Complete Guide ~ Dealing With All Things Broody

By The Chickeneer · Feb 13, 2012 · Updated Feb 16, 2016 · ·
  1. The Chickeneer
    Knowing when your hen is broody:

    The first thing to do is to make sure that you have identified your hen as a broody correctly. Hens that are broody, or beginning to express broody behavior, you will notice, will stay in the nest box longer, and will puff up their feathers or growl when you come near, trying to peck at you if you touch them. Keep in mind the breed of hens you have, as some breeds are better at being broody then others, and will sport better incubating and mothering techniques with their chicks. Also remember, you should let the hen set on a pretend clutch of eggs for a couple of days, to a week, testing her to see if she is determined to hatch before you put eggs under her or let her set on her own clutch. Because, if she all of a sudden gives up, or leaves, you are left with partially developed eggs that will die in 6 hours if incubation fails to proceed.

    Breaking Broodiness:

    ~ putting ice cubes under hen (takes a couple tries)

    ~ breaking eggs, leaving them in nest box for her to see
    ~ blocking her nest box (with a peace of wood etc.)
    ~ take her out of the nest all the time

    ~ put her on the roost with the other chickens at night

    If you have an especially broody breed such as a Silkie, Cochin, Game breed, or pretty much any type of Bantam, you probably shouldn't have to worry if they will quit brooding during incubation, because these breeds have a notorious reputation for their spectacular brooding abilities. A broody hen will sit in the nest box all day, only coming out once each day to eat, drink, and defecate.If you ever have a hen from a breed that rarely broods, and she becomes broody, be very careful, she could either leave the nest during incubation or leave the chicks when they are still young. This has happened to me and many other people, so always have a backup brooder and incubator on cases like these.

    The signs of a broody hen:

    ~puffing up feathers ~having large droppings
    ~pulling feathers out ~only coming out of nest box once a day
    ~growling ~makes distinct clucking sound when outside eating

    ~pecking/biting ~staying in the nest box


    Broody Aggression:
    All hens that become broody develop a type of aggression to protect their eggs and defend their chicks. How this happens, depends on the individual hen.Hens that were more skittish prior to being broody will now become more aggressive than hens that were friendly and became broody. The reason why, is because the ones that were more skittish, now see you more as a potential threat to their young and will peck you trying to defend themselves.This just makes them even better mothers, fiercely protecting their chicks against predators, but this will also make the chicks that much more afraid, and skittish of people. To help prevent this, it is helpful to spend time with the broody and her chicks each day, or whenever you can.Hens that are more friendly, and used to people, will be much friendlier broody hens, although they will all growl and raise their neck feathers when you come, they might not peck you as hard, and will not mind your presence when she is foraging with her chicks.

    They will walk around looking like this And sitting like this

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Incubation and hatching:
    The hen will take care of most of the incubation. So you really don't have to worry too much. They pluck out some of their breast feathers, exposing their skin to the eggs, helping to heat the eggs better, regulating temperature, and controlling the humidity. They might kick out an egg or two from the nest box sometimes, this is because their instincts tell them that the egg is probably rotten or for some important reason, does not belong in the nest. Do not worry if your broody does some unusual things, it is usually for the good of the chicks. If you have one of the broodies from a breed that rarely broods, watch her closely, it is best to have a backup incubator in case anything happens or she "abandons nest". It is also good to have a backup incubator even with the especially broody type, because a predator or dog might eat them during their passing hour of eating and drinking, although rare, this has happened, and with having a backup 'bator, you can save the hatch.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    During the incubation period, the hens feeder should be a chick feeder filled with baby chick mash, and she should have a baby chick waterer also. This is to get her used to the idea, that there is where she eats, and that is her food. So when the chicks hatch, she is able to show the chicks where, and how, to eat & drink.

    Many people ask if you should take the hen off the nest during lockdown. Usually, a hen will get up off her nest each day to eat, drink, and eliminate.But the last three days of incubation, she might be more inclined to stay on the nest full time.It is not necessary for her to get up and eat on the day of hatch. She should set on the hatching eggs and not get up at all. But the few days before hatch day, it is advised she get up to eat and drink. I, personally wouldn't let the hen out for long periods of time during the lockdown period, because it could chill the eggs and possibly kill them, but she will know better to get off anyways, so now you worry that she needs to be fed. I always set a little bowl of food and water right in front of the nest box, so all she really needs to do is stretch her neck a little bit to gain access to it,and not messing up her hatch. This method is especially helpful in colder climates, where the eggs could chill shortly after the hen gets off the nest.

