chicken management
managing broody hens
Many breeds of chickens will regularly go broody, especially in the Spring and Summer.  This page looks at how to manage broody hens.

what is a broody hen?
A broody hen is one that sits on a clutch of eggs in an effort to hatch a brood of chicks. A good broody hen will  sit continuously on her eggs for the twenty one days required to hatch them out.  During this period the hen will make brief forays away from the nest to get water and food but never long enough for the eggs to cool down, which would kill the developing embryos inside. 

the broody characteristics of different chicken breeds
Whether hens go broody or not and how often they go broody depends on the breed of the chicken.  Some breeds such as Light Sussex bantam and Barnevelder regularly go broody while others like Isa Brown, Hy-line Brown  and Lohmann Brown (pretty well all the crossbreeds bred for the commercial poultry industry) never go broody.  In between these two extremes there are hens that only occasionally go broody and ones that go broody but make poor mothers as they have a tendency to get off the nest before the chicks hatch out.

The basic rule of thumb is that purebred chickens tend to go broody while commercial crossbreed chickens do not, though there are of course exceptions to this rule.  Any reputable purebred chicken breeder should be able to advise you as to which breeds are the most broody.

choosing whether to keep broody hens or not
Having hens go broody when you don't want them to sit on eggs can be quite disruptive as they go off the lay when broody and require you to take action to get them to stop being broody.

If you have a rooster  or access to fertile eggs and want your hens to hatch out their own chicks then you should choose a breed that both regularly goes broody and will sit on the eggs you want to hatch out for the full twenty one days.

If however you only want to keep hens for their eggs then you should choose a breed that rarely or never goes broody.

how to tell if a hen is going broody
A chicken sitting on a nest to lay an egg and one that has gone broody are doing exactly the same thing; sitting on the nest.  There are two  ways to test whether a hen has gone broody.
    Place your hand under the hen as though you are going to take one of its eggs.  If the hen is there to lay an egg it will be startled and jump off the nest.  If however it has gone broody it will stay put and peck furiously at you in an effort to defend its clutch of eggs.  While this method is quick the down side is that if the hen is in fact laying an egg your actions may startle it enough to put it temporarily off the lay.

    Note that if you put your hand under the hen and it neither jumps up or tries to peck you but sits there listlessly with a glazed look in its eyes then the hen may be eggbound, which is when an egg gets stuck in its pelvis.  If you suspect your chicken is egg bound then you should take steps to try and free the egg immediately as this malady is often fatal.  There are a number of techniques for dealing with eggbound hens on the internet.

    Simply wait until nightfall and check to see if the hen is still sitting on the nest.  If it is then you can be pretty sure the hen has gone broody as chickens to not lay eggs at night and very rarely roost in nest boxes. 


how to encourage or discourage a hen from going broody
Broody hens will rarely sit on less than two or three eggs so if you don't want your hens to go broody collect your eggs on a regular basis to ensure that there is never more than one or two eggs in a nest box at any one time. 

Conversely if you want a hen to go broody simply leave a clutch of eggs in a nest box and usually within a few days a hen (if you have hens with a tendency to go broody) will go broody and sit on them.  How many eggs you leave in a nest box can vary up to about twelve eggs.  If you have more than twelve eggs the hen may not be big enough to cover all the eggs with its body and it is body heat that incubates the eggs.  I generally let each hen I want to hatch out chicks sit on around eight eggs.

getting a broody hen to stop being broody
Photo of my broody hen cage.
My broody hen cage.  For more information on broody hen cages see: Broody Hen Cage.
If one of your hens goes broody and you do not want it to hatch out a clutch of chicks then place it in a broody hen cage for two to three days.  Broody hen cages deny the hen any sensation of sitting on a nest which causes the hen to eventually lose interest in doing so. 

After two or three days let the hen out.  If it goes straight back to sitting on the nest then but it back in the broody hen cage for another two or three days,  but usually one stint in the cage is enough for most broody hens.  For more information on broody hen cages see: Broody Hen Cage