Breaking a Hen of Broodiness

Usually, when one of our hens goes broody, we let her continue to set so that she can hatch and raise chicks.  Occasionally, though, a hen will go broody at the wrong time. Maybe we don’t have space for her to raise her young, or the weather is too cold and damp. If you want a hen to stop setting, you can use the following approach to break her broodiness.

Move her into a well lit cage that has a wire mesh bottom, made from hardware cloth. The cage should be several feet off the ground, and it should not feel very private to the hen. As always, provide food and water for the hen. Usually within a few days, she will no longer be broody, then you can put her back with the rest of the flock.

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34 Responses to Breaking a Hen of Broodiness

  1. Jeff Wellman says:

    I like raising Sussex chickens, and this year it seemed that every Speckled Sussex thought they should go broody at the same time. Some of them I moved to cages with a clutch of eggs to hatch and the rest I did my best to make sure they were uncomfortable as much as possible. Usually the raised wire cage works great. Another method commonly used in ‘the old days’ that my Grandpa taught me was to dunk the broody hen in a pail of cool (but not really cold) water which will bring her brooding temperature down. Many times this has worked for me. It makes the poor hen just indignant enough to give up on being broody altogether. I really never liked this method until I had one of the girls think she would go on the attack when I was gathering eggs from under her and she drew blood. At that point I was not feeling too sorry for her, and a nice cool bath she got. Couple days of this and she has never sat on eggs again :)

  2. Erika says:

    I have a Blue laced Red Wyandotte that should be hatching her babies today or tomorrow (I’ve seen one already). My question is, she is up in a nesting box. How will her babies get down? I assume I will need to move them, the problem is that she REALLY wants to be left alone and is pretty sure she hates me right now. How long should I wait to move them? If I do need to move them myself do I do it at night? I don’t want any to die of starvation or thirst. I suppose I could move any unhatched eggs to the incubator, but I’d like her to have the chance to hatch them first.

  3. Paul Mc Gagh says:

    We keep a flock of free range bantams, which I have enjoyed doing since boyhood. I have raised all manner of chicks under the “broodies” over the years. Last year I experimented with fostering twenty five jumbo cornish x rock chicks purchased from your company under three hens. Fourty eight hours after picking them up from our local post office, they were free ranging with their foster mothers. I have repeated the process this year, currently having fourty, month old Jumbo cornish x rock chicks being raised by four bantams. For me, its good to see the meat bird chicks free ranging, also its a great use of the “broodies”.

  4. Pam Tessman says:

    We have three Orpingtons that would go broody, we would put them in a cage for a few days and that would cure them. We have a little dark Brahma that just about withered away this spring because she would not get off the nest and the cage would not work for her. So every day I would take her and one of her sisters for company to a small fenced garden inside my yard to get away from the bullies and eat worms and after weeks of dedication she finally came out of it but it was somewhat frustrating at the time. Now I have an Orpington, a light Brahma, and a Partridge Cochin that have all gone broody, and I am thinking of trying some of the ideas I have read here, so thanks to everyone who graciously tries to help out. By the way, I have a rooster but one comment made me start thinking there is something to the others picking on them that may contribute to the broodiness.

  5. Oreste Ona says:

    I have read that you are supposed to let a laying hen go through broodiness, so her body will recover.

  6. phil says:

    Try some laying mash bought at the feed stores

  7. Gayle says:

    I usually use the cage method with my broody hens but I once had a barred rock that went broody and the cage method did not work. She threw herself against the sides and top until she was bloody. I purchased three chicks from the neighbor and waited until night time. I stuck the chicks under her and the next morning when she woke up she thought she’d hatched them. She took to them right away and raised them.

    • Pam Steinke says:

      This works great. If you don’t want a lot of new chicks, it works just as well with one chick.

  8. KEn says:

    Our pet white Muscovy duck has been sitting on a nice clutch of eggs. What we did not notice was a small O.E. Weaton egg buried in the pile. The chick has been out and about with Mom but all the duck eggs died as she immediately was up and ready to take care of her flock…(of 1). Stooky proudly shows the farm her very own duckling but so far has not introduced her to the pond. Anyone know what will happen on that day?

    • Trish says:

      All will be fine. Our Muscovy did the same thing. She hatched out a beautiful chick. His name is Ducky. He is a very well adjusted Rhode Island Red rooster now. She would take him to the creek and the pond but never let him get hurt. Do not worry!!!!!

  9. elizabeth says:

    I had a jungle fowl X (cross) hen set for FOUR months! I removed bad eggs when she wasn’t on the nest and as the other girls used her nest to lay in. Eventually, one chick hatched and died. I eventually got a fertile egg (leghorn / dominic cross) that hatched 2 days after I put the egg under her. It made it to 2 weeks old and drowned in the horse trough. Feeling for the poor hen, I got 2 amaricauna chicks about 2 weeks old and introduced them. Mama was thrilled. Once the chicks began understanding “chicken”, it was one big happy family.