    Once the chicks start hatching, the hen knows by instinct to stay put and not leave the nest until most, or all the chicks, have hatched. If she decides to leave the nest with the already hatched chicks, and you see that there is still an egg or two that are hatching, or alive, take them into your house and set the eggs on a towel under a warm lamp.Once those eggs hatch, keep them inside and return them to the hen later on that night. If you think the hens stays too long on the nest once all the chicks have hatched, and there is only one egg left that you think is a dud, leave them alone. Do not fear for the hunger of the chicks.Newly hatched chicks still have yolk reserves from the egg, and don't have to eat for the first 24 to 48 hours. They evolved this way, because they have have to wait a day or two under the hen, before all the eggs hatch and the hen decides it's time to go outside.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Raising the chicks:
    Once the hen believes that enough chicks have hatched, she will take the chicks and head out of the nest box. She will teach them how to eat and drink. She will sit on them at night and keep them warm. She will pretty much show them everything there is for a chicken to learn and will protect them along the way. The hen and her chicks should be separate from the main flock for at least a week.

    It is preferred to have them separate from the flock, then put them in once the chicks are 2 months old. But If you so desire to have them with the main flock, there are some requirements that should be attended to. Make sure that the hen and her chicks, have their own nest box, that is on the floor, in a private corner of the coop. The chick feeders and waterers must be near the nest box, as they will spend much of their time there, for their first weeks of life. Also make sure to have chick grit, because if their going to be out free ranging with the big girls, they need to be able to eat grass and such and be able to digest it properly. If you have them separate from the flock, with their mother, in a little coop and they only eat chick mash, chick grit is not necessary. Chicks tend to get lost very easily, and can get stuck in the weirdest places. You need to count the chicks every night when they are in the nest box, and look for ones that are missing. It is also advised to have marbles or rocks in the water, as they tend to like drowning themselves. This is because they were used to swimming as a little embryo inside the egg, and once they hatch, they have a desire to jump into water, thinking they are still that little embryo. The desire to drown themselves fades away with age and they won't be doing it once they are 1 week old. But precautions still need to be taken care of.

    Raising the chicks with the rest of the flock is fairly dangerous, especially if there are roosters around. That is why it is preferred to have the mother and chicks in their own little separate coop. This will make it easier to keep track of chicks, so they don't get lost. It will also eliminate the possibility of other chickens attacking them. Their feeders and waterers should still be fairly near to the nest box, and waterers should still have marbles or rocks inside of them. Spending time with the chicks whenever you can, will help them to get used to people, and be more friendly. The chicks and the mother hen, should be mixed in with the flock once they are 2 months old. The mother hen will help her chicks find their place in the pecking order and will soon loose her broodiness, and the chicks will now be old enough to fend for themselves.

    Share This Article

Recent User Reviews

  1. Sinful chick
    "Where have you been???"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 25, 2018
    Seems I always make an excuse for asking, what I think, are dumb questions. I have heard the term, Brooding, etc , and I knew it had SOMETHING to do with setting...
    Well, now I know and I am so excited that I think I could recognize it now. (Matter of fact, pretty sure that’s what’s up with my Stephanie for the past 2 weeks..hmmm...) SO many articles that are published, as well as comments made, go right over my head...I don’t know all the “lingo” yet.
    This article was explained to me in “layman’s” terms! (Bad pun, sorry) THANK YOU!!


