June 11, 2012

How To Break A Broody. Or Not.

A broody hen is a great thing if one wants more chicks. I've both raised mail order chicks myself, and let a mama hen hatch a few homestead eggs. In my opinion hen raising is absolutely the way to go, even if it means sneaking mail order chicks under her in the middle of the night.

broody buff orpington pullet
Our flock is now at 12 chickens, 11 hens and a rooster. I'm getting an average of about 50 eggs a week, we still have cockerels in the freezer, and that's plenty. Since we just raised a batch of chicks last summer, I wasn't even thinking about more. What I thought however, didn't stop one of the Buff Orpingtons from deciding she was going to set. In fact she insisted on it. I waffled a bit at first, and finally left her with about 5 or 6 eggs.

Mrs. Mean. Determined to stay on top of the pecking order
There was a problem however. Mrs. Mean (formerly Lady Barred Holland) kept chasing her off the nest. She would jump into mama's nest and stand on her head until mama finally had to leave. Mama would park herself in another nest box, but the eggs got left behind. I would move the eggs but Mrs. Mean would chase her off again.

This game of musical nests quickly became a nuisance, so I decided that since I didn't need any more chicks, I'd try to break her broody.

Broodiness is associated with an elevated body temperature. Lowering that is supposed to break it. Some have success simply by removing mama from her nest until she stops going back. The next step is several days in a mesh bottom cage, with food and water of course. Both of these methods "cool her bottom" so that she ceases setting. I tried removing her from the nest, even keeping her from going back to the chicken yard. This didn't work, and I don't have a mesh bottom cage. Nor was I inclined to make one, so I tried the dunk method.

Chicken dunk method to break up broodiness
Holding the broody hen in cold
water is supposed to break her broody.

This is another way to try and lower the broody's body temperature. At first I thought it seemed a little harsh for the hen, but then I considered that they don't mind being soaking wet from the rain, so how much would she mind this? It certainly did seem to shake my broody hen out of it, but only for awhile. Soon she was back on the nest. I repeated it several times that day, but she was insistent that she was going to sit on that nest. At least now I know what the term "mad as a wet hen" means.

Mama won
Broody hens can be super persistent

She finally settled for a spot under the nesting boxes, where Mrs. Mean can no longer jump on top of her and stand on her head. I tried for several more days to remove her, until the day I found one egg under her. I don't know know how she got it (broody hens stop laying). I gave her two more eggs, so now she has three. We'll see what happens.

I did run across a couple other ideas afterward and thought I'd pass them on to you. One is to try filling plastic Easter eggs with ice cubes and putting those under the hen. You can read about that, here. The second was to put her with an aggressive young cockerel, that one here.

Have you ever tried to break a broody? I'd love to hear about it.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop #65.

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Unknown said...

she looks really angry! funny! I can just imagine her reaction to the dunkings. Anyway, when we have broodies we put them in a pen by themselves, either a small cage or a just a separate tractor with no nesting box. Our Rhode Island Reds are not very determined broodies, so this has worked so far, not sure about your girl though! Hope she hatches some eggs for you :)

Rosalyn said...

It seems like she won this one! That plastic egg/ice cube idea sounds like a good idea, though. I look forward to seeing the outcome of her three eggs. :)

Unknown said...

Last summer I tried everyone under the sun to get the broodiness out of two of our hens. This year when they again went broody in the spring I told myself I was not fighting nature. So each hen got several eggs to sit on and 20 days later every egg hatched. Now we have 7 lively 9 and 10 week old chicks running around, which makes a grand total of 20 chickens in the backyard. So glad we live rural. Now the hens are completely happy to go about their daily business of eating, scratching, and laying eggs. Next year I will do the same thing and save me the frustration.

Woolly Bits said...

hm, I don't think I'd like to be put into a tub of cold water like that:) probably sheer stubbornness that she went back! seems to be easiest to just leave her be, as long as she's save? nothing to deter a mum-to-be from the job:))

TxFarmhouse said...

Well, I learn something new every day..never had tried the plastic egg filled with ice. But then, I'm always thrilled that a hen would want to hatch out a clutch. I love baby chicks.

Prairie Cat said...

