Broody hens

By: Jessamy Miller | December 15, 2015

Hen and chicks
Photo: Jessamy Miller

For breeds like Wyandottes, Silkies, Pekins and Australorps, the warmer months often bring regular bouts of broodiness. While this is ideal if you are thinking of raising chicks, when egg production is the goal, it’s downright annoying.

A determined broody will sit for any length of time, so it’s up to you to de-brood her and get her back on the lay.  

Why do hens go broody?

Intensively bred layers like ISAs no longer express natural behaviour like broodiness, but when traditional breeds lay a clutch of eggs, many instinctively want to sit on them, whether there’s a rooster on hand or not. When they get this hormone surge, hens fluff out their feathers, remain on the nest at all costs, behave more aggressively towards you and other poultry, and make a distinctive clucking noise. 

Prevention

Broody behaviour can be exacerbated by dark corners, warm weather and inviting nests full of eggs. To discourage birds from going broody, collect eggs regularly and keep the henhouse well ventilated. Of course, a determined broody will sit on a golf ball, so this isn’t a guaranteed fix! 

Why de-brood?

It’s not ideal for hens to remain broody for long periods. They stop laying, and remain on the nest day and night, making a nest box unavailable. Broodies eat and drink much less, so lose condition, and will stop dust-bathing and grooming, leaving them vulnerable to parasites and ill health. Nest boxes can be stifling in summer, and the broodiness hormone raises the bird’s temperature, so they are also prone to heat stress. The longer a hen is broody, the longer it takes to de-brood, so get onto it pronto. 

Best practice de-brooding

In the past, a tiny wire cage or a dunking in water was not considered inhumane, but more recent research has found that the most effective way to lower the hormone levels is to keep the hen active. 

It’s usual to remove the hen from the flock until she is fully over her broodiness. Choose a well lit, well-ventilated area with no dark nest boxes or soft nesting material, but plenty of room for her to walk it off. 

Some options include:


  • A spacious wire bottomed cage (eg a rabbit cage) with nowhere cosy to nest. 
  • A new free-range area where she can be distracted by lots of activities. 
  • An unfamiliar henhouse with a concrete floor where she has to settle in, and find her feed and water. 
  • A regime encouraging her to move about by feeding further away, popping her into the dustbathing area or taking her to the bottom of the garden. 

Keep the hen cool by putting soft drink bottles full of frozen water anywhere she wants to nest. It’s important to wait a few days after outward signs of broodiness have disappeared for hormone levels to fully subside. If you return her to the pen and she heads straight for the nest, it’s too early. 

Get into a routine with your broodies and you’ll lose fewer days of production in the henhouse.  

 

 

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