What is a Broody Hen? What signs should you look for? February 1, 2012

The first time one of my hens went broody was quite a shock to me!  My normally docile Barnevelder was now acting quite peculiar and no longer docile – I wasn’t sure what to do with my crazy, broody hen.  Maybe you are wondering what is wrong with your chicken or maybe you are even hoping one of your hens will go broody, but are not sure what to look for or how to make her broody.   Hopefully, my experience and the information here on My Pet Chicken’s FAQ page on Broody Hens will be of some help to you.

This is Penny, our Barnevelder, illustrating the puffed up feathers of a broody hen.

When a hen goes through hormonal changes and decides she wants to hatch some eggs and raise babies, she is then referred to as being ‘broody’.  Many hens will never get broody – it’s just not in their nature. Some breeds are more prone to broodiness than others, like Cochins and Silkies. These broody hens may go broody just once a year or could go broody at the drop of a hat, as one of my Ameraucanas did (5- 6 times per year)! Unfortunately, you cannot make a hen go broody – it’s strictly hormonal and she will do so on her own time, if at all.

How to determine whether or not your hen is truly a ‘broody’ hen or just a leisurely layer.

A broody hen will stay on her nest both day and night, while leaving the nest box only 1-2 times per day to eat, drink, poop, and possibly take a dust bath. A broody hen is quite temperamental and is more protective of her eggs than normal. She will puff her feathers up to make herself seem larger. She will get quite huffy with you, when you reach in to pet her or to remove eggs from her nest, possibly even pecking at you. Our little dachshund learned pretty quickly to stay away from our Blue Ameraucana – our little Ameraucana would walk around the yard all puffed up and if our dog got too close, she’d attack.   Don’t worry about a bare chested broody.  A broody hen may pluck out her own chest feathers, in order to provide more humidity and warmth for the eggs.  Your broody hen may still be laying eggs when you first notice her, but after a few days of being broody, she will stop laying and will not lay eggs again until she’s no longer broody.  I’ve included information on what to do with this strange acting chicken here in part 2, Your Hen is Broody, Now What?.

 

30 Comments
Christine Roth February 2nd, 2012

My americauna went broody from Nov to Dec. I would collect the eggs and she would sit on them as quick as the others would lay them. She is out of it now but I was wondering if I bought fertilized eggs would she go broody if I left them out there or would I have to wait for her to go broody and then pick some up? And how can I encourage it? I dont’ have any roosters.

Thank You

Debby February 2nd, 2012

I have not had much success in setting eggs out to entice a broody hen. However, I have added fertile eggs when some of my hens have gone broody. I have a little frizzle who is an egg hoarder and when she is broody, I have to sequester her in wire enclosur in the yard, other wise she will roll any adjacent egg in her vicinity into her clutch. I have placed eggs under her when she is in the broody state and she had happily accepted them and hatched them too. She is the best mom – and just loves the babies.

Mary Ann February 3rd, 2012

Hi Christine, You’ll have to wait until your hen goes broody before giving her eggs to hatch. I’ve got another blog coming up soon that will give you info on how to let your hen incubate your chicks for you.

Mary Ann February 3rd, 2012

I love those little Frizzles – mine was always going broody too!

Tara February 4th, 2012

I have a surplus of broody pekin bantam hens. The first two have incubated foster eggs (silkies) and they are alive and 3 weeks old all doing well as mama hens. Now another hen is broody. I don’t want any more baby chicks, they are very time consuming and the five we have is plenty. I feel like I am in over my head. Plus I may have many roosters which I am not excited about either. I have heard of making an uncomfortable chook house for a hen like this but my husband has had enough of building for these chooks. Do I just leave her alone? She has stopped laying eggs a few days ago and the other two hens without chicks are due to start laying their first eggs any day. Many thanks for any help. :)

Christine Roth February 4th, 2012

Thanks so much for you advice. I watch for the next time she goes broody:)

Bunnyboots February 5th, 2012

My sweet silkie actually GROWLED at me when I attempted to feel under her. A short time later I had 11 cute chicks.

