow your flock the old-fashioned way without any extra effort or intervention on your part, broodiness is a good thing.

In any case, it is a natural response for hens to have although not all hens or highly broody.

What Causes Broodiness in Hens?

Broodiness is a combination of seasonal and hormonal factors, with age also playing a part. Generally, young hens that have just started laying in their first year of life will rarely if ever go broody.

Conversely, hens that are over a year of age and still in their prime laying years are significantly more likely to be broody than older hens that have started to slow down.

The time of year is also an important factor which can trigger broodiness. The vast majority of chickens will go broody in the summertime or the spring when temperatures are warmer and far more favorable to successfully hatching chicks and keeping them alive.

However, some breeds that are known to lay throughout the year, particularly through the winter, might go broody even in the wintertime.

What Does a Broody Hen Do? How Can You Tell?

You’ll easily be able to tell when a hen goes broody. For starters, she’ll start spending nearly all of her time in a nesting box or another site that she has chosen as a nest. She’ll do this even if there aren’t eggs in it at the moment.

You’ll notice that she will leave very rarely, typically only to grab a quick bite to eat and a gulp of water and then relieve herself before returning immediately.

She’ll also get downright surly, pecking, hissing, and squawking at anybody or anything that comes too close. If you’re used to getting eggs from your hand with nary a word, be ready to get pecked and bitten if you make a move on her- she’ll do it!

Hens also typically get more vocal when they are broody, raising a huge racket when they lay an egg and whenever they leave the nest for any reason. Anything that they perceive as a threat, likewise, will elicit vocalizations.

Also, keep a close eye on her lower breast and belly. Broody hens pluck the feathers from their underside in order to make a brood patch, an area of bare skin they will keep in contact with the eggs to incubate them.

If you notice an otherwise normal hen start ripping out all of her feathers in that region alone, you can bet your bottom dollar she’s going broody.

Broody Hens Stop Laying!

Another major indication of broodiness, the one you’ll probably notice when it’s already too late, is that a hen stops laying eggs! If you want eggs from her, that’s a big problem for obvious reasons!

A hen will lay a certain amount of eggs to fill out her clutch, and once she instinctively has settled upon the right number, that’s it: no more eggs. She can instinctively stop the production of eggs whether or not they are fertilized.

After that point, the only thing she is concerned with is sitting on the clutch until they hatch and keeping them safe.

How Long are Hens Broody?

A hen will typically stay broody for about 3 weeks one way or the other and whether or not the eggs are fertilized. This assumes she isn’t “broken” of her broodiness.

That’s because 3 weeks is about how long it takes for chicks to hatch, so she is instinctively hardwired to remain broody for this entire time. After 3 weeks, the hatching period, she’ll snap out of it and return to normal and that includes resumption of egg laying accordingly.

Be warned, though, because hens can go broody multiple times a year, and some hens are so motivated they basically stay broody all the time.

Some Breeds are Far More Likely to Go Broody than Others

Another thing to keep in mind is that different breeds of chicken are more likely to go broody.

Some breeds are notorious for being highly broody and very, let’s say, proactive at protecting their eggs. Other chickens, typically ones that have been specially bred for extreme egg production, will only very, very rarely decide to try and hatch them.

Among the broodiest breeds, some of the most notorious are Orpingtons, Silkies, and Old English Games. Chicken breeds known for minimal broodiness include the Leghorn, Polish and Plymouth Rock.

Can You Prevent Broodiness?

It is possible to try and deter or stop broodiness in a hen, but it’s not guaranteed to work without other potentially serious complications.

The single best thing you can do to quench her desire to hatch a clutch of eggs is simply to collect them as quickly as possible.

The longer that an egg is there in the nesting box, and the more that accumulate, the more likely it is that she will instinctively want to hatch those eggs.

You can potentially try to take a very problematic hen away from her nesting site and sequester her until she gets back to normal, “breaking” her, but this is known to be a serious stressor and is not recommended if you have any other choice.

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