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To Brood, Or Not To Brood

Do you have a chicken who is a homebody to a fault? Don't worry, it's natural. What to know about your brooding birds.

chicken on her nest

Photo: Lydiat (flickr)

While it's natural for hens to try to hatch chicks, you might have good reasons for interrupting the reproductive cycle.

The Broody Stage Of Life

When the weather gets warm, many hens experience a change in their bodies that ensures the survival of the species. It’s called broodiness and is completely normal.

Broodiness happens when a hormone causes female chickens of egg-laying age to stop laying and begin sitting on whatever’s already in the nest. They will pluck the feathers on their undersides, and will also become very ornery. If you try to reach under them to take eggs, for example, they may try to peck at your hands.

Becoming broody for a hen has nothing to do with whether the eggs are fertile or not. So, if you don’t have a rooster, don’t assume your hen will bypass the broodiness — she doesn’t know the difference!

Not all breeds of chickens produce broody hens. Some breeds — such as my Sicilian Buttercups — tend not to go broody at all. Other breeds are prized for their ability to sit on eggs and hatch, such as Silkies or Buff Orpingtons.

No Chicks Allowed

This behavior is great if you have some fertile eggs that you want to hatch, as there is no better incubator than a real live chicken.

However, if you have a flock of backyard birds and have no intention of hatching eggs, you’ll have to do something. Many broody hens stop eating or drinking and can get overheated inside the coop on an especially hot day. Plus, while they’re sitting, you’re not getting fresh eggs!

The best thing to do is to remove your hen from the nest as soon as you notice broodiness. Put her in a new space, such as a dog crate or separate coop. She will fuss at first, but the new surroundings should interrupt the hormonal cycle. Expect to have her back with the flock anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

Jana Wilson

Jana Wilson lives on 20 acres just outside of Bloomington, IN and writes her blog, The Armchair Homesteader. In addition to the chickens, she has ducks and a border collie named Winnie who helps her with her various efforts at becoming more self-sufficient.

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