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Do you have a brooding hen who just doesn’t get the message “no more babies?” Try these tips on how to break up a broody hen.
By Michele Cook – We have a hen here that we call ‘Broody Betty’. She’s a Rhode Island Red hen, and she seriously wants to have babies. I don’t want any more girls, but she doesn’t seem to care. Starting in spring and continuing through early fall, Betty broods at least four or five times. A few of our other hens have also tried to hatch a few eggs, but nothing compares to this girl. If you have a brooding Betty yourself, here are a few things you can do to break the brooding cycle.
Signs of a broody hen
Before a hen is completely brooded, there are a few signs you might observe. A hen may begin to stay closer to the coop than usual, stop feeding or stay away from other hens. The biggest telltale sign for me is when a normally docile hen starts being mean to her co-op mates. The hen might hiss or peck at another chicken or she might puff herself up and threaten the other hens.
If you notice any of these behaviors, start collecting eggs as often as possible. If she has no eggs to sit on, you may be able to stop the cycle before it begins.
If you are free-ranging your hens and suddenly notice a big drop in egg production, that is also a sign that a broody hen is hiding somewhere on your property. Just before a hen broods, she will start collecting eggs for her nest. This means stealing them from your nest boxes. She will place an egg under her wing and carry it to her chosen location and come back for another. Earlier this year I caught Broody Betty with 15 eggs. We only have 22 hens. She had managed to steal almost all the eggs that day!
remove the eggs
For most chickens, removing the eggs from under them for a few days will interrupt the brooding cycle. They seem to get bored finding new eggs to sit on every day and decide those little chicks just aren’t worth it. Broody Betty will steal eggs for at least a week before deciding to give it up.
To remove the eggs, gently place your hand under the hen and pull the eggs out. Enter from the back as most broody hens don’t like this and might peck you if you try to enter from the front. You shouldn’t need to lift the hen or push her out of the nest. It just creates a grumpy hen and gives it the ability to turn around and hit you.
Once you have all the eggs some hens will jump out of the nest and walk away and some will sit there and pout. Broody Betty is crying. I’m serious y’all. This girl stands outside her empty nest, lowers her head and moans. I feel like a giant monster every time.
After removing the eggs, removing the litter can discourage a hen from jumping onto the nest. Hens planning to sit on a nest for a few weeks want to be comfortable, removing the litter makes the nest less comfortable. Would you like to sit on a hard board for a few weeks? Me neither, and the hens feel the same.
If you have multiple laying hens, be sure to leave litter in your other nest boxes. Broody hens tend to have a particular box they prefer to sit in, removing the litter from this box may discourage them.
If you have a hen like Betty and you can’t stand to see them cry, you can fake them. What I mean by that is replace the eggs with something else. Golf balls or fake eggs work great. This technique will work on some chickens and some will call your bluff. I reached under a hen and pulled out an egg and replaced it with a golf ball thinking I was clever, only to find the golf ball kicked out and new eggs under the hen the next day.
So much for stupid chickens.
The downside to this method is that it will keep the hen in the brood cycle longer. Which means no eggs from her and a nest box you can’t use.
Aggressive Broody Hens
Broody hens aren’t the friendliest creatures on the planet, but some can be downright mean. The good news is that most do a lot more stances than actual attacks. If you have an extremely aggressive hen, you will need to take a few simple precautions to ensure your safety when dealing with your daughter.
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt or sweatshirt
- Use thick leather gloves to protect your hand
- If available, ask a friend to help you (dressed in the same wardrobe)
- Always go under the hen from behind. If your nest box does not allow this, you may need to move it away from the nest.
Even if your broody hen is aggressive, you will still need to remove the eggs from under her at least every other day. Otherwise, you’ll end up with more chicks or a stinky mess in your coop. (Ask me how I know!)
Having a broody hen is not the end of the world. It might be a little inconvenient for a few days, but that too will pass. If you want to hatch chickens with your broody hen, check out this article.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author and communications specialist for the National Federation of Women in the Press. She raises chickens, goats and vegetables on her small farm in Virginia’s beautiful Allegheny Mountains. If she’s not outside tending to her farm, you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.