Is your hen broody and trying to sit on eggs? Is this something you want her to do? Of course – she’s making chicks for you! Here are six tips on accommodating a broody hen, plus all your broody hen questions answered. Keep that hen healthy and help her successfully hatch out chicks for your homestead. Broody hens are a great asset to the homestead!
You’ve never met anyone so determined as a broody hen! This determined nesting serves the useful purpose of providing a constant stream of chicks for your homestead. Accommodating a broody hen is a wise, sustainable choice for saving money and preserving genetics on your homestead.
We’ll start with some basic instructions on what to do with a broody hen. Then, we’ll move on to frequently asked questions about dealing with them.
First, if you’re still not sure that having a broody hen is a good thing, or if you’re looking to break the broody cycle, the next section is for you.
Why is a Broody Hen Bad? Or is it?
For the conventional egg industry, a broody hen is a nuisance. Once a broody hen has laid enough eggs to fill her nest, she stops laying eggs altogether. In a factory-egg production setting, a broody hen is a waste of space since the entire focus of the operation is to produce eggs at a consistent level 365 days a year.
For a homesteader, however, a broody hen is a goldmine!
Broodiness has actually been bred out of a lot of laying hens because the trait is useless to the commercial egg industry. For you and me on the homestead, having a chicken that will produce baby chickens is of great benefit. The following is an excerpt from our article on using Silkies, a particular breed of smaller chicken called bantam, in the homestead poultry breeding program.
This list covers some of the reasons you might want a broody hen to hatch her chicks:
- You want to save some money.
- Perhaps you want to improve the health and well being of your birds by learning to grow your own.
- Maybe you want to control the genetics in your flock and breed for strengths or even egg color.
- You foresee a time when perhaps the poultry houses can no longer afford to ship chicks to us for whatever reason.
- You have a hard time incubating eggs and/or you’d rather not use the electricity the incubator requires.
—>>>Click here to read more on using Silkie chickens on the homestead<<<—
Accommodating a Broody Hen
A broody hen will choose her own nesting area but they’re not always the safest places. To ensure a healthy hen and hatch, provide a broody hen with her own space to incubate and hatch those chicks.
Set Up a Nesting Area
The nesting area for your hen doesn’t need to be large since she won’t be moving around much while she’s broody. Provide:
- Nesting material like straw that forms a dense cushion for your hen and her eggs. Your mama hen will be on this nest for 21 days, so make is thick.
- A safe space protected from predators, which seems obvious but is good to keep in mind. Broody hens go practically comatose while they sit; they’re not able to defend themselves or their eggs well in this condition.
- Similarly, a place away from other hens and certainly roosters. Other broody hens are usually fine companions as long you provide a few feet of space between each. Broody hens and new mothers can get testy with each other sometimes.
- Prevent drafts in cold weather but remember to ensure good air circulation.
- Provide food and fresh water each day very close to the hen. Encourage her to both eat and drink daily.
Fluff the Broody Hen
Hardly willing to get up even to eat, a broody hen goes into sitting mode wherein instinct tells her she must keep those eggs warm and not rise for anything. To keep her strong, healthy and eating, you should pick up your hen, “fluff” her a bit and then set her down next to her water and food.
“Fluffing” is the term I use to refer to the gentle up and down motion in the air I employ while holding my hen securely. Some hens will get up every few days of their own accord to eat and poop. Others will just slump back to the ground even if you do pick them up.
This fluffing motion, two or three times, usually kicks the hen out of her stupor for long enough to drink and eat. She will certainly cluck disdainfully at you the whole time she’s off her nest, but your hen will get her stuff done and return quickly.
Reasons to Isolate a Broody Hen
One reason to isolate a broody hen is to keep her safe from other chickens getting up in her business all day long.
A large dog crate, a supersized tote box, even your bathtub are all fine places to keep a broody hen and her eggs. It’s best to pick a spot where your hen will have enough space to walk around and tend her chicks for a week or so once they’re hatched.
Additionally, keeping your broody hen isolated means you control how many eggs end up in her nest. Once a broody hen has gone “into the zone” she may lay a few more eggs herself, or she may not.
If it looks like she’s done laying her own in her nest, you can add in your choice of fertilized eggs for her to hatch. (More on that below.)
