The first time a hen goes broody can be worrying for a new pet chicken owner. It's important to know the difference between a broody hen and a sick hen so that prompt action can be taken. This article explains how to spot a broody hen, breaking the hen out of broodiness or letting nature take its course by using the broody to hatch eggs.
When a hen stops laying eggs this can be one of the first indications that she is sick. Another indication of illness is the hen will hide away from the other chickens and sleep in the nest box. If you are not sure if your hen is ill or broody, examine her in the nest box. Look at how the hen is sitting. Does she look comfortable? Does she growl, squeal or try to peck you when you stroke her back? Does she fluff up her neck feathers, and fan and raise her tail? Does she look as flat as a pancake and stay like that when you lift her out of the nest? These are all the signs of a broody hen. If she pecks, use a tea towel or wear gloves to protect your hands. Check the nest. Broody hens pluck feathers out of their chest to line the nest. If there is an egg in the nest, remove it now... while you can.Observe her behaviour when she is out of the nest box. Does she eat and drink normally? Broody hens make a constant clucking noise and squeal with pleasure if you give them a bit of their favourite food. If she is the top hen in your flock of chickens, her behaviour will have changed from bossy to motherly and she will probably be very sweet.
If you do not have a cockerel and planned only to keep a few hens for eggs, then it's best to break your hen out of broodiness immediately. She will not lay eggs for the entire time she is broody and will go straight back to the nest box as soon as you are not looking. She will not eat and drink much during this period and may lose condition. She could be susceptible to mites.All you need to get a hen out of broodiness is a broody cage and persistence. An ideal broody cage is a square wire cage with a wire floor. It only needs to be a little bit bigger than the chicken, because she will want to sit when broody and not move around. Place the cage in the chicken run on top of bricks. The aim is to make sure airflow gets underneath. Persistence is needed as she will need to be left in the broody cage for at least a week, maybe two or three. Always ensure she has fresh water and layers pellets. Wait at least one week before you let her out of the cage and keep a close eye on her. If she becomes broody straight away, restart the process. She might lay another clutch of eggs and become broody again. It could take up to three weeks to break the cycle. It's not cruel to keep her in the broody cage. It's better to break her out of broodiness as soon as possible, unless you want her to hatch eggs.
It's more natural than using an incubator and wonderful for the hen. The first thing to consider is what to do with the cockerels, because a high percentage of chicks will turn out to be males. Ensure you have a home planned, before they start crowing. Chickens can also sit on duck eggs. You will also need to plan homes for ducks if you are not going to keep them all. They make great pets, but are very messy and depending on the chosen breed, very noisy. Drakes have a quiet, whispery quack and ducks have a loud quack. Remember that duck eggs are much bigger than chicken eggs. As a rule, if your hen can sit on 12 large chicken eggs, then she can sit on 6 duck eggs.It's best to purchase hatching eggs locally, but if you can't then postal is another option. Some of the egg's air sacs may be damaged in the post. When you receive the eggs, unwrap and rest at a 45 degree angle for 24 hours or more, before putting under the hen. This resting period will help settle the air sac and give the eggs a better chance of hatching.The broody hen needs her own coop so she can sit on the nest undisturbed. If it is possible, keep the broody coop in a position where the hens can see each other. This will make re-introducing the broody hen much easier. Ensure the coop is on paving slabs to stop a fox digging in.Put the eggs in the nest box first and then transfer the hen into the coop. She should settle on the eggs within half an hour. If not, wait until dark and check if she is sitting on them. Ensure she takes a break from sitting once a day to eat, drink and poo. She won't poo until she leaves the nest and it will be huge and smell of rotten eggs. If you need to lift her off the eggs, ensure she is not holding any underneath her wings as they might drop. If she pushes any eggs out the nest, assume that the hen knows best and that egg is not viable.Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch and duck eggs take 28 days. Leave the hen undisturbed for the last three days. Prepare chick crumbs and a shallow dish of water, containing marbles. Take a careful peek in the nest box or wait for the mother hen to bring out the chicks to show you.