To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!
  1. CWDancer
    Thank you for this article. I have a very broody hen, she is a Black Star / Sex Link (1 yr. old), she puffs up when she is not on the nest. I thought it was really strange to see her dancing around like a puff ball, but didn't think anything of it. I don't have a rooster and collect my eggs daily, some days a few times a day.
    She sits on a purple granite egg that I had put in the box for the new pullets so they see where to lay eggs. She growls when I check to see if there are any eggs in the box she sits in. I'm half tempted to find someone in the area who has a rooster and get a dozen eggs just to see how she does raising a brood of her own.
    Many later this summer if the move doesn't break her of her broodiness.
  2. rdcowman
    I think i have 2 broody hens! One is a Black Australops (1yr old) and one is a Easter Egger (3yrs old). I do have a rooster, but he doesn't do anything, that i have seen anyway! I take eggs from under her, cause just in case they are fertile, i don't want chicks!:) haha When they do come out to eat, drink, and go outside, they make this clucking sound. After i heard that i was sure that they were broody. The Easter Egger has been broody before, and i didn't do anything about it, and a coupe weeks later she was done being broody!
  3. MimiChicken
    I had an old rabbit hutch that worked like magic. I put my broody hen inside with food and water and no nest material. After just a few days she longed to get out and forage and completely forgot her maternal instincts.
      KathryninQuebec likes this.
  4. KathryninQuebec
    I'm thinking that chicks raised by a good Mum will be good Mums too.
      MimiChicken likes this.
  5. Sallyintucson
    Break the broody attitude by placing the hen in a wire bottomed cage, like a rabbit cage, for a few days. Works like magic!
  6. Pixelvt
    But they can go broody with no rooster so no chicks, believe me I know
      MimiChicken and Sallyintucson like this.
  7. Dianekw
    Great article! Thanks! My broody has about 6 days to go before we expect to see chickies. Today she kicked an egg out of the nest. It was cold by the time I found it, so I didn't pop it back under her, but out of curiosity, I cracked it open to see what was up...there was a baby chick in the sack, and some blood around the sack(I cracked it into a plastic tub before I tossed it in the compost pile. I wonder why she kicked it it possible it wasn't developing correctly and she somehow knew? Or might it have been an accident, and she didn't mean to toss it? :-\ I had candled the eggs last night, and it looked like there's something in all of the other 8 eggs...I even saw some twitching in one of cool!!! I plan to keep them in with the flock, but I'll be watching and checking often to make sure the other girls and my roo aren't bothering them. I dont really have space to put them in another area, but I have a plan in my head, how I can separate off part of the run and maybe put a temporary "coop"(large cardboard box with nesting material) in there for them just in case there's trouble. What I'm wondering is...what's the best way to "mark" the chicks so I can tell who's who? I've got Bertha sitting on 4 Ameraucana eggs and 4 Buff Orpington - Ameraucana crosses(curious what those are going to end up looking like! LOL!), and I know I probably wont have 100% hatch(already lost chickie number 9 :-\), but I'm hoping I'll have at LEAST two of each variety, and I'd like to have some help telling them apart. Do they make the little ankle band that small? Or should I dot their feet with sharpies? Or ??? Also, I have the flock trained to drink from a watering system with nipples, so I have no messy water bowls, and no danger of drowning. Does anyone have any experience with baby chicks learning to drink from those chicken-nipples? Or should I set up the baby chick waterer for them? I just hate to do that, cuz when my original chickies used it they were constantly tipping it over and kicking bedding into it, and it was such a mess. It'd be great if broody mama could teach them how to get water from the nipples...I could mount some lower so they can reach em... ...and any advice on keeping the rest of the flock from eating all the chickie food? Any other advice for me on my first set of broodie hatchlings? Thanks so much! I'm sitting on pins and needles! ...wanna be prepared for all the possibilities!
    1. Fishkeeper
      You may want to make a post in one of the forums with your questions, it'll be more likely to be seen there.
    2. MimiChicken
      My experience was most hens are fantastic mothers. She will protect her babies against aggression from the flock and will offer her life if a hawk flies overhead. As for water, is it possible for you to put a stand alone water'er in a cage and only give the little ones access to it? I'm talking even a bird cage with the door completely removed to made inoperable. It's amazing how quickly they'll learn from their mother but for starters, they need an easy water supply. Because, you are correct, the larger chickens will muck up the water if they can. It's almost like a curiosity even though they have their own adequate water supply.
  8. Fishkeeper
    Nice article, but I sincerely doubt the chicks try to drown because they remember swimming inside the egg. By the time a chick starts to develop into something that can actually move and respond to its surroundings, there isn't much empty liquid space left. I'm pretty sure they're just little dummies who climb into the water because they don't know any better.
  9. allymcshop
    great article and advice. Mine is sitting and never leaves. I don't even know if the eggs are fertile!
    1. Sallyintucson
      You can buy a candler for a cheap price online. If there are chicks, leave them be.
  10. Henrik Petersson
