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How To Stop A Hen From Being Broody (6 Tips to Break the Cycle )

tips for stopping a broody hen

Have you ever noticed how grass will grow in all the places you don’t want it and how you have to go to great pains to get it to grow in places you do want it, like your lawn? 

Well, broody chickens are very similar. They go broody at all the wrong times and when you do want to hatch some eggs, there seem to be no volunteers.

There are breeds of chickens that have a higher rate of going broody. Perhaps you’re raising a variety of hens that tend toward being broody. If that’s the case, how can you break this natural cycle if you’re not ready to hatch chicks?

In this post, I’ll discuss the various ways of how to stop a hen from being broody, and find out if it’s even possible.  But first let’s take a look at what it means for a hen to be broody.

What Does It Mean When A Hen Is Broody?

hen sitting on her eggs in a nesting box

There is no mystery to a broody hen. It simply means that her biological clock is telling her it’s time to hatch some eggs. A broody hen can often times transform from a loving, docile, bird, to a thief and raging lunatic. 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a rooster or fertile eggs for her to hatch. Once that timer goes off, she will enter brood mode with total disregard for reality.

Unfortunately, hens don’t have a scientific calculation for brooding. There’s no way to predict when it will happen. Broodiness occurs when just the right combination of maturity, hormones, and desire for procreation, merge. 

Hens can go broody at any time of the year, but you’ll find that most go broody in and around the spring months. The hens know that they need warm weather in order for their babies to thrive. 

How To Tell If a Hen Is Broody

how to tell if a hen is broody

There are tell-tale signs your hen is broody. If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon, here are certain behaviors that indicate your hen is biologically ready to hatch babies.

  • Your hen will remain in her nest both day and night. She will not even perch on the roost with the rest of the flock in the evening.
  • When you approach the nest, she will puff out her feathers and cluck, squawk, or growl at you.
  • Your normally docile hen may try to peck at you when you try and retrieve the eggs underneath her.
  • You may notice feathers in the nest. This is where she has plucked out her breast or belly feathers to ensure her body heat warms up the eggs.
  • You will notice your hen is hoarding her own eggs and even rolling eggs from other hens under her body. 

Still not sure? Take a look at this YouTube video on signs of a broody hen. 

How Long Will a Hen Stay Broody?

There is no specific length of time for a hen to stay broody. The amount of time will ultimately depend on how strong your hen’s instinct is to brood. 

The problem with having a broody hen is that she will stop laying eggs during this phase and physically deteriorate from not eating and exercising. Her main goal will be to remain sitting on her eggs for as long as it takes to hatch them. She will deny herself the basic necessities in order to carry out her mission. 

What Age Will a Hen Go Broody and How Many Times a Year?

If a hen is of a variety that is subject to strong brooding instincts, she may go broody as soon as her eggs reach a normal size. She will start laying small eggs and the eggs will increase in size as she matures. When the eggs reach full capacity, this is when her body may tell her that it’s time to hatch some babies. 

If your hen does not get broody right away after maturing, this does not mean she will not get broody later on. Time of year plays a role in brooding, as well as air temperature. 

at what age do chickens start to brood

One factor that seems to be consistent is if the hen was raised by a broody mother. Hens are like people in that if they are raised by a mother that has strong maternal instincts, those instincts will get passed to the baby. Hence, raising a chick in an incubator will not promote strong brooding instincts. 

Even a chick not raised by its mother can learn how to be a good mother. The bigger issue is what to do when your hen is broody and you don’t want that behavior. 

It’s possible for a hen to be broody from 1 to 3 times a year depending on the breed. It can be a real pain if you don’t plan on hatching chicks and your hen is broody several times a year. 

How Many Hours A Day Does A Hen Sit On Her Eggs?

Once a hen has begun incubating her eggs, she will be sitting on them for the next 21 days or until they hatch. During this time is when she will be protective and more aggressive over her eggs. She will also stop laying any more eggs.

