Broodiness is a hen’s instinct to set on a nest and hatch eggs. If you are breeding chickens, this may be a favorable quality. However, if you are raising chickens for eggs, a broody hen can be problematic. She can make collecting eggs near impossible, can starve to death sitting on a nest of unfertilized eggs waiting for them to hatch or may take over the nesting area, preventing other hens from laying. Breaking up a broody hen quickly is essential. The longer she is left to brood the longer it will take to break her.
Signs of Brooding
A hen sitting on a nest isn’t necessarily a broody hen. She may just be laying an egg or even hiding from a bully. A broody hen who is settled in for the three weeks of incubation will often growl or peck at you if you reach for the eggs under her. She will only leave the nest for brief moments to get a little food and water and to relieve herself. She will also stop laying eggs.
Be sure to routinely remove eggs from the nests. Generally, a hen won’t incubate a single egg. She’ll accumulate several eggs, called a clutch, and stop laying. By regularly removing eggs from the nest, the hen will have nothing to incubate and will keep laying.
You can remove a hen from the nest that has already become broody and collect the eggs, discouraging further brooding. If she continues to want to brood, block the nesting box for a few days.
A hen broods in order to keep the incubating eggs warm. Her body temperature rises, telling her it’s time to set a nest. A cool, not cold, water bath will cool her body temperature, breaking her broodiness.
For a persistent hen, temporary isolation may be your best answer. Remove the hen from her hen house, and place her in temporary housing away from other laying hens. Any protective cage will suffice, including a dog crate. As long as her temporary lodgings do not have an inviting nesting area, your hen should stop her broodiness within a week and you can return her to the general population. However, sometimes a hen can be so insistent on brooding that your only solution is culling her from the flock.