I still remember when our first hen went broody last year. It was so exciting! We left her in the nest box she choose for a couple days, and it all went downhill from there. Other hens laid eggs in her nest box, after the initial eggs had started incubating. Then when her eggs were half way done, she jumped off her nest and went to another nest box to try to incubate those eggs!
This particular hen also refused to get off her nest to get food and water, and reaching our hands in the box to put anything in there for her was risky (we were always afraid she was going to peck us).
We got it sorted out and she ended up hatching 8 super cute chicks. I learned so much in the process though, that we now have a system in place in case a hen ever goes broody so we can avoid those issues.
The Ultimate Guide to Caring for a Broody Hen
First, you need a broody hen.
Identifying a Broody Hen
A broody hen will pick an area and stay there. She might hide in the tall grass, or just pick a nest box. She will stay at her nest all day and night. When approached she might growl, fluff her feathers, and try to peck at you.
Broody hens always have big foul smelling poop. Some hens refuse to leave their nests and will poop in the nest.
So you see that she is broody, now what?
Set Up a Nest For Her
We used old rabbit cages, dog cages or you can build some sort of brooder. Inside the cage we place a feeder with chick starter, water and the nest. Make sure she has enough space to get off the nest to relieve herself. The cage should also be on the ground so that once the chicks hatch the can get in and out.
Give her 5-6 plastic eggs and lock her in the cage. She might not run over to the nest and lay on the eggs right away. Especially if this is her first time, she may be agitated that you moved her off the nest she choose.
She should settle on the plastic eggs by the end of the day, if not you can give her one more day. If she didn’t settle on those eggs, she is probably not really broody. If she did settle on the plastic eggs just fine, it’s time to give her some real eggs.
Get Fertilized Eggs
If you have a rooster, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you want to introduce some new breeds to your flock, this is a good chance to do so! You can ask around for local breeders or check Craigslist for fertilized eggs.
You can test fertility by looking for the bulls-eye in the yolk of your eggs.
Give her 10-12 eggs, and you want to put them all under your broody hen at the same time so they will all hatch together.
Incubation takes 3 weeks for chicken eggs, mark your calendar! Make sure to keep your hen supplied with food and water, but don’t stress if she doesn’t eat much. Some hens will get off their nest a couple times a day, some are too loyal and appear to never leave their nest.
You might notice that she kicked an egg out of the nest. If she does, candle it to check for viability. Broody moms have an instinct to kick out eggs that are infertile, or not developing correctly, but sometimes a perfectly good egg falls out. This site has good images to show what you are looking for when you candle an egg.
We keep the cage locked so that other hens don’t bother her during this time.
Hatching and Chick Care
About 3-4 days after the chicks have hatched, open the cage and let the mama take them out, if she wishes. At this point she will protect them from the flock. I still provide food and water inside that cage for her and her chicks, but about a week after hatching the mama will spend a lot of time teaching her chicks to scratch for food.
The hen will start to show her chicks where to sleep at night, and integrate them into the flock. After about 4-5 week she will start to lay eggs again and distance herself from the chicks.
Hens do not each much while brooding, and then molt afterwards. She might look skinny and beat up after her chicks hatch. This is normal. Feed her well and she will recover.
That means it’s time to clean up her brooding cage, and get it ready for the next broody hen!
Have any questions? Ask below in the comments.
Do you want to learn how to take better pictures with your phone? Here is my 5 step guide, FREE for my subscribers.