There’s nothing quite like having your own crew of chicken-mothers in your backyard. Whether you’re a backyard farmer or a full-on farmer, chickens are downright entertaining and productive. Our flock of eight pumped out roughly 4.5 eggs per hen per week…until spring hit, the weather warmed up, and they started taking turns going broody.
Note: “Going broody” means your hen decides it’s time to stop laying eggs and time to start sitting on them. This not only means you garner fewer eggs from your flock, but it also means your hen can be at risk of not feeding and caring for herself properly. Unless you have fertilized eggs or a rooster and plan to raise chicks, a girl gone broody is not a great situation.
Suspicious chickens are suspicious.
What Doesn’t Work With a Broody Hen
I had heard that certain breeds were more likely to go broody. And I had heard that Orpingtons were among those. So it was no surprise that the first two of my girls to go were my two Buff Orps. Then, lo and behold, my Australorp went broody, too. Thankfully I never had more than one stop laying at a time. They were kind enough to take turns!
When I first realized what was happening, I did a lot of Internet reading to find the best and easiest way to return my girls to normal. I tried a lot of things – much to the chagrin of my hens. They did not appreciate getting poked and prodded out of the hen house every hour. And they definitely did not appreciate the cold dunk tank tactic or the cold hosing, and none of those approaches had any impact anyway. In fact, nothing except what I’m about to explain did any good at all – and it was the easiest strategy to implement.
If you’ve got a broody hen, save yourself and your girls the trauma of methods that don’t work, and give this a shot.
Crow the Australorp in “solitary” confinement.
The Easy Way to Cure a Broody Hen
- Small cage (a dog crate or rabbit cage works well)
- Bin to set the cage on top of
- A small dowel, stick, or piece of wood
- Water dispenser
- Food dispenser
- Towel and/or wood planks
The thing to remember when curing your hen is that you need to change her body temperature. When the weather heats up, your hens heat up, and they think it’s time for spring chicks (you know that awesome time of year when all the farm stores fill up with those ridiculous fluff balls – your hens love that time of year (and the time leading up to it) even more than you).
Note: If you put a heat-lamp in your hen house for the winter, you may want to swap it out for a regular bulb come spring. You don’t need the timed lights by that point and the extra heat will only thwart your egg-laying by getting your girls all hot and bothered.
While some websites suggest varying types of hourly poking and cold-water torture to cool down a hen, the best and simplest way is a cool breeze. This means you need to get your hen up off the ground and get a good draft flowing around her. Thankfully, from our rabbit raising days, we still have some cages leftover that are perfect for a solitary chicken. In fact, that’s what we call it – putting one of the girls in “solitary.” (And they’re about as pleased about this as a convict would be, as well.)
I put the cage over a rubber bin to make clean-up easy and to make it safe for the hen to be up off the ground. You can try things like wooden horses and what-not, but a rubber bin is super stable and catches any…uh…chicken byproducts.
I found my girls to be less fussy when I also provided them with a little roost. This had the added benefit of not allowing the hen to fluff herself out and try to remain broody despite the breeze and elevation (my Australorp was seriously determined to stay hot and would squat and fluff no matter what surface I put her on).
You also want to have food and water on hand for your lady, though don’t put too much out at a time, as broody hens are also generally cranky hens who like to knock over their feeders and display rude manners. So give her a little food and water at a time, but make sure she has something available regularly. I try to give my broody hens special treats to encourage them to eat, as they are not good at feeding themselves when they’re all wound up.
Abby the Buff Orp in her cage.
Other Tips for Dealing With Ms. Broody Hen
Whether to keep my broody hen near the other hens was a bit of a trial and error. I didn’t want her to feel left out or lonely, as chickens are not generally happy as solitary birds, but I also didn’t want her to stress out about not being with the rest of the flock and having their free-wheeling ways flaunted in front fo her. Some people recommend you put the solitary cage in the regular chicken run, but I kept it outside but within view.
What I learned was that no matter what order you feed them in and what you feed them, the hen in solitary will always freak out that the other girls are getting better food. You may want to block her view of the general population during feeding times for your own sanity.
Similarly, if Ms. Broody Hen is being consistently dramatic for no apparent reason (at least to humans), having a blanket you can cover the cage with will work wonders at calming her down. It will not only help your nerves, but be healthier and less stressful for her, as well.
How Long in Solitary?
Some site recommend that the time in solitary needs to equal the time the hen has been broody. Personally, I can’t make sense of that. By the time I realize a hen is broody, she’s been that way for a bit, so there’s no actual way to determine how long she’s been in her funk. I put my girls in solitary for three days – a solid 72 hours – and it has worked every single time. So that’s what I suggest. No sooner, but later won’t do any harm.
So that’s it – have the right equipment, give her 72 hours, keep her fed and watered, and she’ll be back laying within a few days of rejoining the general population. It’s that’s easy! And, as a bonus, a broody hen is the easiest hen to catch and cage, as all you have to do is grab her out of the hen house!
Whether you have backyard chickens, an urban homestead, or a full-on farm, I suggest you give this cure for the broody hen a shot. You, and Ms. Broody will be happier for it! Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!