Bah! Broody hens. I had one a little while ago... which turned into two, of course. After trying for a few days to break them of it, I finally secluded them in a dog crate with food, water, and two little nests of eggs.

They were not thrilled with the idea of two nests, so they both helped roll the eggs into one pile, and proceeded to sit on top of one another. Maybe twice the heat will speed up hatching? :)

Sherri B. said...

My sister is going through this right now. The other hens come beside her and lay their egg. She thought about getting chicks to put under her at night but was nervous about her not wanting them. Does that happen? xo

Leigh said...

Liz, another reason to have at least one chicken tractor. This is something I hadn't planned for, so I'm going to have to figure out how to deal with it in the future.

Rosalyn, she absolutely did! My concern is that we aren't really set up for baby chicks. I had to borrow one of the goat stalls last year, so the chicks wouldn't be molested by the other chickens. This broody is in the hen house and I'm not sure if that's a good place for new chicks.

Diane, that really seems like the best way to go. We certainly aren't going for maximum egg production, just enough to meet our needs. Maybe giving each broody hen just a couple of eggs would do the trick. (Fortunately she hasn't set off anybody else. Yet.)

Bettina, it doesn't sound very pleasant, does it? Actually, I'm thinking my water wasn't cold enough. We have city water which is never too terribly cold during warm weather. Icy well water would probably work better!

Berte, they are a treat, aren't they? We really need a better set-up though, not just an old converted shed. I'd like to give mama and chicks privacy before they have to mingle with the flock!

Can't vouch for the ice filled plastic eggs. The gal on the other end of the link didn't have much success with it. :)

Cat, how funny! I really should separate this mama before hatch date. Just need to set up a place to do it!

Sherri, I waited until the first chick hatched and then snuck the mail order chicks in under mama at night. She was never the wiser and was delighted with her new brood. :) Folks who have trouble try it during the day I believe.

LouAnneL said...

We had an Austrilorp go broody last year and we tried everything to break it to no avail. We eventually allowed her to sit 5 eggs. All but one hatched, but then she killed all the chicks. :( It was really sad!

badgerpendous said...

One of our barred rocks goes broody at the drop of a hat. We tried dunking and bribing/etc. But what worked the best/consistently/reliably is putting her in a separate mesh-bottomed cage. We have a separate cage (I think it was a big rabbit cage or maybe a brooder?) that's about 3 1/2ft long about 2ft deep and 2 feet tall. It's on legs with wheels (got it for free from a neighbor who left it out front with a "Free" sign on it). It has a removable plastic mesh tray for a bottom so we put her in there and then wheel it into the coop/run.

Usually takes 4 days to get her to go back to normal.

We're currently on day 3 of the most recent brood...

Nina said...

I just let my broody hens go for a bit. We don't have a rooster, so they'll never hatch anything. We pull them off the nest now and again, to remove the eggs. Eventually, they tire of it and join the flock.

trump said...

For some reason me and rooster's dont get along very well, and heaven knows Ive tried! Richard

Renee Nefe said...

what a determined mamma!

I'm thinking, what if you tried selling extra chickens and or eggs? Of course you would need to set up a better area for the chicks, but perhaps the egg money could help cover that cost. Or are you allowed to do that kind of thing?

and why is Mrs Mean still around? ;o)

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Like Nina, we just let ours go ahead and "brood" . . . it took several weeks but she eventually decided it was a boring way to spend her day and has now joined her sisters.

Unknown said...

Well that's disappointing that you couldn't figure out how to break her, but I'm glad it seems to have worked out in the end. Let's hope it continues to go well and you get some chicks out of the deal!

We had one go broody and couldn't break her last year... finally we put her in isolation (I can't remember why) but wouldn't you know it she didn't have any use for the new nesting spot and she hasn't been broody since. :)

Leigh said...

LouAnne, that is very sad. I'm worried my other chickens might kill the chicks if mama hatches any of those eggs. I didn't have a good experience merging the two flocks last year.

Badgerpendous, ok, how do you bribe a chicken! Not having a rooster, it would make sense to not let her set too long. Glad to hear the mesh bottom cage works well.

Nina, I let this hen sit for about two weeks but she's persistent! I think part of it is breed instinct (?)

