Our Buff Orpington, Hilda, is trying hard to be broody, and we are determined to intervene this time around. This is technically the third time she has attempted to settle in on the nest with an instinctual urge to set on a clutch of eggs, but, since we have all the chickens we need right now, we’re working to break up the broody spell before it really gets going!
Now, don’t get us wrong, we think a hen who has the strong urge to set and hatch a clutch of chicks is a fine thing. In fact, last year, we allowed her to set on five supposedly fertilized eggs we bought locally and while she set for the duration of 23-24 days, none of the eggs hatched and when we broke them open, none had developed. We were new enough that we didn’t know yet how to tell if they were even fertilized. She then tried to go broody again later in the season and we intervened to get her back to regular days spent among the flock.
When a hen is broody, she doesn’t lay. Instead, she wants to set on eggs and won’t budge–except to get up for a little drink, a bit of food, and one daily poop. A good broody hen will set for the entire three weeks it takes to hatch the chicks and then care for them for another 5-8 weeks until they are able to live on their own. Unfortunately, broodiness has been “bred out” of many modern strains or varieties of chickens so that egg production won’t be interrupted.
So, you might be wondering, how do you break up a broody spell? Well, it’s not really an exact science and we tend to try escalating tactics to see what might work. First, we simply remove the hen from the nest box whenever we find her in there. She’s not laying so she doesn’t need to be in there. This can be a little tricky, since a broody hen will puff and fluff herself up and actually “growl” and peck to protect her supposed eggs. Sometimes, just kicking a hen off the nest for a couple days will be all that is necessary to distract her from her urges.
The next step is the “bucket dunk”–Teri is a pro at this and we only pull out the bucket of cool (not cold) water after a couple days of nest removal. If the hen is still determined to get back up in the nest box at every turn, we’ll take her out and soak her backside for a few minutes in a bucket of water.
The “science” behind this technique is that a hen’s temperature raises when she’s broody–it raises up to the perfect temperature for incubating eggs. Hens will also pull feathers off their chests or bellies so that more of their skin is exposed so that the temperature and moisture from their bodies will keep the eggs at just the conditions they need to develop. By slipping her backside in the water, it helps to cool down that temperature and this can break up a broody spell.
If the combination of nest removal and the bucket dunk don’t work, the next step would be to remove then to a small, nestless cage for a couple days–with food and water, but no comfortable spot to settle. We haven’t had to move to this step yet, as steps one and two have worked well for us so far when we needed to break up a broody spell.
Some folks also just choose to let the broody spell run its course, but a determined broody hen will actually lose wait and won’t be foraging, exercising and living an otherwise healthy chicken life. We figure if she’s not going to actually be brooding and hatching, it’s better for her to get back to her normal life as quickly as possible.
The other bit of chicken wisdom is that the sooner you attempt to intervene in a broody spell, the better your luck should be in getting a hen off the nest. Of course, all this depends on the breed, how determined she is, and all sorts of other uncontrollable factors. Stay tuned for how successful we are in breaking up Hilda’s broody spell!