The Cottage Smallholder


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How can I make my chicken go broody?

ThumperEvery now and then I get an email from someone who desperately wants a chicken to go broody. Going broody means that the hen suddenly fancies raising a brood of chicks and will sit on the eggs constantly to incubate them until hatched.

You can’t make a hen go broody. It’s like trying to make X more amusing, or sexy. Either X has the tendency to be amusing or sexy or does not.

If you want to breed chicks you need an incubator or a broody hen. There are strains that have a tendency to go broody. Bantams (a small breed of chicken) are well known to be more prone to broodiness. They can be great mothers. Despite this tendency, we have six bantams and only two have gone broody over the past three years.

I have been told that Silkie bantams go broody at the drop of a hat. Some pals that had a shoot and raised pheasant eggs, used Silkie bantams with great success. But you could buy a flock of Silkies that never go broody. It’s the luck of the draw.

Mrs Boss is the one bantam chicken in our flock that goes broody regularly. Her comb gradually pales from red to pink and she will sit in the nesting box, caring for any eggs that have been laid. She is not bothered about the progeny and will happily sit on anything as long as it’s egg shaped.

It’s important to check your chickens every day and lift a broody hen off the nest. Left sitting, a broody hen may not move. If not shunted out of the nesting box to eat and drink, she will die. The sad fact is that without a cockerel to fertilise her eggs, an undisturbed broody hen will pointlessly sit on a nest of unfertilised eggs indefinitely.

If you have fertilised eggs and want to breed, a broody chicken is a boon. Settle her in a quiet place with her own supply of food and water. She will get up every now and then to stretch her legs but she will care for her eggs.

A bantam will generally be a good mother. Any sitting hen connects with any chick when she hears the first cheep. A hen sitting on eggs will generally accept all fowl that emerge from an egg that is placed under her. This could be a pheasant, guinea fowl, partridge, quail, duck or chicken. We haven’t tried ostrich or peacock (it’s a question of space).

It’s important to provide a safe environment, well away from the rest of the flock. Chickens do not go all gooey eyed when new, trembly legged chicks emerge. There is a pecking order. Need I say more?

Mother and chicks retire earlier than the other chickless hens each evening and so need a separate apartment for the first few weeks. Initially, the mother hen teaches the chicks how to drink, forage and run from danger (under her protective wing) from the word go.

Think laterally and protect your precious chicks from danger. A large stone in the drinking saucer will stop them drowning in the water. You also need to check that bullying is not going on. If this is happening, fence off the separate apartment.

I am very fond of Mrs Boss. Heaven knows why – she is broody on and off all summer. Her broodiness is a problem for us. It affects the rest of our small flock. Broody hens will chase other normal egg-laying hens out of the nesting box. Egg production goes down.

I have learnt that leaving Mrs Boss to her own devices is a downward spiral. She will not give up. She is resolute and single minded unitil I escort her to the prison cell broody coop. Now I clean out the broody coop and pop her in as soon as I spot her comb going pale. I feel a pig but if I catch her early in her broody state, her stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure is just a matter of days.

She puts in a vociferous High Court appeal every time I pass by the run and her broody coop cell. This is ignored until her comb turns red again. Then the prison doors are thrown open and she rushes out for a dust bath.

If anyone needs a broody hen I would gladly lend Mrs Boss, although I would miss her because it takes three to four months to hatch and nurture a brood until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

My dream is that one day we will be offered fertilised eggs around the time that Mrs B is going broody. There was a fleeting hour or so this spring when someone needed to hatch out some duck eggs.
“Do you have a broody hen?”
“Well, yes. Mrs Boss.”
“I might bring round some duck eggs.”

Danny had a happy day imagining baby ducks swimming in a teeny pond (upturned dustbin lid in the chicken run.) Mrs Boss hovered in the nesting box. Finally we had the call. No duck eggs. Mrs Boss was popped into the broody coop and egg laying by the other hens erupted for the day. Chickens save up and the shells are harder.


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338 Comments

  1. I love your articles and stories about your chickens. I’m saving them all up for chicken-rearing of my own one day.

    What I can’t believe is how quickly they go from little chicks to great galumping chickens.

    We were away for a week at the beginning of May and during that time the little chicks at the allotment lost all their baby feathers and entered adolescence.

