Broody hens, how to care for them

Broody hens are the easiest way to add new chicks to your flock. A good broody will take care of the chick rearing and all you really have to do is provide food and water. That makes it so much easier than caring for a brooder full of chicks! 

A broody hen does require a little bit of care though. She'll need a safe place to sit on her eggs for 21 days, food and water. After her chicks hatch she'll need a safe place to raise them. She will take care of integrating the new chicks into the flock when the time comes.

Broody hen care

I've found that chicks raised by a broody hen are slightly less friendly with humans than those raised in a brooder. The fact that it's so much easier to just let a broody hen do all the work though, makes it worth the little extra coaxing it takes to get the chicks to be friendly when they're older!

You'll know your hen is broody when she refuses to move out of the nest box for days on end and growls or gets irritated when you try to pet or move her. Letting her set in the nest box for the whole 3 weeks may be the easiest thing to do but it's not always practical.

Nest boxes are often elevated and heavily trafficked which can result in broken eggs, extra eggs being deposited during the hens setting period, or chicks falling from the nest box after hatching. These reasons are why I usually move broody hens to a separate cage during her broody period.

the broody cage

The broody cage

When creating an area for the broody hen you'll want to use a solid bottom cage, not a wire cage like we used to break a broody. If you don't have a solid bottom cage, a large piece of cardboard under the nesting material will work just fine. I've used large rubbermaid tubs in a pinch, but often I just opt for a dog crate, large rabbit cage or something similar.

I like to situate the broody cage in a corner of the coop so she's not totally isolated during her broody period. Use the same bedding material that's being used in the nest box she's chosen. Put a feeder or bowl with chick feed in it and a waterer. I feed my broody hens chick food since it's higher in calories and nutrition than layer feed. 

Make sure she has enough room to set on her eggs, walk over to the food and water, and poop somewhere that isn't in her nest or feeding area.

If you don't have a cage and believe the nest box is safe enough for the chicks to hatch in, you can leave the broody hen in there. Mark all her eggs with pencil to keep track of which ones belong there. Since other hens might try to lay their eggs in the nest box when the broody gets up to eat, remove any new eggs every single day. This will prevent overcrowding of the eggs and staggered hatching.

Moving the broody hen

If you have decided to move your hen to a cage, much of this part is going to depend on your broody. I have some hens that are so determined when broody that I can move them any time, any where, any way and they will sit on those eggs no matter what. I have others that give up very easily. Unless you know your broody is crazy-determined, move her at night. 

Have the broody cage prepared and waiting for nightfall. After the broody is asleep for the night carefully reach in and steal a few eggs. Place the eggs into the broody cage in a nice nest of bedding. Next, bring the broody over and place her on the eggs. She will probably start settling in to the nest. Bring the rest of the eggs and getly stuff them under her. Close her in so she cannot get out and go back to the nest box. 

Check your broody hen first thing in the morning. She should be happily setting on her eggs. If she is not, you can try moving the eggs back to the nest box and letting her out of the cage to see if she'll go back. Or you could move the eggs to an incubator until she figures out what she's doing. 

Caring for a broody hen


A broody hen does not need much care, but you will need to make sure she has clean water and enough food daily. She only gets up once or twice a day to eat and poop so don't expect a lot of activity from her. Broody poop is notoriously stinky and rather large, so you might want to clean that out when you see it. 

Even though she will get up to eat and drink when she's ready, I usually take her treats once a day and bring her out of her nest area to stretch her legs. Keep an eye on her and shut her back in when she gets back on the nest, otherwise the rest of the flock will think they're allowed to eat all her food! 

Many people believe that a broody hen will kick out any bad eggs so there is no reason to candle them. I've had way too many broody's sit on rotten eggs that popped to believe that though, so I always candle the eggs after about a week. Take her some treats and while she's eating reach in and candle each egg. Remove the bad eggs, quitters and any eggs with cracks. Even a hairline crack can let bacteria in and cause the egg to go bad very quickly!

When it comes time for the eggs to hatch, the broody hen should not need any help from you. I usually reach in and pull out the empty eggshells, but otherwise leave her alone until she's ready to get up. She should be ready when the chicks are done hatching but sometimes she will get up earlier.

The nice thing about using a broody cage is that since there isn't much room for her to run around, even if she gets off the nest before all the eggs have hatched she will usually return shortly and continue to set there with her chicks. This allows time for the stragglers to hatch out.

If there are still eggs that haven't hatched when the broody leaves a nest you can either remove them and put them in an incubator or put them under another broody. However, if you put the eggs under another broody and they hatch soon, she may give up on the rest of her eggs thinking all her chicks have hatched. *sigh*

You could try putting the chick back with the original mama after it hatches and if you're quick enough it should work. Any time you move a chick around though, keep an eye on the mama hen to make sure she accepts it. 

If you did not move your broody hen to a cage and she's still in the nest box you'll want to pay close attention to make sure no chicks fall out of the nest box. If one does, there's a good chance mama hen won't leave her eggs and it will get chilled and possibly die. It can also be injured or killed by the adult chickens. When mama is ready you'll also need to be there to help the chicks out of the nest box and down to the coop floor so they don't get hurt. 

hen with chicks

That's honestly why I always move my broody hens to a cage now. The eggs always hatch on a day I'm busy or not home and things don't go right sometimes. I swear it's like they know! ugh Well, that and the adults love to eat the chick starter so feeding them after they hatch can be tricky!

