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Mrs Frugal

Broody hen

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You can usually tell if a hen is broody or not fairly easily. If she goes into the nest and doesn't come back out again and starts making a very strange noises and puffs herself up like a football she could well be broody. The noise is a very deep cluck-cluck-cluck, rather like a horse clip clopping and if you don't take action, she'll be sitting clamped to the nest for the next 3 weeks! Some broody hens can become aggressive and will peck you if you try to move them. You may also find that normally aloof hens will suddenly allow you to pick them up and cuddle them as they turn very docile when broody. Another sign of broodiness is feather pulling - she may well start plucking them from her breast to line the nest ready for the eggs resulting in an embarrassing bald patch on her belly! If you act quickly, you can get her to resume egg laying much sooner so try to restrict access to the nest. This is easy if the other hens aren't laying but can be a real nuisance if you have to keep one out and yet let the others get in so a little spying is required. As soon as the first signs of broodiness appear, try to put something into the nest to deter her from sitting. This can be an upturned plant pot, a small garden ornament or a brick - anything that she isn't able to push out but it does need removing if any of the other hens decide it's time to lay. If she sleeps in the nest, make sure that the brick or whatever you're using stays in the nest overnight as she'll get wonderfully warm and cosy and that will just prolong the broodiness. If you spot her in the garden sitting on a nest she's made from leaves, twigs and feathers, make sure this is quickly removed and move her on or tempt her away with a treat or two. If all fails, give her a quick dip in a bucket of cold water! The urge to go broody is usually caused by a rise in internal body temperature so a quick cold bath brings her back to normal and should stop the urge. Dunk the hen’s rear end and abdomen in a bucket of cold water until feathers are soaked. You can do this several times a day. Continue soaking until she stops being broody which should only take a couple of days. A squirt with a hosepipe has the same effect. Sitting the hen on a freezer block wrapped in a towel or a bag of ice cubes wrapped in a towel can help lower her body temperature too and get her off the nest. If none of the other suggestions work, an old fashioned broody box might work although I've only seen limited success with them. For this you need to make her a pen with a wire mesh bottom which you stand on some bricks to let the air flow around her as this will help cool her down and as it has a wire floor, she's unable to make herself a nest. Make sure that she has food and water available and hopefully she will give up!


You can let her sit it out if you like as it won't do her any harm but you won't get any eggs for around 3-4 weeks from her as the hormones kick in. She will sit for approximately 3 weeks which is the time it takes for an egg to hatch. If she does stay put in the nest, try to encourage her to get up once a day to eat, drink and go to the toilet and it's important that you check her regularly for lice and mites as they tend to infest broody hens as they aren't able to dustbathe to keep their feathers in good condition while they are sitting. If you happen to find anything on her, a dusting with louse powder, repeated a week later, should remove any stowaways. Once she's lost the urge to sit, she'll come off the nest and start socialising again and hopefully the eggs should arrive again soon afterwards.


A sick hen may also give a false impression that they are broody so be aware that she may not be feeling hormonal at all. A sick chicken will look completely miserable - head tucked into its neck, eyes closed, hunched up shoulders and a droopy tail. They withdraw themselves from the other hens and look unhappy and listless. A hen in lay or even a broody hen should have a bright red comb while a sick hen's is yellowish and droopy. If you are concerned that she may be ill, it might be a good idea to take her to see a vet to get her checked over properly. If the hen is seen as an Exotic rather than a small pet or livestock, the consultation is much cheaper and the vet is more likely to know about birds too.


If you decide that you want to try hatching chicks from fertilised eggs under your broody hen, please read our Hatching sticky first and consider what you are going to do with any male chicks which will hatch as there's a 50/50 chance that you will get males and you can't keep cockerels in an urban environment.

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