Oh, those broody hens….how they make gathering eggs such a challenging adventure. They will squawk, get sassy, peck, grab the skin on your hand with their beak and pinch…anything to keep their eggs from being taken. In fact, that’s how the handle of my big plastic spoon, the one that I use to stir soaked grain for the chickens with, got broken. I was using it to battle a very, very, broody hen, so I could gather the eggs under her, and SNAP… it broke right in two. I wasn’t hitting her with it or anything like that; I was simply pushing her back with it so I could get the eggs under her. She didn’t like it at all and fought back with all her might and won the battle. It’s really hard to decide sometimes which is meaner, a rooster protecting his flock or a broody hen protecting her clutch of eggs.
When a hen goes broody it means she wants to sit on and hatch a clutch of eggs. Some hens will go broody frequently, and others will never go broody. Through selective breeding, most modern day breeds of hens have been bred to not go broody for steady egg production. Older breeds of hens tend to be the ones going broody most often. A hen can’t be forced to be broody; it’s something that’s determined by her own instincts and hormones. You can tell if a hen is going broody if she sits flat in the nesting box all day, doesn’t roost with the others at night, and appears to be in a little trance. Her feathers will be fluffed up, she’ll shriek if you get near, peck your hand if you dare try to get her eggs, and will have the power to snap the plastic spoon in half that tries to hold her down. She’ll accept and lay on anything given to her that resembles an egg like fake eggs, golf balls, and even light bulbs. Yes, even light bulbs. We had a hen that made a nest on a little shelf where there was a small pile of things including a light fixture and an old light bulb. She managed to scoot the light bulb off the pile and under her. Each day I would take the light bulb and put it back and each evening the light bulb would be back under her.
Once a hen gets her clutch of eggs laid, she will sit on them for 21 days. She will get off the nest once a day to get something to eat, take a quick drink, and poop. She doesn’t stay off her next very long otherwise the eggs will cool down too much. Once the eggs hatch, the hen will then take care of her chicks by showing them how to find food and water. She will also keep them warm and protect them. I’ve read that some hens won’t be good mothers and can even kill their chicks. There isn’t a way to tell if a broody hen will be a good mother, but if she isn’t, there’s a good chance she won’t ever be one. If that happens, you shouldn’t use that one again for hatching chicks.
We have quite a few Buff Orphingtons, which are one of the breeds known to be broody. Through the spring and summer we had anywhere from 2 to 5 broody hens sitting on their nests. We haven’t let any hens try to hatch their own eggs because we have cats running around and we don’t know how well the hen would be able to protect the chicks from the cats. So whenever any went broody, we’d take them off their nest and put them outside with the others, hoping it would knock them out of their broodiness. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. The reason we wanted to knock them out of broodiness is broody hens can go many weeks without laying, so it can really affect egg production. Also, other hens would go into the nesting box with the broody ones and lay, and then the broody ones would move the eggs under themselves. That meant fighting crabby, broody hens when it came time to gather eggs which isn’t fun.
Ms. Sassy Cluck is one that has been broody for a long time. We’ve taken her off her nest and she goes right back. Because of her determination and dedication to sitting on an empty nest all those hours, we decided to let her have a few eggs to hatch. We cleaned out a nesting box and put her in the same room as the guineas. It works great for her to be in there, no other chickens can disturb her by trying to lay in the same box and after hatching, the chicks will be protected from the cats.
Today, as I am writing this, the eggs are due to hatch. Ms. Sassy Cluck has been acting extremely protective if we go close to her nest. Since it isn’t a good idea to disturb the hen while the chicks are hatching, we’ve decided to leave her alone for a few more days. I will be sure to post an update with new pictures as soon as I find out if they’ve hatched.
To read more about broody hens, check out this Mother Earth News article.
Have you ever let a broody hen raise her own chicks? How did it go?