How to Break a Broody Hen: 8 Humane Ways to Stop a Broody Hen
From putting your hen in a timeout to removing access to the nest box, you can break a broody hen without going to the extremes. Even a simple bath can stop a broody hen from hogging the nest box.
Curious what this trick is, and if it would work for your hormone-raging hen? Here are the top 8 humane ways on how to break a broody hen.
1. Remove Her From The Nest Box
One of the simplest ways to stop a broody hen from hogging the nest box is to, well, take her out of the box. But be prepared. Like a child, she won’t give it away without throwing a fit first. She’ll peck your hands until you go away.
But as a responsible, loving chicken owner that you are, you shouldn’t raise your white flag and give in – you’re doing it for her own good! So, get some protective gear (thick leather gloves will do), and prepare for war.
Once you have her out of the box, it’s now time to soothe her. Give her some tasty treats, or walk around with her under your arm. The goal is to prevent her from going back to the nest box. But she may return if she does remove her again.
You might have to do this several times a day, including at night. Don’t let her sleep in the nest box. Put her up on a perch to roost for the night.
If this doesn’t seem to be working, you can try our next way.
2. Close Up Your Nest Box
Now, if you’ve repeatedly taken the broody hen out of the nest box, and she is still hogging it, this next step might do the trick. Instead of taking her out from the nest box, you’re going to restrict her access rights.
There’s no need to panic. You’re going to close up the nesting boxes after all your hens finish laying. Going back to tactic #1, remove the broody hen from the nest box. Make sure you take any eggs there out as well. Then, using a carton board or a wooden plank, close up the box or block the entrance.
Remember, a broody hen will try to hatch eggs that aren’t even hers. It is also not uncommon for another hen to squeeze into the box with your broody hen, which can complicate things.
Hopefully, without access to the nest, your hen will go back to normal. However, if that doesn’t happen, don’t give up. There are other methods to try.
3. Put A Frozen Water Bottle In The Nest
A surge of hormones increases your hen’s body temperature, transforming her into a walking, breathing incubator – it’s her instinct to find a nest box. Good thing, all you have to do is to lower her temp, and you can break her broodiness. How do you lower temp? With a frozen water bottle.
Take an empty bottle and fill it with water. Leave it in the freezer for 24 hours. While your broody hen is on the box, slide the water bottle under her. You can also use an ice-pack but make sure that it’s tough enough to withstand your hen’s pecking!
Don’t be alarmed if her belly doesn’t have any feathers. Broody hens pluck their stomach plumage in preparation for the eggs. It’s a completely normal broody behavior (1).
“Broody hens pluck out their feathers to ensure close contact with the eggs and increase warmth and moisture.”
We’ll explain more about what your hen did with those feathers later. For now, it’s important to know that cooling down that bare patch can help break your chicken’s broodiness. However, don’t try this technique in winter. You don’t want to over chill your hen!
4. Give Your Hen A Cool Water Bath
Like the frozen bottle method, the idea behind this trick is to lower your hen’s temperature.
And no, you’re not going to dunk your broody chicken in a tub filled with ice – that’s cruel and inhumane. You want the bath to be COOL, NOT ICE COLD.
Now that’s out of the way. Here’s how this method works. First, fill the tub with cool water. Then, carefully place your hen in it. If she attempts to make a run, you can hold her.
You’re not going to submerge her entire body underwater. You want her bare belly and chest to get in contact with the water. Keep your broody hen in the tub for about five minutes. If she is agitated, gently stroke her or offer her treats.
Some people claim that this method causes undue stress on your hen. But you can see in this video how calm the hen is in the bath.
5. Strip The Nest Bare
A broody hen wants a nice, warm, comfortable nest to sit on her eggs. She’s probably been working on it without you noticing. Remember those chest feathers we talked about her plucking out? Well, she’s been using those to soften up her nest.
To help break her broodiness, you want to make the space uncomfortable. Go to the chicken coop and strip the nest bare. Remove any bedding and all those feathers. The idea is if the nest is unbearable to sit on, your broody hen will stay away from it.
6. Lock Her Out Of The Coop
You may find that after closing off one nest box, your broody chicken has simply moved on to another one. Worst, other chickens are starting to display the same broodiness behavior. If that’s the case, you might want to try something more extreme – locking your broody hen out of the chicken coop.
All it takes is one broody hen for your entire all-female flock to become broody as well!
This step is more than just closing her out of the nest box. You’re going to lock her out completely. Take this time to give your chicken coop a thorough cleaning. Swap out the bedding. Hopefully, the distraction and new cage will help break the behavior.