If you leave her in the general population of your coop, other bossy hens may come up and lay in her nest at various times during the twenty-one-day hatching cycle. This can create a mess of half-incubated eggs!
If the eggs get staggered into the nest over too many days by other hens, you’ll end up with eggs that never hatch because they enter the nest too late in the brooding cycle. Remember, the fog of broody-brain starts to lift off the hen as soon as hatching begins.
Your mother hen may abandon any egg not hatching after her broody cycle ends.
Adding Other Hens Eggs to the Nest
Sometimes you end up with fertilized eggs and need a broody hen to hatch them. Don’t be shy about adding fertilized eggs under your hen; most will hatch them out happily.
Usually a standard-sized bird can handle about ten standard-sized eggs; more even, if you’re adding bantam eggs because they’re much smaller. Just make sure she can keep them adequately covered with her breast and bum—some hens are better endowed than others.
Adding Other Chicks to the Nest
If you end up with brand new chicks from another source at hatching time for some reason, you can slowly introduce them to your mother hen for her to care for as soon as the hatching of her own eggs has begun. Place your already-hatched chick underneath the mother hen so she assumes that it hatched underneath her.
She should care for it just fine—chickens are awesome that way.
A week or two after hatching, if mom and babies are doing well and the weather is fine, you can let them out into the chicken yard. They’ll need the fresh air and exercise.
Be sure to watch the mama and babies for problems – other poultry picking on them, predatory birds circling, etc.
Most likely, your mama hen will bring her chicks out proudly and begin her instructions immediately. She may end up being something of a show-off and it’s important to preen her and feed her treats and tell her what a marvelous job she did.
She’s just provided your homestead with a valuable and helpful service, after all.
Have a few more questions? Here are some quick reminders and FAQs.
How Long Will a Hen Stay Broody?
The average time it takes a hen to hatch out a clutch, or group, of fertile eggs is 21 days, give or take a few days.
The hen stays broody until she has enough hatched chicks to kick her hormones out of broody phase and into mothering phase. Some hens are slow to come out of broodiness but most transition naturally.
Will a Broody Hen Still Lay Eggs?
No. Once she’s done laying enough for her nest, she stops laying for the 21 days it takes to hatch them out. Incubating fertilized eggs is enough work for any mother hen.
Asking more of her would be like asking a pregnant woman to keep chasing around her other children during her pregnancy. Wait, we do that, don’t we?
How Many Hours a Day Does a Hen Sit on Her Eggs?
A hen will sit nearly 24 hours a day on her nest of eggs! Broody hens are biologically wired to stay on those eggs and never let them get cold or dry. However, they still need to eat and move around!
It may become necessary for you to take your hen off her nest and place her away from it so that she is forced to walk back to it and get a bit of exercise.
You may also need to put food and water in front of her once you take her off the nest. Gently push her beak into both if she doesn’t show signs of recognizing the food or if she doesn’t begin to eat or drink.
Can You Move a Broody Hen?
You can move a broody hen but she might break broodiness and abandon her eggs. Abandoned eggs won’t hatch without an incubator or another broody hen. (You can place fertilized eggs under broody hens and they will usually accept them and hatch them out.)
However, sometimes moving them is worth the risk. It can happen that a hen will choose a place for her nest that seems safe to her but which you know to be dangerous. In this instance, it’s worth risking her ire to move her and her nest to safety.
How Many Eggs Can You Put Under a Broody Hen?
Most standard-sized hens can hatch between 8-12 eggs. Bantams, or half-sized chickens, can usually hatch out around half that number.
There are exceptions to those rules, of course. We had a sweet, Silkie hen who would hatch out as many as 12 of her own or 8 standard size eggs. You can read about her in the Silkie article linked above.
Will Eggs Still Hatch if They Get Cold?
The simple answer is probably not. The mother hen’s body provides a perfect hatching environment but if she isn’t sitting on her eggs consistently, things can go wrong.
There are several factors, besides temperature, than can decrease the likelihood that a fertilized egg will hatch. Here are a few:
- Ambient temperature is too hot or too cold.
- The egg has been jostled or otherwise handled roughly tearing membranes inside.
- It has dried out/the ambient humidity is too low.
- The egg has been cracked.
- Or eaten by a predator. That one is obvious!
If you have any more questions, be sure to leave them in the comment section below!
More Hen and Chick Resources
Here are a few more resources that might help.