  10. Brenda says:

    I have a buff orpington I cannot break of broodiness. Most of the time she’s not even sitting on any eggs as the other birds just lay in a different box (we have no rooster). I take her out at night and put her on the roost and sometimes move her outside when I feed them in the morning. She just goes back. She stays in there for weeks on end before she gives up, but then returns to broodiness soon after. I’m not missing the eggs, we just have a small flock and keep the eggs for ourselves, but it is frustrating to just see her sitting day after day.

  11. Linda says:

    To Liz: My experience on my broody hens and laying in boxes. I raise my my chicks in small cage then move them to a fenced area on the ground. I move them at night to a rat proof enclosed cage and let them out again at in morning. I believe it helps them to get the right idea plus rats do really bad things to the young chicks, so I have done this out of my own needs. When they started to lay I introduced my boxes with grass into the outside area on the ground. They were hit and miss. Some on ground some in boxes. When they can jump into the wire bottom roost from the outside yard I move the same boxes into the roost. By then they can deal with the rats if they come around. They then all then lay in the nesting boxes. I always give them two boxes and they always lay in one. I let them all out in the evenings after they have laid to run around and debug my farm no eggs laying around for my dogs to eat. My broody hens always leave the nest when I give them greens from the farm collards are their favorite. My hens are Rhode Island/Leghorn cross. I do miss the eggs during the broody time I also feel bad as she puffs up and coodles when I remove the eggs from under her. I have some young chicks maybe I might move them closer to her see if that also helps her to get over it. I have no roosters.

  12. Ruben Santos says:

    I bought 30 chicks from you guys (new jersey giants) about 3 months ago,and there’s just about 8 females,and i want to keep one rooster for them,but. . When they will start to lay eggs?

    • Matthew Pressly says:

      Hens that are in healthy condition will begin laying between 5-7 months of age, given the right conditions, which include 14 hours of light per day, water available at all times, oyster shells, and commercial layer feed.

  13. maria says:

    I had a hen that was quite broody. I marked the eggs that she was setting on with a sharpie marker so I could remove the ones laid by other hens. I guess she didn’t like the smell of the marker because she got off of them and never went back. After my rooster died she got very broody again. I had ordered some chicks, and by keeping them in a brooder pen next to where she was setting (on ceramic eggs) she decided to adopt them all. Now she is a proud mama and is showing them the best places to find bugs and even attacks my labrador when she wanders too close to her babies.

    • irene says:

      Hi Maria,
      You say your hen went broody again after losing her rooster. I forgot to mention, our brooding hen Marilyn also lost her rooster, a bantam Golden Sebright, to an owl attack in February. Does losing a rooster contribute to broodiness?

    • J. byler says:

      I have just hens so I know the eggs will not hatch. My hen tried to hatch a golf ball but each day I took her off the nest to get food and water. I would hear her clucking to her imaginary brood. She is back to normal now. Bless her heart.
      I had a hen one time a Rhode Island Red that was determined to set. I went to the local hatchery and got some of the chicks they put aside and asked for six. They gave me twenty nine and she raised them all! Just wonderful. I found out if you put the babies under the hen at night, they will accept them in the early morning light.

  14. irene says:

    We have a persistently broody porcelain Belgian D’Uccle bantam hen (1.25 yr old ‘Marilyn’), and it seems we just can’t break her of it. We tried the wire-bottom method (dog crate), the golf balls and isolation. She continues to brood. This has been going on for over a month now. We really miss her eggs! We have two new young Silkie roosters; they aren’t mature yet, so no eggs have been fertile. We recently returned ‘Marilyn’ to the flock. Isolation seemed to reinforce her broodiness–she’s been a little more prone to getting out there to forage during range time if she’s with the rest of them. However, one of the NH Red hens chases her–we wonder if pecking order activity contributes to broodiness..??

    Our flock: three 1.25-year old NH Reds; one 1.25-year old Golden Duckwing bantam (she has been successfully broken of recent broodiness–she finally laid an egg, but none since); 3 young Silkies from this spring; two young spring Wyandotte hens; and one young spring Brahma hen.
    We surely welcome any further ideas on how to break ‘Marilyn.’
    Info on post-broody laying expectations would also be helpful.

  15. Sheila says:

    I set one of my hens (Barb Rocks) for the first time and I kept her in the hen house until they hatched, and then I moved all of them in a little house my husband made with a pen to go in and outside, and it was such a experience, I have never done that, but we had chickens when I was growing up and never really paid any attention. So she had 2 white rocks Pullets and 3 barred rock roosters, which I will probably keep two of them, and I also ordered 25 new chicks, and they are all getting along.

  16. Michelle J says:

    I have found that my Wyandottes are quite broody every year, especially the Red Blue Laced ones. I would like to let them hatch a few chicks, but we only have one rooster to 29 chickens, so it didn’t work out well last year; we wasted a lot of eggs that were not fertilized. I prefer my Americana’s which have never gone broody on me. I did find that separating them out for a few days without nesting boxes or materials worked well.

  17. Ruthann says:

    I have cage free ranging hens, and have three that are being broodie on the plastic decoy eggs. How do I get them to stop? Also, what can I do to get the girls to lay in the boxes and not hide where they are laying. I have to hunt for where they are laying daily.

