Do you know what it means when your hen is a grumpy ball of feathers refusing to leave her nest? That’s a broody chicken. A hen who gets the broody bug will complain if moved and quickly hustle back to sit on the nest (even without eggs), and bully the other chickens out of the nesting box.
Hens usually go broody in the springtime, and they do so because they want to hatch chicks. In their natural environment, a chicken would sense the springtime by the temperature and light, lay a clutch of eggs, and then sit on them for 21 days until they hatched.
Some breeds of chicken are much more inclined to brooding than others. Silkies, cochins, and brahmas are some of the most notoriously broody birds. Conversely, breeds like Leghorns and Polish almost never are found broody.
It is very easy to tell if you chicken is broody – first of all, she won’t leave the nest and will express extreme unhappiness if forced off. Usually a hen goes broody in the nesting box, but sometimes she will find a secret spot outside, and in those cases it is extra important to keep an eye on her or a predator might gobble her up. Chickens who are broody will also pluck out their breast feathers and proverbially “feather their nest” in preparation for chicks.
If you don’t have hatching eggs that you want your hen to sit on, it’s recommended to try and break her of the habit. A chicken on the nest eats much less than her usual diet and also gives every other chicken trying to lay an egg a hard time.
Breaking a broody hen is not always an easy task, however. It’s important to do so as soon after you notice the symptoms as possible. You may be able to subdue her by locking her out of the coop in a secure area for a day or two. If you catch it early enough, just being away from the nest can do the trick. Other methods include putting the hen into a wire cage for a few days because the cold wire alters her body heat, and in order to be broody she has to keep herself at a certain temperature.
Similar to how some hens are more inclined to brood than others, some chickens are much easier to break of the habit. If you cannot discourage her, make sure that you take her off the nest at least twice a day so she gets the food and water she needs, or separate her with her own food and water source close to the nest. This state of being can last anywhere from just a week or two to several months, depending on the hen.
If you do have a rooster and leave the hen on the nest, she may hatch some chicks after the 21 day incubation period. It is very important to keep an eye on an expectant mother, as some hens take to it much better than others. Be prepared to remove the chicks if you have an aggressive mother. With a patient hen, hatching your own chicks is one of the most rewarding parts of farm life.
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