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. gillian

    i have 3 chickens one of which has been very broody. I was given 6 fertilised eggs from a friend for barbra to sit on, it has now been 2 weeks and only 2 of the eggs are left. I think one of the other chickens is pecking them when barbra comes out for food. Is this normal that chickens would eat eggs?? Or do they sense something is going on? Should i separate them from each other? any info would be great. Thanks.

  2. Hi there
    I have just got some bantam hens 6 weeks old for our coop. Beautiful little things. I am just concerned that they may need a perch. I’ve only got three of them. They seem too little to be able to get to a perch. Is there an age when they need a perch, do they need one now, will they be alive in the morning?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Matt

      Usually the chicks start to want to roost at about 12 weeks so you are fine without a perch. They will need a heat lamp though as they would normally be sleeping in the warm of a hen’s wing.

  3. Alexandra

    My hen decided to sit on 11 eggs in our garden; I eventually found her after a week of going missing. Since it is winter here in Cape Town, I thought it best to move her & the eggs to a coop, as she hadn’t had any food, & thought she would be warmer etc. In doing so, she flew off before I had her in my arms; I moved the eggs, and attempted to catch her, which took some time. Now, about 3 hours later she is in the coop with the eggs, but not sitting on them. Maybe I should have left well alone? How long can a hen be off her eggs at one time? and do you think she will sit on the eggs, now that I have really disturbed her? I feel really bad!
    Kind regards,

  4. If you want some hybred fertile eggs I could send you some.

  5. Leisa

    talking of chickens finding thier own rythem of laying i have 6 chickens and 1 cock, one has gone broody for the second time and is sitting on eggs due to hatch on sunday, howver she is shut away from the others. but the rest havnt been laying properly for ages, long before venessa went broody. they are all about 16 months old exept for the cock who was hatched out last time venessa went broody in september last year. can anyone give me any advice? thanks

  6. hi feona its me again my other broody chicken has also hatched a beautiful silky chick but just one egg out of five hatched 🙁 any how the chicken is still sitting on the remaining eggs should i remove the eggs or just leave it to the chicken to decide?

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Erum

      I always let the hen stay on the nest for an extra two or three days. Sometimes the gap between the eggs hatching can be a few days. She will eventually discard the eggs that are not viable.

  7. Hi there- am new to the site. Was just wondering if someone could help. I am moving to our first smallholding in July and would really like to incubate some eggs and start a small flock of hens this summer. Are fertilised eggs available in August? Is breeding seasonal? Should I wait for Spring? Gosh, I sound ignorant… sorry.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello Anna

      Fertilised eggs would be available in August. You would need a broody hen or an incubator. The breeding period in chickens is quite long, they just close down for the shorter days during the winter months.

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Erum

    Delighted that you now have six chicks!

    I’m sorry to here about the mother hen. I’m afraid I don’t have enough experience of chicken diseases to advise you on this one. You need to go onto one of the big chicken forums or ring your vet immediately.

    It’s very important that you feed the chicks specially formulated chick crumbs. These will protect the chicks from diseases and give them lots of vitamins and nourishment for growth.

    Good luck.

    Hi Nick

    A hen sitting in the nesting box for half an hour is not broody – she’d be in the nesting box 24/7!

    Sometimes our hens sit in the nesting box for a bit and don’t lay an egg, especially the young ones. All hens don’t lay an egg a day even when they mature.

    The one who has made a nest outside may just want a bit of privacy from the rest of the flock.

    Chickens can look as if they are in lay and not produce an egg. Be patient your hens will find their natural rhythm eventually. .

  9. hi feona its me again
    well i told u that my chicks heched some 3 days ago and now the problem is that the mum seems slightly sick there is some water coming out of her nose should i separate her from the chicks and will she accept them back when she recovers after a few days

  10. Any ideas out there?! We have a couple of chickens that look as if they are in lay at present – one we have found nesting in the garden under some grasses! But the other one is regually (most mornings for a half an hour or so) in the nest box attached to their overnight cage but we never get an egg from her! She certainly doesn’t look as if she’s going broody but can a chicken look as if it should be laying (nice red comb) but produce no eggs?! Thanks for any comments.

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