A broody hen is a hen who has decided it is time to sit on the nest and hatch a few eggs. If you are breeding chickens, a broody hen is vital for incubating a nest full of eggs. If you are raising chickens to harvest the eggs only, a broody hen can disrupt the laying cycle of the whole coop. In either case, recognizing a brooding hen is useful for the success of the flock.
Hens try to lay in the same nest each day to accumulate a stockpile of eggs. When the stockpile is sufficient for her needs, a hen will settle over the eggs with intentions of hatching the eggs. A hen prone to broodiness will try to hatch fertilized or unfertilized eggs. It takes 21 days and a delicate balance of heat and humidity to hatch a chicken egg.
In order to create that ideal incubation environment, the hen must remain on the nest. Over those 21 days, she will leave the nest only for a few minutes to eat, drink and relieve herself. Some hens won’t leave at all, which can lead to starvation or dehydration. A broody hen also stays ready to fend off possible threats by growling or pecking at intruders. Broody hens also stop laying eggs.
Not every hen that sits on a nest is a broody hen. A hen that is just stopping by the nest to lay an egg may show signs of broodiness, like growling or pecking at intruders. Even a hen that is hiding from a bully in the nesting box may try to defend herself. However, a hen that is not broody will leave the nest for long periods of time.
Incubating a nest of eggs for 3 weeks is physically demanding on a hen. If you want the hen to hatch her nest full of fertilized eggs, check on her regularly to ensure that she is getting sufficient food and water. You may have to hand feed and water her.
Because a broody hen stops laying eggs and also prevents other hens from laying in the nest, if you are raising chickens for egg production, you will want to disrupt the broody hen. The longer you wait to break the broodiness, the longer it takes for the hen to return to laying eggs. Completely separate the hen from her favorite nest for 3 or 4 days to break the broodiness. To prevent broodiness, remove eggs from the nest regularly, leaving nothing for the hen to incubate.