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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. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks for dropping by. It’s great to hear that Brahma is doing well. Her coop is fantastic, thanks for leaving the link to the site with the construction details. The ark that we use for broody, breeding hens was expensive. This little coop and outdoor area is perfect. I brought home a pallet this evening for Danny. He is lucky that it has not been purloined for chicken use.

    I am intrigued as to what will happen next in the scenario. Will the older eggs hatch out? Then, presumably you will use the broody hens in waiting. Are you going to let all 4 hens dive into broodiness in the interim?

    If you have the time, I™d love updates.

  2. Carolyn

    Yes, it’s a work of art. Actually when I say ‘made out of pallets’, it’s made out of the wood from pallets, so they all have to be dismantled and de-nailed first, which is very much the hardest part!

    Little update – when I moved Brahma out of her old spot and into the broody coop onto her new wyandotte eggs, I candled the dud ones she was sitting on… and some of them look promising.

    So, I sat her on a combination of the new ones and the old ones and have left the eggs in the nesting boxes of the other girls hoping to encourage broodiness in case I need to transfer the newer eggs if the older ones hatch !? Complicated… Anyway, it’s worked. We have FOUR new broodies to choose from. Oops… Anyway, I’ll let you know if anything hatches.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Good luck with Brahma and fingers crossed that you will have chicks in 21 days time.

    The coop made from pallets sounds interesting. What a shame you don’t have a website as I’d love to see what it looks like.

  4. Carolyn

    Thank you – that is helpful to know Mrs Boss’s experience… I’m going to go ahead and put the eggs under Brahma today, and move her to my rather lovely coop that I made out of pallets last time.. I was mainly worried about the starvation aspect of being broody so I will take your advice and ensure that she’s eating and drinking regularly rather than leaving it to her. Thanks again for taking an interest in the perils of a beginner!

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Caroline,

    I’m not an authority on broody hens but Mrs Boss was broody for about five weeks her first summer until I finally caved in and put her in the broody coop. She loved being broody and hated being sent to prison.

    Mrs Boss had been broody for a week before we put the Guinea Fowl eggs (these have a longer gestation period than chickens (28 days)).

    The main thing to remember is to move the hen away from the nesting box. This needn’t be a special house. I’ve seen one in a cardboard box in an empty kennel and run. Provide a small feeder and water fountain that your hen can access from the nest. And boot her off the nest every morning and evening to stretch her legs as you don’t want her to foul the eggs. When I move Mrs Boss she seems to be in a semi trance like state, she has a short scratch around and then eats and drinks and nips back to the nest. I suspect that she only eats and drinks morning and evening.

    I do hope that this is useful.

  6. Carolyn

    Hi,

    Have just read a couple of your articles – thanks for providing such a useful forum…

    I’ve just bought some fertilized eggs from ebay (silver laced wyandotte, hoping to replace one we lost recently to unknown causes…) with the original intention of using our broody Brahma who’s been sitting on some for a week and a half (probably dud – we do have a cockerel but his eggs have not hatched so far despite three girls giving it their best efforts)…

    Now, my question is, given that the eggs have taken longer than we hoped to arrive … how long can she realistically and humanely be allowed to stay broody at one stretch…?

    Thanks,

    Carolyn

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Kim,

    Thanks for visiting and taking the trouble leaving a comment. I had to look up the breed of your broody hen. I discovered that she is related to the Black Orpingtons, I’ve only heard of Buff Orpingtons. Someone I know had a pet Buff Orpington cockerel. If he was out when it rained he would thunder down the garden path to have his feathers dried (she used a hair dryer, in the conservatory!)

    King Midas sounds like a real force to be reckoned with. Not the sort of cockerel to want a blow dry. Valiant, fighting the fox. Poor Hannah.

    I don’t think that you need to candle the eggs unless you want to know exactly what is going on. Eventually your hen will push the dodgy eggs out of the nest.

    Good luck with you broody hen and eggs. It’s really exciting. I wish you had pictures of your flock. I am curious and would love to see them.

  8. I have a broody Black Australoop sitting on 10 eggs! and we have no idea what to do, so I am surfing for answers. Great site with lots of helpful info.
    We have raised our 10 hens and “King Midas” since they came to us as day old chicks in the mail about 18 months ago. We LOVE them all…ordered 25 brown egg layers..sold 10 to neighbors immediately, lost a buff orpington to a miscalculated flight off the roost (awww), recently lost our Hannah (silver laced) and a red to a nasty fox at 4 in the afternoon! Had to part with our second rooster due to conflict. King Midas is a Rhode Island Red and keeps the girls in line and fought off the fox too! I hope most of the eggs are fertilized, but I just read that they should be candled at 7 days. Learning so much. None of our hens have ever brooded before this so we bought 6 chicks about 8 weeks ago! I think we’ll need to expand the coop!
    I put you in my ‘favorites’ and can’t wait to share this with kids.

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Darla
    Sorry to hear that you have problems with your chickens. If you have broody hens and you want to stop them this might be helpful.

    http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/?p=289

    It is the route that we take. If you leave the broody hens to get over it, they won™t and eventually you are stuck with broody hens dominating the nesting box.

    It could go on all summer They will put the others off lay.

  10. darla cox

    i need some info i am city girl gone country, i have 20 hens, dont know a thing about this, one went to sit and now two more, all my hens are laying their eggs in with the three sitters 2 are sitting in 1 nest what do i do
    i need to stop this somehow
    thank you darla

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