A hen’s main objective is to sit on the eggs and that’s it. Some hens don’t even need to lay their own eggs to become broody. Hens have tried to hatch fake eggs, rocks  and even golf balls. 

hen resting on eggs in nesting box

Once committed to hatching the eggs though, a hen may only leave the nest once a day. Some hens may leave twice a day, but they will hurry through their activities of eating, drinking and pooping (the poop will be much larger than normal because she is holding it until she leaves the nest) and they seem almost frantic to return to the nest. 

Hens will sit on the eggs for 24 hours a day minus the time they leave to eat and drink. This will vary from hen to hen. They do not sit on the roost at night and they will not socialize with the rest of the flock. 

Some hens can lose up to 30% of their body weight from brooding inactivity, and lack of food and exercise. 

Why Would You Want to Break A Broody Hen?

Here are some of the reasons why you don’t want your hen to become broody.

  • If you don’t have a rooster, your eggs won’t be fertile. They won’t hatch.
  • There is a good chance that half of the chicks will be roosters. If you’re objective is simply raising hens for eggs, roosters will have to be dispatched. You don’t want more than one rooster on your property if you only have a dozen hens.
  • If you have more than one breed of hen in your flock, you may not want to mix breeds. 
  • It may not be the right time of year. You don’t want your hen to lose weight and reduce her health by brooding just before winter. It will also be a difficult time to raise babies. 
  • Your demand for eggs may outweigh having a hen stop producing for a month.
  • It’s not cost-effective to feed hens that are not laying.

How to Stop a Hen from Being Broody

There are measures you can take to help break your hen out of her brooding syndrome. You should know, however, that even after breaking the brood, it will be 2 to 4 weeks before she starts laying eggs again. 

Now that we know all the signs and reasons for a hen to go broody, here are some tips on how to stop a hen from being broody.

1. RemoveThe Hen From The Nest

Depending on the tenacity of the hen, breaking her from her broody behavior may be as simple as picking her up and tossing her into the yard with the rest of the hens. If you catch her early enough in the brooding process, you might be able to toss her out of the nest several times for a couple of days to break the cycle.

If she returns to the nest immediately, try putting her under your arm and walking around with her for a bit to distract her. You are creating an “out of sight, out of mind” effect and giving her hormones time to settle down.

2. Close Down the Nesting Box

If you take away the nesting box for a few days, the hen may decide that she doesn’t want to be broody anymore. Females are fickle and if the conditions are not right for nesting, she may decide this is not a good time to hatch her chicks. 

If you have multiple nesting boxes, be careful that she does not transfer to another box and try to hatch eggs in someone else’s box. Her instincts may be strong enough to pursue more than one venue to hatch eggs.

3. Take Away The Nesting Material

This may not be practical if you have a large egg operation. But f you only have a few nesting boxes, you can try removing the nesting material. This will deprive the hen of a soft comfortable location to hunker down with her clutch. It may be enough to discourage the desire to hatch her eggs.

4. Deny Access To The Coop

A more extreme measure is to close up the coop. This works best when you have more than one broody hen. You can leave the broody hens outside and let the rest go inside. Or, you can simply close the coop for a couple of days. This will provide enough of a distraction that the brooding should be suspended. 

5. Solitary Confinement (AKA Chicken Jail)

Using a wire cage or dog crate, you can place your hen in a cage with food and water. Do not place any bedding in the cage or she will build a nest and continue being broody.

You can further reduce her instinct to brood by suspending the cage. This will make the cage drafty and further reduce the desire for hatching eggs.

A chicken’s body temperature increases during brooding and there are theories that reducing the hen’s temperature can help stop the brooding process. 

6. Reducing Body Temperature

Going along with the theory that reducing body temperature will break the brood, some people have placed a frozen water bottle under a hen in the nest. 

Ever heard of the expression “madder than a wet hen”? More extreme methods of lowering a hen’s body temperature involve dunking her in cool water. Hens hate to be wet and they will get quite angry, hence the expression. 

Only try this method in the summer when temperatures are warm. You don’t need to dunk the entire chicken, just her underside. Again, this is considered an extreme option.

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