Phil February 5th, 2012

It is Feb. 4 and still quite cold here in Maryland near DC. My Buff Orpington seems to have gone broody on a dozen eggs. Can she manage them in the coop? She is in a nexting box. Do I need to isolate her from the rest of the flock? Thanks. Phil

blueberyy February 5th, 2012

I am thinking about getting Chickens. however i have question about the Broody thing. if my chicken(s) go Broody does that mean the eggs are feritizled? also, if i dont have a rooster will the chicken be broody/have chicks?

Mary Ann February 5th, 2012

Hi Tara, I found myself in the same position as you – after letting my hens raise chicks, another hen went broody and there’s only so many chicks you can raise at one time. I usually break my hens of their broodiness rather than waiting 3-5 weeks for them to get over it on their own – I’ll be posting the method that worked for me shortly.

Mary Ann February 5th, 2012

Phil, The number of eggs you can place under a hen will depend on the size of the eggs and the size of the hen. I have placed 12 large Australorp eggs under my Barnevelder and it wasn’t too many for her, but she was a large hen. 12 eggs was definitely the max. I’d suggest 10-12 med-large eggs for a standard size hen. You need to make sure your broody hen can fully cover those eggs with her body, so that as she turns them and changes their positions, ALL the eggs will be kept warm. I always isolate my broodies from the flock before the eggs hatch – more info coming soon.

Eleanor Farlow February 7th, 2012

I have had a little Cubalaya sit on 14 eggs and hatch 9 or them…about a dozen eggs the approximate size of the hens own eggs will be the right number, if you put fertile eggs under a broody hen (who isn’t laying her own fertile eggs without a rooster to do the fertilizing)…

ann February 10th, 2012

My first hen to go broody was a Blue Silkie. She went broody a total of 5 times last year. And now she is back dedicated as ever.

Mary Ann February 10th, 2012

Eleanor — Thanks for the info. I agree, 12 eggs, the size a broody hen would normally lay, is usually about right. If in doubt, less is better than more. If a hen can’t cover them all completely and keep them warm enough, the chicks inside the eggs will all be at risk.

Ann — Your Blue Silkie sounds just like my Blue Ameraucana – a real dedicated broody. She went broody about 5 times last year too – I kind of lost count :)

Kim Gee February 15th, 2012

Hi Mary Ann – I thought I had lost one of my hens but found her under a wheel barrel sitting on eggs, she had been there for a little over a week. The weather over the weekend was freezing at night and rainy most of the time, are the eggs okay? I moved her to a coop by herself now and she is still on them. Thanks for your time

Mary Ann February 15th, 2012

Kim, Most likely, the eggs are just fine. It sounds like your hen was already broody and keeping the eggs nice and toasty over the weekend. Your broody would have laid a egg every day or so, till she thought she had enough to set on and then would have started the process of keeping them warm and safe by not getting off the nest more than once a day. About the time you noticed her missing is when she would have started setting (brooding) on those eggs. Once your broody has started setting, she’ll make sure not to let the eggs get cold long enough to harm them. As long as the eggs are fertile, most likely you’ll have baby chicks hatch in a couple weeks!

Kim Gee February 15th, 2012

Thanks Mary Ann – I am so excited! This will the the second time for chicks hatching. It’s really funny – the first hen that was broody, I got from a day care center that was roaming wild, she hatched 3 eggs. This hen, I got from an animal shelter for free. It’s the ones that I paid money for that must be too good to sit, but they are good layers

Thanks again for getting back to me

Mary Ann February 20th, 2012

Blueberyy — Oops – Somehow I missed your post and your question regarding broody hens and whether or not the eggs will be fertile without a rooster. You do need a rooster in order to get fertile eggs and yes, hens will go broody without a rooster if they are prone to that (some will, some won’t). A broody hen cannot tell if the eggs she is sitting on are fertile, in fact, if I take the eggs away, my hens will set on a single golf ball and wait for it to hatch. Part II to this series was posted recently and includes information on using your broody hens to hatch eggs or raise chicks when you don’t have rooster (and even if you do)http://blog.mypetchicken.com/2012/02/15/your-hen-is-broody-now-what/
If you’re still thinking about getting chickens, you should take a look here:
http://www.mypetchicken.com/backyard-chickens/chicken-care/chapter-2-are-chickens-right-for-you.aspx

zallema April 28th, 2012

i have a pet chicken and lately i found her sitting on her eggs ,i do not have a rooster and i feel sorry for her.what can i do to help her?will she be okay. thank you worried mom zallema.

