We are into our second year raising chickens. We’ve gone from 12 to 31 chickens because…chicken math! (If you don’t know what that is, you don’t have chickens!) I have been blessed to not have broody hens until a couple of weeks ago. Broody hens are hens who want to hatch chicks and raise their babies. They are equivalent to when women (and some men) get baby fever. BAD. While it may seem like all fun and games to have your chickens hatch babies for you, there are some things to think about. If you don’t separate them, broody hens take up a nesting box (usually the one everyone wants!) They also aren’t laying eggs, since they’re too busy keeping other ones warm. Broody hens can be downright nasty–I’m talking taking flesh off your fingers if you get to close nasty.
Now, I am ALL about my hens hatching their babies. We’ve got two gorgeous roosters and I would love to see their offspring. Plus, hubs told me after this spring I was cut off next year from buying chicks…notice he said BUYING, not hatching. So next year I am all for these girls going all broody. But September wasn’t really when I wanted to start the hatching process. Vermont has super unpredictable weather. We’ve had snow on Halloween and 72 degree weather on Christmas Eve…in the same year. This spring, it was in the 70’s for our February break and below zero for April break. I just don’t trust the weather and tiny chicks.
I did lots and lots of research. I combed the internet, asked about a million people on Instagram and Facebook, I consulted chicken books. There are many varying methods to breaking broodiness, some of which I tried. For our first broody hen a couple of weeks ago, I removed her from the nest every time I saw her there and threw her in the run. Hoping to cool her off, I stuck a bunch of big ice packs underneath her. I finally conceded defeat and knew I had to isolate her from the nesting boxes.
I did this by using a plain wire dog crate raised up on some boards.
Because the hen’s belly/chest area gets so hot from nesting, the dog crate is designed to force her to “cool off,” which helps break the broody cycle. I really wanted to hold off from this method. For some reason, it felt cruel to me to keep the hen in an uncomfortable cage stuck in the run. All she wants to do is raise babies, and I have TOTALLY had baby fever before and know how crazy it makes someone. But…she took a chunk out of my finger and enough was enough. So this is the set up that works for me: Wire dog crate raised up with food and water in it. At night, I slide a stick through about 2/3 of the way up so the hen can roost. I take it out in the morning when I let the other chickens out.
This is actually my second broody hen in two weeks. I didn’t document the first one because I wasn’t blogging at the time. What worked for me the first time (and hopefully this time) was to leave the hen in the crate until she doesn’t show signs of broodiness (growling at you, raising her feathers up, nipping) Once those signs are gone, try letting the hen out and see what she does. I was fortunate that my first hen went right back to normal. I had to leave her in the cage for 5 days–she had been broody in the nest for the 5 days prior and all of my Instagram chicken whisperers tell me it’s an even exchange to break broodiness. For this Leghorn, I nipped it in the bud and today is her second day of being broody.
While this may seem like a harsh way to break a bird that just wants to hatch some darn eggs, it has proven the most effective. I cannot care for the baby chicks the way I would want to at the moment and would feel irresponsible if I let the girls hatch them. After the broodiness broke, the hen went back to her old bossy self and is still happily clucking around. I will definitely post an update with this hen (nickname: Broody Bridget)