Breaking a Broody Hen

A broody hen is compelled by changes in daylight, hormones and natural instincts to sit on a clutch of eggs until they hatch. Broody hen behavior is very distinctive. She stays on her nest day and night, shrieks and pecks when disturbed and puffs her feathers up to look tough. While a broody hen is a great way to hatch eggs, sometimes they are unwelcome in your coop. Fortunately it is possible to break a broody hen with a single simple technique.

Reasons to Break a Broody Hen

There are several reasons that you may choose to try to stop a broody hen from sitting on her nest.

  • Eggs that aren’t fertile – a broody hen is under the influence of hormones. She doesn’t care if the eggs or fertile. Sometimes she will even sit on an empty nest. If you don’t have fertile eggs, the efforts of your broody hen are in vain.
  • You want eggs, not chicks – a broody hen stops laying. If you are happy with the size of your flock and are hoping to get lots of eggs, a broody hen is an unwelcome occurrence.
  • She’s a bad mother – some hens become broody but lack good mothering instincts. At best these hens neglect their chicks. At worst they may actually kill them upon hatching.
  • It’s the wrong season – if a hen hatches eggs in the middle of winter keeping them warm and healthy can be a challenge. You may try to break her broodiness now in the hopes that she’ll try again in the spring.

What to Do with a Broody Hen

There is a simple technique for breaking broody hens. It is humane and effective.

Breaking a Broody Hen

Remove the broody hen from the nest and place her in a “Broody Breaker”. This is simply an isolation box that keeps the hen away from the nest. The box should be:

  1. Brightly Lit – Bright light can help break the broody cycle and encourage laying.
  2. Without Bedding- She’ll just make herself a new nest if you give her the materials. A wire-bottomed cage is best.
  3. In View of the Flock – You want to break broodiness not stress your hen.

Broody Hen Breaker

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Avoid Tricks

There are a lot of tricks out there for breaking a broody hen. Some are simply ineffective while others are downright cruel. Do not use any techniques that involve ice. The Broody Breaker is the simplest, safest and most humane way to discourage a broody hen. Keep in mind that the longer she has been allowed to sit on a nest the harder it will be to break the broody cycle.

If you end up with a hen that is repeatedly broody, the best way to break the cycle is to let her hatch eggs. You can either give her fertile eggs to hatch, or let her sit on unfertilized eggs for 3 weeks, then swap the eggs for day old chicks in the middle of the night. This is a great way to add a new breed to your flock. Make sure to put in the same number of chicks as there were eggs.

If you really don’t want chicks and you have a determined broody hen, consider finding her a new home.
There are many people who want broody chickens and will appreciate her. You could easily swap her for a productive, non-broody layer.

Broody hens may suits at mobile chicken tractors.

Extended Reading

Guide to Backyard Chickens & How to Raise Chickens

Learn how to use broody hens to expand your flock with healthy chicks.