Mary Ann April 30th, 2012

Hi Zallema — I found myself in the same situation because I don’t have a rooster either. You can either let your hen hatch eggs or raise baby chicks that you’ve purchased or break her broodiness. There is information on all 3 options here:
http://blog.mypetchicken.com/2012/02/15/your-hen-is-broody-now-what/

saim khan February 5th, 2013

how old eggs are to place under broody hen .

Mary Ann February 5th, 2013

Saim — For best results, try to place eggs that are less than 1 week old under your hen. You can gather eggs daily and store indoors, in a cool room, for up to 1 week or until you have enough eggs to place under the hen. You can also try with older eggs, but you may have less of a hatch rate and you do want to make sure the eggs are not so old that they may have already spoiled.

Rachael April 21st, 2013

We are new at hatching chicks but we’re thinking at least one of our hens are ready. She had five eggs she was sitting on but not constantly, they’ve been building up about a week. We marked them yesterday and today she moved one to the back and is keeping it really warm. She came after me as soon as I got to her box. Why would she only keep one? And also, I don’t think they are hers. She lays white ones and these are all brown. Anybody have an idea what’s going on?

Mary Ann April 23rd, 2013

It sounds as if you hen has just started going broody, since she wasn’t keeping the eggs warm constantly until she pulled the one egg under her. Check her again for broodiness. If she isn’t sleeping on the nest at night, she hasn’t officially gone broody – a broody hen will cover her eggs for 24 hours other than a short break or two. If your hen is indeed broody, you can try putting all the eggs back where she is and see if she’ll set on all of them. She may just prefer to keep her eggs at the back of the nest.

Marcia July 25th, 2013

I have 6 hens laying right now and all of a sudden I noticed the eggs are being covered with straw. Does this mean one is going broody and should I leave the eggs out there and for how long? None of them has been sitting on them when I’m out there I have noticed that two of the hens have started just laying down anywhere with their breast flat on the ground.

Mary Ann July 31st, 2013

Marcia — Some hens do like to cover their eggs, but that doesn’t mean they are broody. Hens will sometimes set in their nest for quite a while and will periodically lay on the ground to rest, but a broody hen will set on a nest all day and night.

If you have a rooster and do end up with a broody hen, you can let her hatch some eggs. If you don’t have a rooster, you can still let your broody hen raise some chicks. Here is information on what to do when your hen goes broody: http://blog.mypetchicken.com/2012/02/15/your-hen-is-broody-now-what/

Lily Piel April 26th, 2014

Has anyone had a rooster show signs of broodiness?
Our sweet Sicilian was acting pretty weird today.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zValQBALJ6c

Lissa April 30th, 2014

How funny! Roosters will sometimes show “nesting” behavior in order to show hens where to lay and make them feel safe, but I’ve never seen it to that extent before. :)

Stephanie August 12th, 2014

Ok…We have 5 hens…4 that lay and a rooster. We have a coop with a nesting box and we have been getting 4 eggs a day like clockwork until a few days ago…we started only getting 1 in the box…..We cleaned out the coop today and found 9 eggs in the back corner of the coop…Could our 1 of our hens be getting ready to try to hatch them? Do we leave the eggs just to see? We’ve not noticed any of them acting broody but according to a poster above they lay until they think their nest is big enough and then start sitting on them day and night….is this correct? We enjoy getting eggs daily, but we have no objections to hatching some if that’s the case…we are really new to this, have only had chickens since January.

Mary Ann August 14th, 2014

It is possible that one of your hens will go broody, but not necessarily. Hens love to hide their eggs and also love to lay in the same place as their flockmates. It sounds as if one of your hens found a new ‘nest’ and some of your other hens discovered her secret nest. I once found about 20 eggs in our dogs’ igloo shaped dog house!
You can train your hens to start laying back in their original nest boxes by blocking off or covering the secret nest and adding a couple fake wooden eggs or golf balls to the nest boxes.
http://www.mypetchicken.com/catalog/Chicken-Supplies/Wooden-Eggs-p311.aspx
If one of your hens actually does go broody, you will notice that she won’t leave her nest and will be exhibiting the signs described in this article.

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