    I don't agree with this: "The hen and her chicks should be separate from the main flock for at least a week." I think that if at all possible, the hen and chicks should be with the flock, so all individuals get used to one another.
  11. chuckachucka
    I have a question! I like the idea of integrating hen and chicks back into flock early but how do you stop the other chickens eating the chick food?
    1. EggSighted4Life
      Chick food won't hurt the other chickens. I personally have everyone on flock raiser with oyster shell available for active layers... and NEVER switch feed. The layers will enjoy the extra protein and you may even see an increase in overall health and beauty since feathers are made from 90% protein and it's amino acids.
      Mimi’s 13 likes this.
  12. birdbrain1948
    Thanks for all the ideas evryone. Happy Easter!
  13. Jack Speese
    Oddly enough the best broody hen I ever had was a Black Star/black sex-link, which is a commercial egg laying hybrid and supposedly not broody in the first place. Go figure! I did have a few cochins once, beautiful birds and also great setters. I hatched a clutch of mallard duck eggs under one and a bunch of mixed breed chicks under two of the others. Unfortunately a few years later I lost them both, while they were brooding, to a raccoon that broke into the pen (and paid the ultimate price for my opinion, anything that breaks into a pen is vermin and will be treated as's one thing if the birds are out loose free-ranging; I don't like it but I expect an occasional loss, but breaking into pens and coops I won't tolerate).
  14. mosander
    Great article! This is my 3rd time with a broody chicken. My first was an Orpington. She had two eggs, but the first hatched chicken left the nest and so did the hen and she left the second egg and it died. Sweetie, the new chick, is now laying eggs as a pullet. The second was a Silkie who hatched 5 Australorp eggs, that are now bigger than she is. It is a scream watching the 5 huge black Australorps (3.6 months old) running after their Silkie mom. My largest Australorp hen is now sitting on a clutch of 13 Rhode Island Red eggs and should hatch 3/9. I put them in a rabbit cage with a plastic nest box. After the chicks hatch, I will put chickie food and water in the box. This is soooo much better than raising them myself. However, the mother chicken will begin to lay eggs again about 2 months after hatching, which has been my signal to reintroduce them to the flock. They stay in the rabbit cage for a few days until everyone is acclimated. Then the mom is let out to reestablish her dominance. After another week or so the chickies join the flock too. They return each morning to their special food and water separate from the flock.
      Farm boy 14 likes this.
  15. Jack Speese
    I've never had problems with a rooster bothering chicks either. As long as everyone has plenty of space, they've always gotten along fine. But I do have problems with other hens trying to share the broody's nest or the broody herself getting back on the wrong nest unless I isolate her from the rest of the flock in some way. With ducks I've never had this problem, but with chicken hens I have.
  16. tstoikes
    My hens hatch in the coop. I have a couple of tops off cat boxes to give the littles a place to hide. The roosters stay away until the chicks are about a week old. Then they begin feeding and protecting the chicks. I have one older rooster that the weaned chicks go to if they are cold at night. He is cochin/silkie and very feathered. The chicks snuggle under him. Never had to do the water with marbles except with poults. I try to limit my first time broody hens eggs till I see if they are good Moms. But I rarely have problems with the hens. Mine also rarely pluck feathers.
      Farm boy 14 likes this.
    Forgot to add.........I've never had a problem with roosters deliberately hurting chicks. As a matter of fact, I had a hen hatch a winter brood about 6 weeks ago, so I put her in one of our "safety cages" (again - dog crate covered with 1/2" hardware cloth) and put her in the green house with a rooster whose feet were deformed. Now she and "Tippy toes" share the responsibilities and snuggle side by side at night with baby heads poking out everywhere.
      Chickens_4Life likes this.
    Great article; great photos!
    I do farm bird rescue and do not isolate any breeds. They get to free range, intermingle, and interbreed. I have 3 chicken houses and two horse stalls devoted to my little community. One of the horse stalls is completely covered inside with 1/2" hardware cloth (in case of rats), has a chicken sized door to the outside where there is 20' X 30' pen of 1" chicken wire, completely covered. My hens can and do set in whichever house they live in, but as soon as the babies hatch, mother and kids are transferred to the Maternity Ward. They stay there until they are off baby food (5-6 mo.) If mother looks antsy and starts running along the edges of the maternity pen and the kids are big enough to maintain body heat, I let her out.
    There are hens and then there are Darwin hens. These are hens that if there were a Darwin award for mother hens; they'd get it! We had a hen who set right out on bare ground in front of the barn. We put a cage over her. When the kids hatched, she took off for the high grass with the kids in desperate pursuit, then she turned around and trampled them before I could get to her. Her next year's two chicks saw how things were and ran away and joined another brood.
  19. Jack Speese
