Hen with chicks

Photo by Jean Kirkhope

It’s normal for hens to go broody. Some breeds — such as Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, or Silkies, and many breeds of bantams — are more prone to go broody than others, but even production breeds can, on occasion, go broody.  Black Stars are a production breed that rarely goes broody, but this spring, one of the Black Stars in my home flock went broody, and she already appears to be going broody a second time.

If You Only Have Hens

If you have only hens in your flock, as is the case for many urban flocks, the eggs won’t be fertile and won’t hatch, so there won’t be any point in letting the hen sit on those eggs. If you want to hatch chicks under your broody hen, you may be able to get fertile eggs from someone in the area and swap them out.  The best time to do this is at night, so that you don’t disturb the hen any more than necessary. Gently remove the non-fertile eggs from beneath her and replace them with fertile eggs. One of my hens is very defensive when she goes broody, so I wear a pair of welding gloves when handling her. She will repeatedly peck hard at my hands, but I can barely feel it through the gloves.

Letting a Broody Hen Hatch Chicks

It takes about 21 days for a hen to hatch eggs. Since she will be sitting on the eggs in a nest box for most of that time, occasionally getting up for a drink or to eat a few bites of feed, and since the babies will be small and vulnerable once they hatch, it’s best to isolate her so she can sit without being disturbed by other chickens. A small coop (2 feet by 4 feet) or chicken tractor works well for this.  Provide a small waterer (1 gallon size should be plenty) and a small feeder for her.

As the hatch date draws near, be sure to also have on hand some starter feed for the chicks. Starter feed contains more protein than layer feed and is formulated to help the baby chicks grow properly. It will be fine for the broody hen, too.

As the baby chicks start to hatch, check on them frequently (several times a day) to make sure they are doing okay. Fire ants can be a problem in the southern states. If you encounter them, use an organic pesticide, such as Rotenone around the broody coop.

Let the broody hen sit for a few more days after the first hatch so that additional eggs can hatch. You can also candle eggs to determine whether they are developing.

“Breaking” a Hen of Broodiness

If you decide that you don’t want your hen to sit, then as soon as you notice that she has gone broody, transfer her into a cage that is well lit and that has a wire mesh bottom made out of hardware cloth. The floor of the cage should be several feet off the ground. The idea is to make the cage not feel very private to the hen. As always, continue to provide her with food and water. Usually within a few days, she will cease to be broody, then you can unite her with the rest of the flock.