Rachel Hurd Anger
July 1, 2015

It's Brooding Season 

My Australorp, Helen, is a tough broody to crack. Despite her sacrifices to keep the flock’s unfertilized eggs warm—forgoing food, water, exercise, dust bathing—the stubborn old hen won’t budge.

Because we’re nearing the end of prime hatching season, I’m willing to bet that many of you are dealing with a broody hen or two, as well. Or, maybe you have a hen you’re worried about because she’s your first broody. A broody hen is one who sits on her eggs to hatch baby chicks. A reader writes:

One of my young chickens doesn’t seem to be eating or drinking. I thought she was just sitting on eggs as she was reluctant to get off them, but I’m a bit concerned about her. Any suggestions before I make a trip to the vet?

This is the behavior of a broody pullet or hen. She’s not sick; she’s just biologically programmed with a strong maternal instinct, so no veterinary action is required.

It takes 21 days of sitting on fertilized eggs for a hen to hatch her chicks, but even in the absence of a rooster, some hens have a stronger instinct to sit than others.

Sometimes, a broody will be finished sitting on unfertilized eggs after 10 days to two weeks. For the most part, they know how long they’re supposed to sit, so they very well might not budge for three weeks. As chicken keepers, we can’t always argue with Mother Nature, meaning that the tricks to break a broody might not always work. When you know you’re not hatching chicks, broodiness can be worrisome, because they refuse to care for themselves to ensure the survival of hypothetical babies.

Usually, removing the eggs from the nest box on a very regular basis, twice a day for example, will help break the broodiness. This summer, Helen remains in the nest often warming only her feet beneath her. As the other hens and the pullets come into the coop to lay their eggs when nature calls, they often fight Helen for some nesting space. Helen comes flying down the ladder, darting out of the run, flying across the yard, and then she re-fluffs her feathers and clucks her broody, annoyed cluck until she’s allowed back into the coop.

Every day I would open the coop, gently remove Helen, and place her in the grass. Sometimes, she’d sit there. Sometimes, she’d run in zigzags and flap her wings. Sometimes, she’d go right back into the coop. Many times, she would return without eating or drinking. A few days ago, I opened the coop and saw that her comb was looking a bit gray. Then, I worried.

Instead of putting Helen in the grass to watch her walk right back in, I locked her out of the coop for the afternoon. I forced her to free range with the others with feed and fresh water available but without access to the coop. This finally broke her of the extreme sitting. Today, Helen’s still broody, but she cares for herself when I remove her from the next box. She’s finally putting on some weight and her comb looks healthier.

Now, my Easter Egger pullet is broody for the first time, and she sits in the other nest box. But she’s still young and largely undedicated. I don’t have to worry about her just yet.

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