    Now, three weeks later and they look all beady eyed and not cute at all! They are pretty cute when they go diving for slug canapes though :)

  2. Joanna

    We have Orpingtons, two hens and a cockerel. One went broody earlier this summer, a first for me, because up until now I’ve kept black rocks, famous for huge egg production and not going broody, or Silver Grey Dorkings, which lay about one egg a year (no wonder they are so rare!), and could be said to be permanently broody.

    So we didn’t really know what to do, and we didn’t do it well. Thanks for this – really useful stuff. I will go and organise a broody box for next time, because the children do so want chicks (and, to be honest, so do I!)

    Thanks
    Joanna

  3. Let me know when Mrs B goes broody again and I will send you some guinea fowl eggs if you would like to have some, although guinea fowl are noisy, but excellent guard birds and quirky as well!!
    Sara from farmingfriends

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Ash,

    Yes the pullets grow so fast. A few years ago I was working at a chicken lover’s house. A small ginger bantam raised five baby bantams. I observed them on and off all summer.

    One day they were out pecking away in the sunshine with their mum. One flew into a large cylindrical box tree that my client had planted in a large pot. The branch that she flew onto was springy and bouncy. Within a few minutes all the young bantams were bouncing on branches. A superb and heart warming sight.

    This was the first time that I noticed that juvenile bantams actually play. A revelation.

    Hi Joanna,

    One of my pals keeps Buff Orpingtons. Lovely friendly chickens. Their house sitter used to keep Buff Orpingtons too. Her special pet Orpington would pound up the garden into the house if it rained. He was towel dried and then the hairdryer was switched on. He preened beneath its warmth.

    Few things beat the arrival of new chicks .I was bowled over when Carol hatched out. The sight of the empty shell and the chirpy cheeping chick was wonderful. Go for it.

    Hi Sara,

    What a fabulous, generous offer! Thank you. We could do a real hands on, inter blog, live project.

    Guess what? Mrs Boss is broody. I was just going down to escort her to prison when I saw your coment.

    We would love a few Guinea Fowl eggs and so would Mrs Boss. I will email you now.

  5. I am so glad that you would like some guinea fowl eggs. (I am having problems with my server so can’t access my emails related to farmingfriends but I saw your comment and thought I would reply.)I will try to gather some eggs in the next few days as the guinea fowl keep moving their nest site and the magpies keep taking the eggs and then I will be intouch. Regards.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  6. Fiona Nevile

    Thank you so much.

  7. Just wanted to say that guinea fowl are really really cool to have around. I grew up with them in Africa, and now here in Holland they are at almost every children’s petting farm that we’ve visited. They’re so pretty too, both as chicks and fully grown.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Ash,

    Thanks for dropping by. We are excited by the prospect of Guinea Fowl living at the cottage. I had an African friend years ago who mentioned that Guinea Fowl were around when she was growing up.

    I am so glad that you see them in Holland. A good link with your African life.

    When I’m in the pen with the chickens, I feel so calm.

  9. katrina willis

    hi ive got 4 rhode island reds, all battery rescue girls… am desperate for some chicks now that theyve made full recovery and learnt about the life outdoors.
    how often do they get broody? if at all? i ahve no intention of having a cockeral about the place so fertilised eggs will have to be the way forward… my mans all for incuabting them but id rather see nature do its thing..

    katrina

  10. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Katrina, Thanks for dropping by

    I have heard that Rhode Island Reds are great chickens. They are known for there laying capabilities rather than their tendency to go broody.

    Bantam chickens have the reputation of going broody at the drop of a hat. But out of six only three have ever gone broody, over the last three years. If you want a chicken to go broody, don’t go for a chicken bred for laying (i.e. Rhode Island Reds). Go for a chicken that has a tendency to breed (go broody).

    The incubation route is fine but you have to have the time and willingness to be hands on. Teaching the chicks how to scratch, drink and feed etc. from the word go. Quite a tough remit. We have only put fertilised eggs under a broody chicken and are complete beginners.

    Having watched the mother hen in action, I realise her value. Teaching essential things and providing comfort. and direction for months, you might be interested in this post about our first attempt to raise chickens under a broody hen and the value of a mother hen. http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/?p=194
    With incubators you would have yours hands full 24/7:

    We, like you, don’t have a cockerel.

    Best of luck with your breeding plans. I™d love to know what transpires.

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