A broody hen that decides to sit on her eggs for days, sometimes weeks on end (they don't all realise that they only need to sit there for 21 days!), is no longer contributing to the daily egg production. The chicken can become (understandably) quite anxious and even, some might say, bad-tempered with a tendency to have a swift peck at anyone who approaches her nest. It takes a brave person to try and remove any eggs that she may be sitting on!
Clearly, incubated eggs from a hen that haven't had an "encounter" with a cockerel are never going to hatch, as they will be unfertilised and she would be wasting her time. Unfortunately, the poor chicken doesn't know this and her efforts to bring some fluffy new chicks into the world will all be in vain but it doesn't diminish her commitment to the task!
Harmful effects of broodiness
Sitting on her eggs day after day can also be detrimental for the hen and any other chickens within the group. A hen that sits anticipating the arrival of a new brood of baby chicks may well neglect her own needs and seriously compromise her own health. Some chickens become reluctant to move at all when broody, even to feed herself or access the water trough. As the chicken is in virtually the same spot for weeks, they can become vulnerable to external parasite infestations at this time, particularly in the warmer months.
If you are limited for nesting boxes, it can be very unsettling for the other laying birds if one of the boxes is continually occupied - this can lead to bullying, eggs being spoilt, the nesting box becoming very dirty and a general disruption to the normally harmonious status quo in the chicken house.
Broodiness in not necessarily a negative thing however, after all, you may want eggs to hatch out to replace stock or add to your existing flock. What could be more natural than a hen doing the job that nature intended rather than leaving you to artificially incubate them?
If you are considering actively encouraging your hen to incubate her eggs (or fertilised eggs from another source), there are steps that you can take to promote broodiness and achieve a successful outcome.
Carefully placing some artificial eggs within a nesting box is one tried and tested formula, but you do need to ensure that the nesting area is safe and secure from the other chickens (as well as foxes and other predators!). It would not be uncommon for a more dominant hen within the group to exert her authority and force the broody hen off her eggs, leaving them to cool down and die.
Caring for your broody hen
Once it is clear that your chicken has become broody, you do need to be extra vigilant. It is usual for the hen to only leave the nest once or twice in a 24 hour period to feed, drink and defecate - in the form of a particularly large and malodorous chicken dropping! You must ensure that she does access some nutrition and fluid as she can become seriously ill if she doesn't drink for more than 24-48 hours. It may be necessary to physically lift your hen and take her over to her feeding and water troughs.
Although access to food and water should be made as hassle free as possible for your hen, do resist the temptation to put any food in the nesting boxes as this will just discourage her from moving at all and she may then even start soiling in the nesting area. To reduce the risks associate with reduced activity and external parasitic infestations e.g. red mite, a broody hen should be checked and, if necessary treated with appropriate medication.
Your hen may look quite weak and thin while brooding and her comb may go very pale and anaemic looking as another sign of her neglecting her own nutritional needs whilst brooding.
Hopefully, 21 days later, you and your hen will be rewarded with one or more gorgeous fluffy chicks and you will be able to enjoy watching Mother Nature at work again as the proud mother raises her newborn!
However, if a new chick is definitely not in your plans, or your hen's eggs cannot be fertile, then you do need to try and discourage broodiness within your flock. Once one hen becomes broody, it can be quite contagious! Regular egg collections are important but may not "crack" the problem. Broodiness can be subtle at first - keep a close eye for any hen that is starting to spend longer periods in the nesting boxes. She may start to become a little temperamental and take exception, in the form a well place peck, to your presence. You may even notice that she plucks out a few of her breast feathers to make a comfy nest!
To discourage your broody hen from brooding anymore than she already is, blocking off the nesting box or simply just moving her off the nest and removing the eggs may be all you need to do. However, some hen's instincts are very strong and you may need to remove the hen to temporary accommodation in a cooler place for a few days.
The change of environment and conditions should soon take her mind off sitting on eggs all day. Don't delay in trying to break the broodiness within your hen. The longer you allow it to continue, the longer you will have to wait before she starts laying eggs again and earning her keep!
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