Friday, February 10, 2017

How and why to break a broody hen

I've had Silkies for as long as I've had chickens. I had heard they were great at raising chicks but I really didn't have a clue how determined they could get. When a Silkie goes broody she just doesn't give up! She will decide to hatch some babies and turn into an egg stealing, cranky butt! My other chickens can usually be talked out of being broody pretty easily. A few days in a wire bottom cage and they throw in the towel. The Silkies just look at me like "is that all you got?" The last one was broody for almost 3 months. I thought I knew how to break a broody, but I sure learned a lot from these little fluffballs.

broody hen
First things first, a broody doesn't just get that way by a quirk. It's a hormonal change. As much as I know that's true there's also something viral about it because when one catches it, they all do! My coop can go from zero to six broodys in one week. Ok, so maybe that's just a coincidence or maybe one hens hormones are triggered by seeing another one trying to hatch chicks. Whatever it is, the best way to prevent hens from going broody is to take away their eggs daily. The hen accumulates a clutch of eggs in order to hatch them and by taking them away each day they never accumulate a clutch. This doesn't always work to keep them from going broody but it seems to help, at least in my experience. I've also heard that if you want to encourage a hen to go broody, leave the eggs in the nest box and hopefully that clutch of eggs will trigger her hormonal change to get her started setting. I've had eggs sit in the coop without a broody for weeks and I've had hens go broody on nothing at all, so you're results may vary. 

First, determine if she is being broody or just taking forever to lay her egg. A broody will usually puff up if you reach into her nest box. She might peck at you, screech and generally freak out. If you bring her out for treats she will go right back to her nest as soon as she's done. She may peck at other hens that come near her nest box. She will be in that box all day long except to eat and drink once or twice. That is definitely broody behavior.

After you notice a hen being broody, decide whether you want to let her have chicks or not. If you do, you can either give her fertile eggs or let her set awhile then slip chicks under her one night. I usually let them set at least 2 weeks before giving them chicks. Once she has her chicks, she can handle the rest as long as she has a safe place to raise them.  

If you decide you don't want her being broody the first thing to do is move her away from the other hens. Usually this keeps the chain reaction of broodyness from happening with the other hens. I like to move them to a cage with a wire bottom into my garage. Don't put bedding in it. This way her tummy stays cool and hopefully triggers her hormones to back off. I have this chicken hutch. (you can usually pick these up at TSC. If you wait till late in the season they're half off) Put her in there with food and water and make sure it's in a well lit area. If you don't have this type of cage, any type of wire pet crate with small holes on the bottom will work. You can put it on 2X4's to get air underneath. Do this as soon as possible. I've noticed the faster I get her into a wire cage, the less time it takes to break them.

For me, I have found that all these steps have to be followed for it to work. Moving her away from her coop, the wire bottom and the light all need to happen for her to stop being broody. It can take a few days. I always leave them in the cage a day or two after they've stopped being broody. Take them out too soon and they often go right back to it. When you do take them back to the coop, keep an eye on them. They'll usually take a few minutes to eat and scratch around but if they're still broody they'll be back in their nest box shortly.

Here are a few myths surrounding broodys that I wanted to discuss, and my thoughts on them:
(all these were taken from forum discussions I took part in)

1) If she doesn't have eggs, she'll stop in a few days:
This almost never works. I've seen a hen without eggs stay broody for months which is not good for her health.

2) She'll be fine, just let it runs it's course: 
A hen stops eating and drinking except for once or twice a day while broody. By the end of 3 weeks when the chicks hatch she has lost weight. You can usually feel this just by picking her up. If you let it 'runs it's course' and she doesn't hatch chicks she can sit for months becoming malnourished resulting in sickness and death.

3) Dip her belly in cold water a few times a day and she'll stop:
Do I really have to say how mean this is? You'll end up with a mad, wet chicken and could even make her sick depending on how cold the water and the air temperature is.

4) Put ice packs in the nest box so shes uncomfortable sitting there.
 First off, that's just not nice. Secondly, she'll probably just go sit in a corner. 

5) Block off the nest boxes so she can't get to them to sit:
I have countless pictures of hens sitting on eggs on the floor or in a corner of the coop. This almost never works. Besides, when the other hens can't get to the nest boxes they lay their eggs on the floor. The broody sees the egg and sits on it. 

6) Shine a light in her eyes while she's sitting in the nest box.
She will either ignore you, change nest boxes, turn around so your looking at her butt, or move to a corner of the coop. 

7) Put a fan in the coop and face it at the nest boxes. The cold air will make her quit being broody:
I don't know that running a fan in the coop with all those chickens around is a good idea. What if they peck at it? The idea here is to get her belly cool the same as the cage would, but with her sitting in the nest box she would get cool but her belly would stay warm since it's nestled into the shavings. Pretty sure this is just going to be a mess.

I have tried many methods for breaking a broody. I've tried blocking off nest boxes during the day and the broody hen has just sat in a corner. I've seen them get kicked out of the nest boxes by other hens and the broody one was sitting on the floor in front of the nest boxes. I've put the broody hen out in the run for the day only to find her sitting in the same place all day, on nothing. The only thing that really worked for me is the wire cage. 

Depending on the breed though, some are easier to break then others. I can break one of my Marans by just putting her in a closed run for a day. She's over it by night time. Some are much harder though and for them the cage works wonders. However in the interest of disclosure I should tell you I've only had to do this a dozen or so times. I just usually give them fertile eggs and let them hatch chicks.

~L
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4 comments:

  1. I've had my Silkies sit on rocks, hard chicken poop, clumps of mud... they want to incubate, hatch, and raise chicks . I've had them steal the chicks from other hens , raise turkeys they hatched out, and all the while i love their precious Silkie nature. Always a challenge when they're not doing as I think they should, but also always a pleasure to have in my poultry pens.

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    Replies
    1. I have one that steals chicks all the time! They can be such little brats, but they're so cute you can't even be mad! lol

      ~L

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  2. Thanks for sharing on the All Around the Home and Homestead Blog Party!

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  3. I had no idea Silkies could be that stubborn! Definitely interesting! Thanks for sharing with the Homestead Blog Hop!

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