My chicken is brooding! What should I do?On May 19, 2020 by Vlad7 min read
When you first start growing chickens, especially if you start with young chicks, you might not think about the fact that one day, inevitably, your chickens will start brooding. This is a normal part of any hen’s life and it shouldn’t scare you. Depending on what you plan to do next, either stop it from brooding or get her to hatch some eggs, you have a few options on how to deal with your broody chicken.
Our flock of chickens turned one-year-old recently and started laying eggs. Soon after that, two of them started brooding and I thought this is the perfect opportunity to share some best practices on what to when this happens. So let’s have a look at what are the tell-tale signs of brooding chickens and how you can deal with them depending on what you want to do.
How can I tell if my chickens are brooding?
If your chicken refuses to leave her nesting box and just sits there all day long, without even taking breaks for eating, drinking or stretching her legs, chances are she started brooding.
Around this time you might also notice that your broody hen is getting more territorial – fluffing her wings, pecking more aggressively and making loud warning noises whenever you approach her nesting box. In some cases, they also pluck feathers from their belly to isolate their nest and allow direct contact between their hot bodies and the eggs.
Chickens won’t brood at the same time, each one is different. A combination of weather, hormones, maturity and environment will dictate when and if your hen goes broody.
Hatching eggs with a broody hen
Your first option when your hen goes broody is to let nature take it course (with a little bit of help on your side). Broody hens just want to hatch eggs, and if you’re ok with having more baby chicks and raising a new flock, you can help her out.
A few things to consider before getting started: Eggs hatch in 21 days if left under a broody hen. The young baby chicks will need warm, ambient temperatures in their first few weeks of life. If you don’t plan on raising your baby chicks under heat lamps, you might want to consider when you let your broody hen hatch her chicks. For our climate here, late spring and early summer are the best times to hatch new eggs, so that the baby chicks will be safe from any freezing temperatures until they grow bigger.
Where to let your hen brood
Your broody hen doesn’t need fancy accommodations to hatch eggs, but there are few things you can do to make it easier for her. Start by isolating her from the main flock. All the noise and commotion form your regular coop will stress her out and cause her to break her eggs. Simply find another place to keep her for the upcoming 21 days. This can be a dog kennel, another small coop, really any small enclosure where she and her eggs can be safe from predators and from the elements.
My grandma, back in the day used to put her hens in a small basket or crate and just cover it up with another basket to keep her from leaving and other animals from getting in. In our case, we use the old rabbit hutches, they are small, secure, and offer plenty of intimacy. Make a simple hay nest where you can put the eggs and the chicken. Don’t worry about its shape too much, the hen will “redecorate” after you put her there.
You should also leave some food and water right by her nest so that she can eat and drink if needed without getting up from her eggs. Hens are known to go days without food when brooding even if it’s nearby, they just won’t leave their nest. We made it a habit to pick up our broody hen off her eggs every second day and force her to go outside to poop, stretch her legs, and eat if needed. Just make sure after she’s done she returns to her eggs, and not to her old nesting box inside the coop.
Not all eggs are viable for hatching chicks. Eggs need to be fertilized in order for chicks to hatch out of them, otherwise, they will just go stale and rot. If you have a mature rooster in your flock he will happily and faithfully take care of all the fertilizing needed. You can also check if you’re eggs are fertilized by cracking one open. Look for a small white spot on the egg yolk.
If you don’t have a rooster, don’t try hatching store-bought eggs. Farms don’t always keep roosters around so they are most likely not fertilized. Instead, try to purchase some eggs from another farmer that has chickens and a rooster. Or buy some fertilized eggs online.
Here in Romania, it’s a custom to only give your broody chicken an odd number of eggs and it’s believed that otherwise, she won’t hatch any chicks. While this is bonkers, the question of how many eggs to give your broody hen is a good question. Anywhere from 15 to 21 eggs is a good amount. Older hens, two-year-old or older, will easily hold 21 eggs under them, while smaller hens might only be able to cover up to 15 eggs.
Putting your broody on the eggs
After you have the set-up done and you’ve got the eggs you need, simply put the eggs in her dedicated nesting box. Don’t stack them, they should all be placed on one level, so they can all be in direct contact with the hen. We also marked an X on our eggs so we can keep track if the hen is occasionally turning them around as she should.
Now you’ll just have to wait for 21 days for the baby chicks to hatch. During this time, make sure your hen takes short breaks to eat, drink, and poop. In some cases their brooding instinct is so strong they won’t level the eggs, not even for basic necessities and they might die. So man up, get some gloves and take the broody hen off her eggs every two days or so and force her to take a short walk. Be prepared for the awful stench of her elephant size poop during this time, it really stinks!
You now have 21 days to make accommodations for the baby chicks and read-up on how to take care of them in their first days of life.
Stopping a broody hen
In some cases, you might not want your broody hen to hatch new baby chicks. Maybe you’re happy with your flock size or you’re quickly approaching winter and you want to stop your broody hen. There’s a lot of suggestions online on how to do that, but really it all revolves around cold temperatures.
Basically, by exposing your broody hen to cold temperatures, you will reset her. She’ll think it’s too cold to hatch eggs and will stop brooding after a few days. Some people recommend throwing her in ice-cold water or throwing the water on her. I personally think that’s a really bad idea as the shock might kill her right then and there. Similar to the heart attack you’d get if you’d jump in a frozen lake.
Putting her in a suspended cage with the wind blowing at her, adding a pack of frozen veggies next to her nesting box, leaving the nesting box open in cold (sub-zero) weather, are all better ways of applying the “cold treatment” without endangering her well being.
This will take a few days. During this time it’s also good to block her access to any nesting box she picks next and make her walk about all day. If she doesn’t get a chance to settle down on a nesting box, she’ll eventually figure out she can’t hatch baby chicks in these conditions and she’ll just give up.
As you can see, hatching baby chicks is not that hard, nor is stopping your hens from brooding. So if this is your first time, there’s no need to panic. With a bit of knowledge on your side, you can easily handle the brooding period for your hens and if you decide you want new baby chicks, it’s really easy to let it happen. Unfortunate events might still happen, so don’t beat yourself over it. Sometimes the broody hen will break her eggs, or she might kill some of her baby chicks right after they hatch, but those are super rare events and there’s little to nothing you can do about it. Just try again with a different hen if that happens to you.
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Hello and welcome!
We (Vlad & Greti) are building a home on a homestead in a rural area of Romania in Western Europe and sharing our story as two passionate gardeners who ditched the city for a simpler, better life.