7. Off To Jail
Many people opt to send their chickens directly to chicken jail rather than fuss with the other techniques. Chicken jail involves removing your chicken from the coop into a separate space, usually a wire cage. A dog kennel works great for a chicken jail.
But, you want to make sure your hen has access to everything she needs – food, water, and shelter from the elements. She should also have a spot to roost.
Don’t forget the point of this method is to break her broodiness. So, it wouldn’t help if the cage is super comfortable and there’s room for nesting.
Keep her in there until she stops showing broody behaviors. If you approach and she is aggressive and puffs up, leave her another day. Usually, you will find she is behaving normally and ready to rejoin the flock by day three.
8. Give Her Eggs To Sit On
Sometimes the kindest thing to do is give your broody hen what she wants – a clutch of eggs to sit on. If you have egg-laying chickens but non-broody hens like Anconas, Orloffs, and Ameraucanas, give her the eggs, and she can be the adoptive mama.
In 21 days, you’ll have baby chicks in your flock (2). Don’t forget to have the best chicken brooder so that chicks will grow to healthy adults. Moreover, this method is particularly clever and humane, especially if one of your chickens stopped laying eggs or dwindled their egg production. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!
Hens can’t really tell what they are sitting on. They don’t realize without a rooster that those eggs are never going to hatch. Heck, sometimes, broody hens aren’t even sitting on real eggs. They could be sitting on golf balls or even an empty nest.
Pro Tip: Many chicken keepers think it is OK to give broody hens faux eggs, but it’s not. Some breeds like Cochin and Silkie chickens are stubborn broodies (3). They’ll just wait for the eggs to hatch, even if it’s beyond the usual 21-day hatching process!
Plus, not only are you feeding your chickens’ broodiness, but you’re also making your girl more susceptible to illnesses and malnutrition. So, whatever you do. Don’t ever use fake eggs to break a broody hen.
Hens go broody in the spring as the weather begins to warm. The change in temperature combined with the increase in daylight hours helps trigger the hormone changes causing a chicken to become broody.
However, spring is not the only time of year hens go broody. Your hens may go broody at other times of the year, even in the winter. Other factors besides the weather, such as boredom or the presence of other broody hens, can cause hens to go broody.
A broody chicken can be off her eggs for up to an hour. While your hen is broody, she usually will only leave her eggs once a day. During this time, she may exhibit erratic behavior. You may see her running around wildly- don’t be alarmed, and don’t disturb her.
She uses this time to eat, drink, and poop. Because she is only pooping once a day, you may notice that it is larger than normal. This time out is also the only time she will exercise during the day, so don’t feel the need to hurry her back to the nest. You want her to remain healthy until your chicks hatch.
You should break a broody hen without eggs because she can become unhealthy. If your hen is sitting on unfertilized eggs or an imaginary nest, she will behave exactly like those eggs would hatch. That means she will only leave the nest for one hour a day to eat, drink, and poop.
Broody chickens can become thin and weak from lack of exercise. If there aren’t any eggs to hatch, the chicken will continue to wait. It is better to break the hen early so your hen can return to her natural behavior and care for herself properly.
It takes between two to five days to break a broody hen using the techniques outlined in this article. The time will vary depending on which method you use and, of course, your hen. If you were to do nothing, your hen should return to her normal behavior after 21 days. That is how much time it would take for eggs to hatch.
However, chickens do not always return to their normal behavior after 21 days. Sometimes your hen will continue to sit long past when her chicks should have hatched. This behavior is why if your chicken is not sitting on fertile eggs, you should try and break her broodiness.
Yes, you can eat eggs from a broody chicken. If you collect your eggs daily, or even every other day, you should be OK eating eggs from a broody chicken, especially if they are unfertilized.
If you have a rooster, then the eggs may be fertilized. You may want to check there isn’t an embryo inside. You can check this by candling your eggs. To candle your eggs, you will need a bright light in a dark room. Hold the light against the large end of the egg. If you see blood vessels and a dark spot in the center, then your egg is fertilized. You can return it to your hen and wait for it to hatch.
- Early Signs of Broodiness. Retrieved from: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/early-signs-of-broodiness-zbcz2005
- Hatching Eggs at Home: A 21-Day Guide for Baby Chicks. Retrieved from: https://www.purinamills.com/chicken-feed/education/detail/hatching-eggs-at-home-a-21-day-guide-for-baby-chicks
- Broodiness In Chickens. Retrieved from: http://www.poultrydvm.com/condition/broodiness
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.