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How to Handle Broody Chickens

Got a broody hen in your flock? Use these tips for handling her with care.

By Cherie Langlois

Brooding Silkie chicken in a next box
Photo by Rachael Brugger
The Silkie tends to be a broody chicken breed.

A hen gone broody is easy to identify: She sits on a nest of eggs (or sometimes doesn’t even sit on anything) and refuses to budge—grumbling, fluffing and perhaps pecking if you try to reach under her. A broody biddy can be a pain in a laying flock because her egg production stops; however, she’s a boon to the farmer who wants to rear chicks naturally, as she can stand (or sit) in for both an artificial incubator and a brooder. If you decide to let a broody do her thing, take note of the following:

  • Brooding instinct has been bred out of many chicken breeds, so some are much broodier than others (including Silkies or heavy and dual-purpose breeds, such as the Cochin and the Orpington). Individual chickens vary in broodiness, too.

  • A broody hen requires a predator-proof brooding pen outfitted with a nest box, food and water that is separated from the rest of the flock so she won’t be disturbed.

  • Move the broody onto her new nest at night and tuck several dummy eggs into the nest. Golf balls or plastic eggs work well as dummies. Check that the hen is still eager to set before introducing the eggs you want her to hatch. She’ll even hatch turkey, pheasant and duck eggs, too.

  • Make sure she can easily cover the entire clutch—too many eggs will reduce hatching success—and give her all of the eggs at once so the chicks hatch around the same time.

  • When the chicks emerge in about 21 days, mother hen will keep her brood cozy warm beneath her, and she’ll show them where to find food and water. Don’t let the family out of their safe, sheltered enclosure for at least two weeks.


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How to Handle Broody Chickens

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Reader Comments
Have a RIR who started out with 24 eggs...because every time the other hens would lay, she would toddle down to the other end of the nest box and gently STEAL it by rolling it the (5 ft) length of the box to HER spot. I moved her into our "safe box" (a large 3x3x3 all box; 3 solid sides, 3 screened sides, with a drop open front. I open it every day so she can see out or get out if she wants to, but close her up at night.) in our intermediate pen (where new chicks start out until they are big enough to fend for themselves) with all of her eggs. NONE of them have hatched. Today was the last day any of them would have. I am sad...going to move her back to the hen house tomorrow, but let her KEEP a few eggs until SHE "gets over it". She is very spoiled, but despite everything I've tried to feed her, she just isn't eating enough, and I'm worried about my HENri. Is it normal for a broody hen to stop eating as well as she once did?
Trish, Taylor, TX
Posted: 4/25/2013 11:46:47 PM
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