  18. maria sierra says:

    Thanks for the information, I have just started raising chickens, I only have 1/2 acre and we are using an old nursery we had in the back, we are still fixing it up. I just think is a lot of fun doing it I enjoy watching them grow from baby chicks. Now it’s been 5 months, by the way the are Rhode Island Reds. Thanks for the info.

  19. Val Boggs says:

    It just breaks my heart when my hens go broody… as there is no rooster here anymore and therefore no fertilized eggs. However, I let them go through the natural process anyway, making sure to pick them up and bring them out for water and food a couple of times a day, when I remember.

    • Sally says:

      I used to think that I had to pick them up and bring them out for food and water, also. But, if they have access to the outside, they will go out on their own. Probably when you’re not watching.

      Go ahead and pick up the eggs everyday, if you don’t the others will lay in there when she goes out and you won’t know which ones are fresh.

      • Laina says:

        My hens usually go outside on their own for food & water as well, but one of my banty hens didn’t! Since I’m not at the farm all day long, I thought she got her food when I wasn’t around, on her own like the rest of the hens… well.. turned out she did not! =( the poor girl died in her nest box trying to hatch those eggs.. It was her first time going broody. It was so sad, I cried.. I believe she was a good 2 weeks into the the hatching process and pretty sure she did go for her food on her own at the beginning, I don’t know what happened. So it’s a good idea to make sure they get the food and water, even if that’s picking them up and taking them there. Just to be safe. Or at least have water at the nest, especially during the hot summer days.

  20. Ann Lewis says:

    Do you really have luck with that? When we have a broody hen we mark the eggs under her or else she’ll end up with so many eggs from other hen nothing hatches. But she ends up moving to the eggs laid in a nearby nest box after about a week or so, so we end up with nothing. Any tricks you use to prevent this, or has it never been a problem?

  21. Pat says:

    I had a hen that went broody this year and nothing I did helped. Finally got some fertile eggs and let her sit on them until they hatched. She actually went through 2 sets of eggs because the chick from the first set died 2 days after being born. She was still broody so got more eggs. She now has 3 chicks and is very happy. The only issue now is she is not laying eggs. The chicks will be 1 month on the 23rd and I was wondering how long it will be before she lays again.

    Next time I will try your method if I don’t have fertile eggs.


    • Sally says:

      She won’t start laying eggs again until she lets the chicks go off on their own. Probably be at least a couple more weeks.

  22. Liz Davis says:

    How do you teach a hen to use the nesting boxes and not the ground??? All of my hens were house raised (computer room) until they started escaping into the rest of the house then they went outside. Shouldn’t some things be inherent? or do you really need to teach them to lay in the nesting boxes???

    • Karen says:

      Sorry – but this made me literally LOL. Laying in a box is not something that should be “inherent” to a bird. They are not manufactured – they are living creatures that originated in the jungle where there were no boxes. :)

      We try to make the boxes as inviting as possible – private, dark (if possible) and placing some “starter eggs” (wooden, ceramic, even golf balls) because they like to lay where there are already eggs…. we do this because it is convenient for the humans, not because it is better for the bird.

      Sorry, I can’t stop laughing about your expectation that they would come with the inherent drive to lay in a box.

    • waggie says:

      Karen – that was a very rude response! Not everyone is as “educated” as you are. This blog is for those who are new and experienced. Comments like yours will make those who are new not want to ask their questions. All level of questions should be taken seriously.

      Liz – Please don’t feel stupid for your question. It is a common question that I have answered lots of times. I have had hens that will always lay in the nest and others that I have to train to. If you have a hen that likes to hide eggs try to take away all temptations for them. Things like boards propped against something, potted plants, high grass or other dark small areas. I even had a hen squeeze through a small gap to get out of her run to lay the egg and then squeeze back through for dinner time. With all temptation taken away they will be naturally drawn to the nest box. After some time you can slowly add temptations back in if you want and see how they do. Also another thing to notice is if she is building nests in the same type of material. I had one hen always try to nest in tall grass. I switched my next bedding to shredded paper and she was more than willing to lay in her next box. She wanted something that she could form and shavings wouldn’t do for her.

      For free range hens I would say to try and temporarily confine them to a run and coop. After time when they are use to laying in their coop put them back to free range. Note I have only had success with this when it was the actual coop and not just a different one. So if you have a large number of chickens it might not work for you.

      Hope this helps and good luck.

    • McMurray Staff says:


      Hens like to lay their eggs in dark places. Make certain your nest boxes are along the darkest wall of the coop. You can also put some artificial (ceramic or wooden) eggs in the box to encourage the hens to lay in the nest.

      For more information about raising laying hens, the following books are very helpful:
      A Guide to Raising Chickens

      Raising Chickens for Dummies

  23. jaden says:

    I have hens that do that all the time. They sit and sit on eggs that never hatch. I just go when she leaves the nest for a few minuets — go and take the eggs, candle them if there is a baby chick in there, then I stick them in my incubator, and the hen stops and goes back to the flock.

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