Five Ways to Encourage a Hen to go Broody


Letting a hen sit on a nest of eggs to hatch them is far easier than using an incubator. The broody hen IS the incubator, turning the eggs and keeping them warm and at the correct humidity level. After the eggs hatch, she acts as the brooder box as well, needing no electricity to keep the chicks warm and safe. No more messy, dusty brooder in your laundry room or garage, no worries about heat lamps.

The mother hen also shows the chicks how to find bugs and which weeds are safe to eat, and she will introduce them to the rest of the flock when she feels it's time. But for this you need  broody hen. So how do you know when a hen is broody and how do you 'make' a hen go broody?

The short answer is - You can't 'force' a chicken to sit on eggs. Sadly, the broodiness gene has been bred out of most modern breeds.  Since the advent of incubators and shipped chicks, broody hens aren't as desirable as they once were. Since most people raise chickens for the eggs nowadays and aren't concerned about their flock self-propagating, and commercial farms use incubators as well, a hen who will stop laying eggs once she goes broody is counter-productive to modern chicken keeping. 


So what to do?  Here are five ways to (hopefully) end up with a broody hen:

1) The first thing you can do is choose breeds that tend towards being broody, such as Australorps, Brahmas, Buffs, or Cochins and bantam breeds such as Silkies, bantam Cochins or Orpingtons.

2) A second way to encourage a hen to go broody is to leave some eggs in the nests ( 'dummy' eggs, such as golf balls or plastic Easter eggs work just as well as real eggs and don't risk being broken). This can encourage your hen to start sitting on them.

3) You can also encourage a hen's broody nature by providing her a dark, safe place to sit on the eggs. Hang some curtains across the front of the nesting boxes, even a piece of sheet or fabric will help convince her the nest is a secret place to raise her chicks.

4)  Adding some herbs to the nesting boxes such as lavender or chamolile can help the hen relax and feel safe and secure.

5) Check the nesting boxes for insects, mites and mice. A hen generally won't sit if she senses critters in the boxes that could harm her eggs or chicks. Be sure the nesting box material is fresh and clean, and that there is a nice thick layer so the eggs won't touch the wooden floor and risk breaking.

If you are successful, your broody will begin to spend nearly all her time on the nest, leaving only periodically to eat, drink and defecate. You can assist her by leaving feed and water close by. She will begin to pull her breast feathers out, literally 'feathering' her nest, and growl and fuss if you try to move her. Slip some fertilized eggs under her and with a little luck, in 21 days, she'll hatch some chicks for you.

But just be aware, you could start an epidemic....it's thought broodiness is 'contagious' to some extent!

For advice on hatching chicks under a broody hen, read HERE.
For pros and cons of using an incubator vs. a broody hen, read HERE.
For ways to break a broody hen, read HERE.



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20 comments:

  1. Of my ten hens, I have one hen (Milly) who I have seen sitting every morning for the past 7 days. When I get home from work she is off the eggs until dark. Is this normal or should I collect the eggs? I marked the eggs a few days ago. No new eggs have been laid in her cubby and noticed that she is turning them. This morning while she was on the nest and hung a curtain over her cubby. She stood up for a few seconds to check things out and settled back on the eggs. Hopefully the curtain will encourage her to stay on longer. By the way, this is her first attempt and broading so she not too experienced. I marked my calendar for 21 days, how long would you recommend I let her sit after the "due date" before I collect the eggs?

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    1. It's normal that she takes some time off. Sounds like she's doing just fine. I would give it at least 2 days past the due date....

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  2. A mama hen does such a great job! And it sure is easier to leave the eggs/then chicks in her care. This is our first time trying it. Our chicks are about 2 weeks old now. But sadly this afternoon, a rat snake got one of the chicks. Mama hen squawked like crazy then gathered the biddies and rushed them to safey. My daughter and I killed the snake. We were so sad about the little chick that the snake killed. But we were so proud of our hen. (We need to stop getting so attached to our chickens! But it's too hard.)

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    1. Oh so sorry! Snakes are awful! I sprinkle cayenne pepper and sulfur around the brooder where I have them. I agree momma hen does a great job, but the chicks ARE safer in hte house! Poor chick! I lost a bunch of hatching eggs last spring to a snake - I was so mad. We did finally kill the snake, although we felt bad about that too.

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  3. how old does a hen have to be to go broody - mine are almost one year old? love the article!

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    1. Some lay one egg and decide to go broody! No specific age.

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  4. I have a question unrelated to brooding. I found one of my hens dead this morning when I went to open the door of the coop. She seemed fine yesterday. Laid her usual egg and when I checked on them last night at bedtime she seemed fine. After I found her this morning I checked her over and could find nothing out of the ordinary. No blood or injury or discharge from any opening. It's a real mystery. Do you have any ideas on what could have happened. She was only 9 months old. She was a big hen about 9 lbs. Thanks for anything you can offer.

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    1. I am so sorry. Sometimes its genetic, or a stroke or heart attack even. I really am sorry. Watch the others for symptoms, but probably its nothing.

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  5. Hi Lisa,
    I haven't had very good luck with broody hens, unfortunately. Right now I don't have any who seem interested in raising their own clutch. Thanks for sharing these tips...maybe one day I'll have a dependable broody hen. :)

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  6. Broody hen question: One of our hens seems to be broody, she has created her nest on the floor of our small coop.. (they have a large chicken run and a chicken yard, so they typically only go in the coop to lay or sleep). the other hens want to lay their eggs there too, not in the nesting boxes.. and they are bugging her. do I try to move the broody hen and some eggs that she is already sitting on? Or just let her be and see how it plays out? (we have a rooster so they should be fertile) Where do I move her?

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    1. If its early in the incubation period, try moving her and the eggs carefully to a nest in a dog crate or cage on the coop floor or if there's no room, to a garage maybe? If there are only a few days left, I would leave her and move them all once the chicks hatch.

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  8. If you don't think Broody Hen Syndrome is contagious go to a baby shower! I firmly believe that there are more pregnancies associated with baby showers than any other cause!

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  9. How terrible, I am so sorry for your loss of your hen.

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  10. Thank you for the pointers. I can't wait until I have some of my own hatched chicks. All the hens would be keepers. Roosters would be for our meat supply.

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  11. One of my young Silkie hens is sitting on 5 eggs. Two of them are EE eggs. They apparently sat on her back and placed the eggs on her. We take her out daily now and cover the crate. Her and our first. We shall see.

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  12. I moved mine to a dog crate and kept it closed for the most part for 4 days, taking her out occasionally for health purposes. I now have the door open and some wire fencing around the area so she can go out to eat, drink, etc. Hope this keeps the other hens out.

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  13. In my experience (about 10yrs and more than 10 times that many successful clutches hatched), Silkies and Bantam Cochins are absolutely THE best and most frequent brooders AND mothers, in existence! I had a Silkie one year that hatched AND raised FOUR clutches of 15 or more chicks, in one Spring/Summer period! (They also tend to sit very large clutches. Sometimes 20-25 and hatch EVERY EGG!) I was heartbroken when a stray dog got her. :*(

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  14. If she's layin she can be broodin!

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