Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Introducing Broody Hen

I've talked some about broody hens, and I'll touch on the topic again since the Buff Orpinton pictured is so persistently broody. In short, broodiness is a hormonal response that drives a hen to sit on a clutch of eggs until they hatch.

That would be great and all, except we don't have a rooster. So no amount of sitting will cause the eggs to hatch.

The hen pictured is so persistently broody that we have simply taken to calling her "Broody". I was hoping to capture in the photo one of the tell tale signs of the broody hen--they fluff out their feathers on a near permanent basis in order to raise their body temperuture. Their increased body heat is what incubates the eggs. Other indicators your hen might be broody include oddly raised tail feathers, as well as a particular high-pitched cackling when you approach the hen on the nest. We've posted previously about how to "break" broodiness--and will wait until summer before we actively pursue that.

For the time being we do check on our broody hens regularly, to make sure they are getting food and water. (Usually once a day they will leave the nest to eat, drink, and deposit one extremely large poop.) Prolonged broodiness can lead to poor hygeine and diminished immunity--when we see this in a hen we might lock her out of the run for several days until she starts to look a little better (letting her in at night of course), or take more serious steps to "break" the hormonal cycle she is stuck in.
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chicken sitter said...

My broody hen has been sitting on 10 eggs for 23+ days. There are 4 eggs remaining. They are covered with eggshells and yolk. The nest smells bad. What should I do? The hen continues to sit on the eggs.

happygardeningmama said...

Hello chicken sitter, I apologize for the long delay in responding. Hopefully by now you have an answer, but for other visitors I'll reply because we've seen this as well.

If you have a very persistent broody hen, and it's gotten to the point where the nest and perhaps even that hen stinks, I would remove all the eggs, and throw out the old nesting material. In fact, you might want to have a clean of the entire coop to change the smell in the area.

Depending upon the breed of hen you have brooding, sometimes a good clean up of the nest & coop can break a broody hen. I did this recently with one of our Light Brahmas--she had very persistently been nesting on what turned into a stinky mess, and she herself began to smell awful.

Cleaning up the nest, and the entire coop, as well as thoroughly washing the nesting boxes made a huge difference.

Not all hens will respond this way, however. We have had some Buff Orpingtons be extremely, extremely persistent with their broodiness. One was so committed that we actually tried dunking her (not her head though) in a bucket of water to dramatically lower her temperature.

I don't know if I would recommend that in all but the most extreme cases. What we have seen over time is that our broody hens were much more rigidly broody when young, but as they aged, they became less intense about it.