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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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344 Comments

  1. I just found this page this morning and I love it! Alot of good information. I have RI reds, guineas and geese. I had read that guineas will only set once a year but just yesterday my female just hatched the second bunch. Had 21 the first time and only 6 this time. Do you know how often she may set? I am about to be over run with guineas.

  2. Trisha

    I have a pekin she had 4 chicks at the beginning of may, will she go broody again?

    • Heidi

      It really depends sometimes hens go broody once some none and some may go broody 2 a year

  3. John Ososkalo

    Anyone have guinea fowl eggs or duck eggs I hav four broody hens sitting on unfertilized eggs.

  4. Hi

    I was wondering how old does a hen have to be to sit on eggs. I have 4 hens and a rooster and I real would like some chicks. When is the best time to let them go broody. And any signs of broodiness that I can tell?

    Thanks,
    Jojo

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Jojo

      Hens can’t be made to go broody 🙁 However some will go broody of their own accord. In the UK this is usually in late Spring/ early summer. The signs are that the hen refuses to leave the nesting box or wherever she has chosen to brood.

      Some hybrid hens that have been bred for egg laying will never go broody. Others will go broody at the drop of a hat – such as Silkies and Pekins.

      I hope that this helps.

    • Heidi

      Of you want chicks you can put at least 8 golf balls or plastic Easter eggs in the laying box and after a few days or a week your hwn may go broody

  5. Chris Williams

    Hi lovely story i can supply you with Fertile eggs 100% Fertile email me your details and ill see if we can sort something out for you . they will be Buff Orpingtons 100% hatch record so far ( 2 Years) 🙂 Get back to me soon . chris

  6. i have 4 rhode island reds and one rooster a diffrent breed its a heritage breed tho the eggs are fertilized but my hens wont go brody and i dont want to spend 50$ on a incubator what should i do?

  7. well you dont necessarily half to have more you just half to keep them all warm.

  8. hi we have just had three chicks hatch an the mum off the chick was a bantam but we need many more chicks not just three help

  9. hi i’ve just relised i have a broody hen who is sitting on 4 eggs. My question is do i remove the cockerel? thank you

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Mark

      If you want chicks remove the hen and nest to a separate place apart from all the rest of the flock. Give her food and water that can be reached from the nest and bump her off the nest once or twice a day so that she can stretch her legs and do her business.

  10. catherine

    hi i just wanted to find more information i have 4 hens 2 black rocks i have never had chickens before one of the black rocks has started to go broodey so i took her out of the coop and put her in a broodey coop and put some fertilised eggs under her and she is sitting on them i cant wait to see if they hatch

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Catherine

      Fingers crossed that you get chicks! You’ll know in three weeks time.

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