    One thing I would add to this neat article (love the pictures too!), and that is to move the broody to a separate pen or coop, again with dummy eggs to make sure she is settled. I generally do this at night, and put a (well-ventilated) basket over her to keep her on the nest. The next morning I uncover her. If this doesn't work I'll let her back in the flock and try again a day or so later. Once she is settled, I'll give her the eggs I want to hatch. The reason that I do this is because when they leave the nest to eat and drink, hens seem to be notoriously dumb about getting back on the same nest. If they have the choice, they are just as likely to make the wrong choice and get on another nest and leave their eggs to chill. Also, other hens will lay in the nest of the broody, resulting eggs of different ages in the same nest and more likely in the eggs being chilled, pushed out of the nest, and broken. I've had an occasional broody not take to being moved, but I've NEVER had one successfully hatch that I didn't move. With waterfowl hens this doesn't seem to be a problem, but with chicken hens I think it is necessary to move the broody or else confine/isolate her in some way from the rest of the flock so she can't get back on the wrong nest and so that other hens don't try to use her nest too.
      chuckachucka likes this.
    1. GardenJen77
      What did you do with the hen you couldn't move? I have one that we can't seem to move. She goes right back to the other nest.
  20. Bigwig
    Great Article!
  21. chiengora
    I have never had a hen hatch eggs for me but I have twice purchased day old chicks and had a hen raise the chicks.
    After the broody hen had been setting on dummy eggs for a couple of weeks, I put the day old chicks under her after full dark when the hen and chicks were asleep. I had no problems with her accepting the chicks this way.
    I was amazed at how much faster the chicks grew. I didn't have any with respiratory issues and a much lower incidence of pasting up than when I raised chicks in a bin in the house.
    I locked the hen and chicks in the coop for a little over a week and then let them out with the other hens. (I have no roosters.) I never saw the other hens bother the chicks but the foster mother was very good at keeping the other hens away until the chicks were partially grown. All of my chickens are Americunas.
  22. redsix
    The easiest way to break up a broody hen is to place her in solitary confinement. I have a dog cage (crate) that I use for this. I spread a few of the bars apart so that she can get her head out to eat and drink. I leave her food just outside the cage. It usually only takes a couple days to get her stopped. Some people call it "breaking her up".
  23. redsix
  24. Ole rooster
    I have two bantams that set together. One went broody and I had her on six eggs. ISBars and Bielenfilders. The broody hen must have talked the other one into helping out. She was setting all day and still laying. I've tried to separate these two but it just doesn't work.
  25. joydix
    i think it depends on the hen. i had two bantam cochins. i let them decide when to move into the big coop from the baby coop. one waited for at least 6 weeks or more and then slept with them till they were twice her size...they were black copper marans! the other bantam cochin marched hers up to coop at about 3 weeks, showed them the layout, where to dust bathe and she was done! she did not protect them very well so i kept them in baby pen till they could fend for never know i guess if it is a hens first time.
  26. louiseoz
    I loved this article, really helpful but Im not sure about the statement; 'The chicks and the mother hen, should be mixed in with the flock once they are 2 months old. Just needed to integrated my hen and four chicks into the rest of the flock and EVERY forum member who answered my queries said the same thing- GET THEM IN EARLY ideally around 2 weeks of age! After a short while the other chickens will attack the mum as an outsider and once her chicks hit 4 weeks of age her hormones start to diminish and she is less likely to protect the chicks and more likely to try to just reestablish herself in the pecking order. Just a thought :)
  27. jak2002003
    I never have had problems leaving the hen and her chicks with the main flock.....and there are 3 roosters with the 6 hens. The roosters are wonderful to the chicks and would never harm them. When the chicks get the the hopping and flapping about stage the top rooster loves to take over from the hen and show the chicks around the garden, what to eat, and teach the cheeky ones good manners.
  28. Beginningbreede
    what does it mean when a hen wont let her chicks out from under her an if they leave she pecks them
    You said "Raising the chicks with the rest of the flock is fairly dangerous, especially if there are roosters around." That is probably good advice unless the roosters are Silkies. My four Silkie boys have been taking care of the 6 month-old chicks since they were only 3 days old and now are helping with the new batch which are less than a week old. The roos find food for the chicks and keep them warm when they need a nap and in general look out for the babies, which are successfully integrated with the flock.
  30. cindyparker65
    I have a great laying chicken she has hatched 3 new babies and was still setting so i put eggs under her that the other hens layed to see if she will hatch them out don't know first attempt at chicens any advice will be nice and how laying pellets shoud I feed 6 hens and a rooster i'm afraid I am not feeding them enough. thanks for the article
  31. artsy1
    FANTASTIC........................THANKS.............MOM SHOWED BABIES HOW TO EAT TODAY..............YEAH
  32. ChestnutRidge
    Great article! Love the puffy broody pictures. :)
  33. CarolJ
    Thanks for this article. I just noticed yesterday that one of my Araucanas is broody. Right now she's sitting on a couple of ceramic eggs. I will collect some fertile eggs over the next couple days and put them under her. This article was REALLY helpful to me. :)

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: