It’s been a slow 2016 egg wise for us. Our three big girls have spent most of the year moulting (read about it here) and not laying. Fortunately our two new bantams started and we had about a month of small but perfect eggs. Unexpectedly little Annie went broody. Oh no – we’ve been there before (and ended up with our hen hatching a duck)…….
A hen going broody means she lays for several days then sits on them until they hatch then she takes care of the chicks. For hen owners without a rooster a broody hen isn’t beneficial as the eggs aren’t fertilised so nothing will come of sitting on them. My experience of broody hens is with the young inexperienced ones – they stop laying and sit on the nest and they’re not even sitting on a stash of eggs! Butter chicken went broody a couple of years ago and we tried several ways to stop her going broody so at least this time we knew what was going on and what to do about it. This might sound like we’re all about the eggs but a hen going broody can do harm to herself by sitting on the nest and not getting off to eat or drink. There are several ways you can try and stop a hen going broody and we tried most of them with Butter –
- Throw her out every time you find her on the nest (very time consuming if she just keeps going back all day).
- Throw her out and also block the nesting boxes so she can’t get back in (obviously this can only be done when everyone else has finished laying. Not only time consuming but in practice unrealistic).
- Dunk the underbelly in cold water. Apparently when broody the underbelly of the hen heats up and dunking them in cold water can break this cycle. I never tried this as it seemed a bit extreme. In our latest case it was coming into winter so it seemed even more harsh.
- Pen treatment. The idea is as I mentioned above that the under belly heats up – if you can get them in a situation when they can’t hunker down and get warm (and broody) this will stop it. We used an upside down dog cage when Butter chicken went broody after trying the throw out of the nest method for several days and this worked. We lifted the cage off the ground with a couple of timbers and it meant that the base was now a wire base with air below – there was no area to hunker down and ‘nest’. We had a board on top for shelter and water in there for her. One day in there was enough to break the broody cycle. Unfortunately a few weeks later she went broody again. Wyandottes are prone to this apparently. So onto –
- Let them hatch the eggs method – maybe we should just let her get it out of her system. Our neighbour had some fertile duck eggs (no chook eggs but we figured she wouldn’t know the difference). She was happy to sit on the eggs – we had to get her out every day to make sure she would eat and drink so it was a long three weeks. This did stop her going broody – in fact she hasn’t gone broody again. I’m not sure if it was the process of having hatched some eggs or the horror – I hatched a duck!! Butter sat on three eggs and in the end only one hatched. Sadly our lovely hen turned from docile affectionate hen to monster in a matter of minutes when she saw her baby. Maybe it was because it was a duck or maybe she was just a mad mother – we’ll never know. By some miracle I was there when the duckin hatched and after letting our new mother look after her baby by trying to peck her to death for a while I had to intervene and take on mother duck role until we decided to send her back to our neighbour. The whole experience was an interesting one for us newby poultry owners and a pretty full on way to stop a hen going broody in the scheme of things.
So back to our latest broody chicken – little Annie has only just started laying so I’m really surprised she’s gone broody. Signs were absolutely unmistaken though –
- sitting in the nesting box for way longer than is necessary to lay an egg.
- Agro/feral behaviour when trying to lift or push her out of the nesting box. (Normally I wouldn’t need to interact with the girls while they’re in the box but if so – they are nice and agreeable. Not so Broody Miss – wear gloves if you want to try and get her out).
- Excessive preening at bottom feathers (to pull them out and line the box).
- Agro behaviour when pulled out of the box and put in front of food. Much song and dance – taking a run at Chino, gumboots and the other chooks.
- Lots of noise!!
(All of this is pretty obvious – once a hen sits too long on the nest box she’s probably not sick – she’s broody).
We didn’t have the option of the dog cage to borrow anymore and wanted to sort this quickly we we fashioned a pen to mimic what we’d used before. This was a wooden box which we turned on the side so it had a timber floor – we nailed a few timbers to make it less ideal to nest on then used some mesh to seal up the side. We put her in it during the day and back out at night to use the coop so it took three days before she stopped being broody. I think it would have been quicker if we’d had a similar cage to before as it had good air flow underneath. But at least she’s back to normal – I’m not having to wear gloves to get her out of the nest box so she can feed. The other downside to the broodiness was the flow on affect – our one other hen who was laying has stopped during all this so now we have five hens and no eggs. Hopefully we get some soon as I’m now buying eggs after deciding we would ride it out.