What Broody Means, and What to do When it’s a Problem
Definition of Broody: A hen with strong instincts to hatch eggs, whether or not they are fertile, or even present in the nest.
Signs: Your hen won’t leave the nest, appears to not be eating, her feathers are all fluffed up, and she looks a bit spread out. These are classic signs of the broody hen. First of all she isn’t starving, she is eating and drinking, but it’s low on her list of priorities. She may only eat just enough to survive. The fact that she isn’t sitting on eggs won’t make a difference to her, so don’t assume she’ll just give up in a day or two, she won’t. This behavior could last weeks, and during that time period she will not lay eggs.
Her behavior can be disrupting as well, she may not allow the other members of the flock near her nest, not only is that opening the door for drama, but the laying cycle of the entire flock can be disturbed. Make sure you have enough nest boxes for your flock.
What to Do
You can sometimes discourage the broody hen by moving her nest box, covering it, or to the less dedicated lady, simply take her from the nest a few times the first day. However, there are some with very strong instincts and you may actually have to change her environment completely by moving her to another place. This might take her mind off sitting on eggs and back to laying them.
Another trick that I use here at the ranch is getting air underneath the hen. The best way to do this might require a few changes to your nest area, but it’s well worth the effort. I don’t like keeping my birds on a wire grate in the nesting place, but I do have have a place with that option for the simple solution of breaking the behavior of the broody hen.
I have a piece of plywood covering the wire grate in their nest area, over that is a gracious amount of grass hay. When the occasional broody hen occupies the nest, I simply remove the plywood, by exposing the wire grate, the hen has air flow under her – which to her, is completely unacceptable.
Note: It’s important to act quickly when addressing the broody hen, the longer you allow it to continue, the longer you will have to wait before she starts laying eggs again.