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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  1. Hi
    Yes the sleepless nights are ‘tiring’!! Unfortunatly none of my chickens are broody.Even bought a bantam but nothing.
    With the first chick we sort of gently showed it the water and food but found that when the 2nd hatched it copied the older one.
    We have two cockerels one banty and a beautiful big boy,each with thier own hens away from each other.The chicks are black so presume as we lost track of whos eggs were under what pigeons that they are the big cockerels and one black hen that we have.There is still one egg left under the lamp at the moment so hopefully!!!

    Hi Amanda
    I think its a great idea,but if you live fairly close you could go to thier home,just charge for petron on top of normal prices.I know myself that if was away I would rather pay for the experienced person to care for my stock then a nieghbour who means well but might not be able to recognise the first signs of sickness.
    Yes let us know what you decide and how you get on.


  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Karen

    Sometimes chicks need to be helped out of their shells. Chicken breeders that I know have done this very, very carefully on occasion.

    So pleased that your first chick hatched out eventually.

    Putting fertilised eggs under a broody hen is good too – no late nights and a 14/7 mum to look after then during the day!

    Hope that you got more chicks and that they’re thriving.

    Hi Amanda

    This is a really interesting idea but it might not work as chickens hate change. Storms, heat waves, frost, snow and even a new hen can rattle them and put them off lay.

    It might work if people were going away for a long time (3 months plus) but as a short term solution I don’t think that it would work. Getting the right vibe in the flock can take years, moving chickens around/changing their routine and challenging their expectations could be detrimental.

    If you do set this up, I’d be interested to hear how you get on. I’d love to be proved wrong.

  3. Hello

    I am thinking of setting up a chicken boarding kennels. So many peiople around here are getting chickens and as far as I know there is nothing like a dog kennels for them to go to when holiday time comes around. Would any of you use such a service and what would you think a fair price to pay for it would be? I live in Berkshire.


  4. Me again.
    Second egg now hatching and first chick who is now just over 24 hours old is fine,eating and drinking. Me tired after a few sleepless nights of egg watching.


  5. Hi
    After our chick had been struggling for two and a half days to break out we decided (against all the advice that you shouldnt help)to give it some assistance.Its pitiful cheeping gave us two sleepless nights. We gently with tweezers took the shell away from around it and out it popped.
    We have three more eggs with it still under my bedside lamp in a cardboard box with my duvet underneath it and a perspex top from my old record player on top.
    So what was an experiment worked successfully. Why buy an incubator if you have pigeons!!!!


  6. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Christine

    Bad luck with your egg hatching.

    Your chicken hotel sounds like a five star place!

    Hi Leisa

    The chicks and mother hen need to be seperate from the rest of the flock until the chicks are at least half the size of the rest of the flock. They can be moved out of the shed as long as they have the protection of a house as well as a run.

    The Emerals Castle (our nursery pen) is located within the main chicken run. The bigger fowl do not have access to it but the hen and chicks can look out and the rest of the flock can look in.

    Hello Helen

    Yes, I agree it does seem young to be moulting. Have you checked for lice?

    Hi Karen

    Hatching can take several days. You need to keep the heat lamp over the egg so it doesn’t go cold.

  7. Hi
    I keep pigeons as well as chickens (warrens) ducks and geese.
    Three weeks ago I placed four fertile eggs under four pairs of pigeons!!! One under each. Pigeons pair for life and both sit on thier eggs doing shift work. This was a complete experiment and amazingly one has started hatching and we can hear noises from another. We have taken the hatching one away from the surrogate parents now as pigeons feed thier chicks with colestrium and obviously the chickens wont want this. It has been chipping and squeeking for about 8 hours now. How long does it take??? Waiting in suspense!!! We have it in a cardboard box with a 40 watt lamp ready.

  8. Another querie for all you pros! I have 2 light sussex and 1 speckled sussex, all about 10 mths old now. The speckled attila stopped laying about three weeks ago and losing her feathers and comb. is she going through a malt already. surely she is too young ????. She seems happy enough. Oh and she is never in the nesting box.

  9. hi there

    only three days to go till my eggs hatch. im very exited! there are only six now as two got pushed out of the nest and got cold. i have a question to ask. how long will the chics need to spend inside before i can let them out? the mother hen is in a pen of her own with room for her and all six (should they hatch)it is in a large out building, but i would like to put the pen(with sleeping quarters attached)outside so they have shelter but can be outside at the same time. im so new at this i dont want to get it wrong. thanks

  10. christine

    Well the chicken cam off the eggs and the home biult incubator failed, never mind would have been very exciting. Anyhow the new home is biult and I have to say it’s proper posh two floors and a bathroom up to full production on the egg front with double yokes so they must be happy. Like to think so

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