I usually wait till the chicks are a few weeks old to let the whole brood out into the coop with the rest of the flock. My chickens free range so I don't worry about giving the chicks starter feed all day long. Until they're big enough to get on the roost mama will usually take them back to the cage at night, so I leave it open and feed them in there at bed time. 

I often let broody hens hatch chicks because it's easier for me, but honestly...I also love it because it's just too cute to watch the mamas with their little chickies!

~L

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3 comments:

  1. My first Broody/chicks experience was even easier than you explained here! I dont know if I'm just lucky, or too inexperienced to have worried about the possible problems! ;-) I have a hen who likes to go broody every two months or so, so when the timing was right for ME ;-) I let her have her way. Once I noticed she was going broody, I moved the nesting box she chose down to the coop floor and placed in inside a cardboard box on it's side(so she had protection on the top and back, and both sides, but could hop out the "front". THis was mostly cuz the only place on the coop floor that I could put her was right in front of the other nesting boxes, and I didn't want the other hens to constantly be kicking bedding down on her head, cuz they do a lot of "nesting" before they settle to lay their eggs. I added an additional "roof flap" on her box so that she'd have a little more privacy, but could still easily climb out from underneath it when she wanted to. I gave her food and water in the box, but she mostly came out into the yard to drink/eat/poop once or twice a day, so I could have left that out until the chickies hatched. I knew I would be home when the chickies were due, so a day or two before the "due date" I just started spending a LOT more time in the coop and watching for potential problems with the other hens or my rooster and the new chickies...there were NONE! Everyone pretty much ignored Bertha and the babies until they started coming out into the yard...and then they ACTIVELY ignored and tried to get AWAY from them....I think they didn't know what they were! Even my Roo kept his distance! From Day 1, the chickies were in the coop with all the other hens and Roo, and after about a week, they started coming down the ramp and playing outside(always VERY close to mommy). Bertha was a wonderful mommy...plopping down and letting them crawl under her anywhere and anytime in the yard when they started peeping that they were cold, and she was constantly showing them how to scratch and find food in the yard. Their yard is completely enclosed and 100% predator-proofed, so the only possible threat was the other hens/roo, and I kept a close eye on them...left them alone for longer and longer periods when it was clear that they meant no harm. Bertha let me handle her babies from day one...never having a problem with me picking them up, checking them out, and putting them back under/beside her. I think that's why still today at 11 weeks old, they come flying up to my shoulders/arms when I enter the run, and they often "roost" on my knee and take a little afternoon nap while I hang out with them in the run. The chickies are SO much more tame than their parents were at this age, and SOOOOOOO much easier to raise! (I *didn't* really raise them at all...Bertha did it all!) I did have a backup plan...several of them! I had a brooder box ready and waiting just in case Bertha was a better broody than mommy...just in case she didn't take care of the babies...didn't need it! I also had a length of chicken wire, posts and hooks at the sides of my run ready to stretch a "fence" in one quarter of the run just in case the other hens/roo bothered the chicks or Bertha...didn't need it!(but I'm keeping it, just in case I need to separate potential roos...I think one or two of the babies might be boys, and I want to be able to separate them QUICKLY if any squabbling starts up.) So I have three new babies in the flock this year, and I cant WAIT to do it all again! It was SOOOO easy, and now I have all the "equipment" figured out(very little actually, but I saved everything!). So that's my story...super easy! I'm sure I just lucked out, but hey...I'm not complaining! :-)

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    1. Wow, what a great first broody experience! I actually giggled picturing grown chickens being scared of the chicks! lol I'm so glad that it went so easily for you. A good broody/mama hen is worth her weight in gold and it sound like Bertha is just perfect at being a mama!

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  2. yeah...well...now, they're 12 weeks old, and she's picking on them and chasing them around the run for seemingly no good reason. She and her sister, Blanche, pick at them when they try to sit up on the roosting perches, so they've taken to sleeping in(and in front of..on the "step up perch") the nesting boxes at night...I'm getting really tired of picking out the little poopies every morning, so the ladies can lay eggs in a clean nest. I think I may have two cockerels, so maybe that's why she's chasing em? But she's chasing the one I'm pretty sure is a pullet too. Last night she grabbed each and every one of em and physically pulled them each out of the nests and chased them out of the coop into the run...then didn't want to let them back in. And now one of my Black Astrolorps is going broody...really bad timing(upcoming travel) or I'd let her have some eggs too...and Bertha is kinda half-assed clucking broodily WITH her, but only sitting "part time"! :-\ So much drama in the coop lately! Between the broodiness and the others being a little "sensitive: to the drama, I'm lucky to get one egg a day! :-\ Any ideas??? Should I just let em work it out on their own? Or ? So far Gregory Peck(my Roo) isn't really bothering them, but they ARE afraid of him, and run when he gets close to them. If they get along, I dont really feel the need to get rid of them, but I cant possibly get THAT lucky. :-\ I'm sure we'll be having chicken dinner at some point here...just a matter of when.

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