Richard, I've heard your rooster story and don't blame you!

Renee, LOL, yup, Mrs Mean is still here. I don't think much about her when she behaves herself. She just delights in chasing the Buffs out of the nest boxes though.

I've thought about selling eggs. I'm not sure if it requires a permit or not. We'd likely butcher extra chickens.

Janice, I'm wondering if my mama hen will sit there another few weeks until those eggs hatch. I've heard they don't count days very well. :)

Quinn, I hope so! Funny how you figured out how to break your broody. At least you did!

Kelly said...

Oh that is one determined girl! I find all of this interesting. Mine chickens are only about 3 months old so I have yet to experience things like this :)

Sue said...

Guess I'm going to have to try the cage. I had a hen go broody last year, and I'm pretty sure the same one is doing it again now. I don't have a rooster, so there isn't any point in letting her set. Dunking didn't work for me either.

Leigh said...

Kelly, it seems like some chickens are more determined than others, some breeds more than others! You will enjoy experiencing your chickens. :)

Sue, yeah, no rooster makes it pointless. :)

Bernadine said...

I'm just catching up on the posts I've missed while working. This was a great post with lots of good information. I'm longing for the day when I'll have my own chickens. And I think your broody hen is quite a smart chick! To park herself where the mean one couldn't harass her was pretty clever.

Unknown said...

Leigh, I've always been successful with this method... separate the hen in an enclosed area with only a roost and no nesting box - and nothing that they can use as a nesting box and not tons of straw to dig into for a nest. Give them food and water, but nothing else. After 3 days, they've usually laid an egg and are no longer broody. (I think I had to go 5 days once, but that was the exception).

Leigh said...

Bernadine, it's so good to be able to compare notes with others who've tried to break a broody hen. I was kinda surprised to find her under the nest box. So far Mrs Mean has left her alone.

Amy, thanks! Fortunately more haven't joined her. :o I need to be prepared in the future though, and yours seems to be the best method so far.

Laureli said...

LOL, I had an 'epic' tale of trying to help the one broody hen hatch eggs this year (she didn't know to turn the eggs so 3 failed attempts). I ended up hatching a handful of 'gifted' eggs from a neighbor and didn't know the breeds- he has a mixed flock.
So I have a question!
Your barred rock hen looks just like one of my hatchlings- it didn't match any of the chick pictures of a barred rock but it looks just like yours- I think it's a rooster though - at least I thought it was... how can I tell? It definitely has spots rather than stripes at 3 months old - just like yours. I will laugh at myself if it's a hen & not a roo!

Leigh said...

Illoura, mine are actually Barred Hollands. They look similar to Barred Rocks, except that the Rocks lay brown eggs, the Hollands lay white ones. The Barred Holland hens are darker than the rooster too.

The little roosters do grow combs and wattles faster than the pullets. A lot of them show a more aggressive personality. It takes longer for those long rooster like tail feathers to grow out. I've heard though, that it's sometimes hard to tell until about 5 or 6 months. More than one person I've read about has been surprised!

21st Century Pilgrim said...

I've got/had a broody hen. Got a used rabbit hutch on freecycle, took the base out and replaced it with strong wire mesh (about an inch square), kept her in there for 3 days with food and water. Let her out today and seems to be back to normal.
Hope that helps?
Andrew (York, UK)

Leigh said...

Andrew yes, thank you. You and several others have had good success with that method, so it definitely sounds like the thing to try next time I have a broody hen.

House Crazy in Michigan! said...

What ever happened to your broody chicken in this article?
I have THREE broody Cochin hens (serial broody's apparently) at once and all are in the same nest box in the coop. I've tried the dog kennel trick but it did not work. Now our one dog kennel is the night time home to four pullets too old for the brooder as their new coop is being built and simply not available for a broody break box.) I'm currently taking the broody's out of the nest box three times a day to eat/drink/dust/poop. I simply don't have the secure space to build or place a wire type cage "broody breakers" that people talk about using. I'm not worried about no eggs in this instance. Other than losing weight what can happen to the chicken that is negative to letting serial broody's work this out on their own? I am not interested in doing the cold water thing....Has everyone ever just let a serial broody stay brood until their hormones naturally change?