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. Our first chick that survived after being incubated by pigeons is now 4 weeks old and thriving. By the looks of his tail feathers which are curling over at the ends I think it is a cockerel,but not too sure. We have another which has been under pigeons for 20 days and has just starting to chip and another should be breaking out in 3 to 4 days.
    Yes I agree they are very theraputic and relaxing to watch.

  2. hi fn

    thanks for your help. we had five chicks on the 21st of sept and now they are really quite big. i love just watching them copy their mum pecking and scratching at they know not what! great to unwind at the end of a day. it was so exiting to hear and see them hatch. thanks again

  3. hi
    i live in Pakistan i have 3 chickens and a cockerel i don,t know about there breed but they are good layers just wanted to tell u that this is the most informative and cute website i have ever visited about poultry care .keep up the good work actually i needed a experienced person to advise me about small problems that one faces about the chicken care now i know where to go if i had a question in my mind.good luck

  4. Thanks for that. Our Ms Broody still looks pretty out-of-condition, so your advice is spot-on! IN the meantime we’ve given 3 bantam hens, yippee! They were accompanied by 3 roosters, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to re-home these guys!

    Thanks again

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sally

    A broody hen can lose condition so I’d be wary about setting her on eggs again this season. Mrs Boss has raised ducklings and bantam chicks in one season with us this year but I put her on a very high protein diet when she went broody for the second time and I’m watching her closely as chicks are hard work for an adoptive mother hen.

    Hi Emma

    Yes, I reckon that you would know by now. Baby cockerels have miniature cock’s combs and strut!

  6. Quick question we hatched out 4 pekin cross chicks in July, would it be obvious by now if any were cockerels?


  7. Hi

    A quick question if I may! We have (among others) a little Bantam cross hen (Tandoori)who went broody recently. Unfortunately none of her eggs hatched. She was on the nest for about 4 weeks and was in poor condition when we eventually took away the eggs and the box.

    We’re wanting to try again to hatch some eggs (we have 16 hens in 4 cages, with 4 roosters and thought we’d take eggs from all the cages to cover our bets). None of the other hens appears to be even slightly broody. We could see if Tandoori might be willing to sit again, but might this be very bad for her, physically?

    Many thanks
    Sally in South Africa

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Christine

    So pleased that the chicks are happy and that everything has settled down.

    Hello Karen

    Very sad to hear about Astra. Are you feeding baby chick crumbs? These contain elements to protect the chicks from diseases. Just wondering if the pigeons passed on something (as the eggs are porous).

    It might be a good idea to find a companion for the one chick as they are sociable creatures.

  9. Hi
    Unfortunatly the 2nd chick Astra died very suddenly. One minute it was eating drinking chirping and chasing the other,then within an hour its legs seemed to go weak and it died.
    Very upset.
    The third chick died in the egg. It was fully formed.

    Vauxy the first chick is fine. ( fathers name is Cavalier,,, get it!!) So we are keeping our fingers crossed that it makes it to maturity.
    Do you think it will need company,should I go out and buy another chick the same age???


  10. christine

    The chickens are settled into the new coup, one of the black rocks ‘Millie’ has adopted the two chicks ‘spot’ and ‘dash’, it’s quite cute ’cause they snuggle under her wing when they go to bed. The eggs hit 85 this month; the four of them are all laying.

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