Have you noticed your hen acting a bit out of the ordinary? The hen has not left her nest for a while and has not displayed much activity. She has also been a bit aggressive towards other hens who approach her nesting area. These and other signs indicate that you might have a broody hen. If you are new to raising chickens or have never had a hen be broody before, this article will discuss what a broody hen is and how to help them be less broody.

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What Exactly is a Broody Hen?

A broody hen is a chicken homing in on her maternal instincts that wants to hatch eggs. When the hen is broody, she will not want to leave her nest to keep her eggs warm and hatch. She will only leave the nest briefly to eat, drink, and relieve herself. Broody hens have an increase of the hormone prolactin from the hen’s pituitary gland. That increase in prolactin can make hens broody. Broodiness can also be caused by being around other newly hatched chicks.

red hen laying eggs
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Why can having a broody hen be a problem?

If your hen has laid fertilized eggs and you want them to hatch, broodiness is beneficial. The hen will stay in her nest, keeping the eggs warm and protected until they hatch. However, if you do not want the eggs to hatch or are collecting newly laid eggs, a brooding hen can be a problem. She will be aggressive and defensive if you approach her. She will make harsher clucking sounds to try to keep you away. She might even lounge at you to try to protect the clutch of eggs. While chickens do not have the beaks and talons of a falcon, being attacked by a brooding hen protecting her nest can still hurt!

A brooding hen can also cause problems for herself. The hen will eat and drink less and get less exercise. The hen will also pull feathers from herself to ensure the heat stays underneath her body, so the eggs stay warm. A brooding hen might also sit on another hen’s clutch of eggs. Or she might sit all day and night in an empty nest or a nest of unfertilized eggs. Unfertilized eggs will never hatch, so your hen could remain there for several weeks. She could end up starving herself, but that is an extreme case.

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The 7 Ways You Can Help Your Broody Hen

Having a broody hen when you do not want one can be a bit stressful. Their health can decline. They can attack other chickens and prevent you from getting their eggs. If you do not want your hen to be broody, you will need to “break them.” But don’t worry! Breaking your broody hen is not violent or harmless to your hen. Here are some effective steps you can take to break your broody hen.

1. Physically remove the hen from her nest.

Removing the chicken from the nest is the first step. Because the hen can be aggressive, wear work gloves and a long sleeve shirt to protect yourself from pecks and scratches. Carry the hen outside of the coop or pen and put her outside with the rest of the hens. You will need to do this several times a day, maybe for a few days. If this method does not work, move on to Step 2.

2. Close off the nesting area.

Cover the broody hen’s nest with a crate, or even flip it upside down. Make sure that the hen does not have access to it. The hen will try her hardest to get back to the nesting area, so make sure it is completely inaccessible. This also means you need to close off your other hen’s nests as well. If your broody hen cannot get to her nest, she will try to take over another nest! If you have a large flock of hens, this step might not be possible.

chicken eggs
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3. Freeze her out of the nest.

If Step 2 did not work, try freezing the hen out of her nest. Putting something frozen such as a bag of frozen vegetables or a frozen water bottle in her nest will reduce her body temperature and cause her to snap out of her broodiness. Broodiness usually occurs in the spring when it is warm. The coldness may help turn off her need to brood. However, if the broodiness has occurred during a colder time, do not do this step. The extreme temperatures in the nest and the air can be harmful to the hen.

4. Take apart her nest.

If a hen does not have a nest to settle in, she may lose her interest in brooding. Remove all nesting materials from the coop, and make sure her nest has been taken apart as well. Like Step 2, this step may not be practical if you have a large flock. However, if you have a small flock, this step is more manageable.

Jersey Giant Chicken
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6. Close off the entire coop.

This is one of the more extreme steps and will not work if you have several chickens. If you close off access to all the possible areas to nest, this can help reduce the urge to brood. You should not take this step if you live in an area where predators could kill your chickens if they must sleep outside their coop.

7. Cage the broody hen.

One of these steps can be the answer to your broody hen situation. However, if you have tried each of these steps and still have a broody hen, you can try to cage her. A wire bottom cage will create an environment where it is impossible to nest. Place the cage in an area that gets more sunlight, as hens like to nest in darker places. Make sure the hen has food and water as they might need to stay in the cage for a few days.

chicken feeding inside coop
Image Credit: nikolaus-online, Pixabay

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How can you tell a hen is no longer broody?

It is important to check if your hen is no longer broody before putting her back in her environment. After you have tried one of those steps, or put her in a broody breaker cage, place the hen in the yard or area they usually stay. Watch her movements. The hen is still broody if she rushes to the nearest nest and starts chasing other hens away from that nest. If this happens, you will need to try again to break the broodiness with another step.

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Final thoughts

A broody hen can be a bit hard to handle when you do not want your hen to be broody. While there is no way to prevent any hen from going broody, there are humane steps to try and break them of that broodiness. It may not happen overnight, so you will need some patience. A brooding hen can be broken of that maternal instinct when it happens. Just make sure you have some gloves and a bag of frozen vegetables handy to get the process started!

Featured Image Credit: PhotoSongserm, Shutterstock