I'm reading a lot about "hens go broody & stop laying" "broodies with no eggs" etc. So, I collect eggs every day. Is there a way to tell a hen is collecting for a clutch and I should leave the eggs in the nest?
I haven't had a broody yet, but from what I've read, the first signs are staying on the nest for quite a while and puffing up at you. When they are fully broody, they will stay on the nest even through the night.
My light brahma last summer did the staying on the nest thing for several hours. And when I went to collect her egg, she did puff up like a puffer fish and screached at me. (scared the crud outta me) But she never went fully broody, she would stay on the nest for 4 hours and scream at any chickens that entered the coop. But she snapped out of it after 3 weeks or so. (and she never stopped laying, or at least not for any length of time)
The same hen will be on the nest day and night, will pull eggs into the nest if she can (as with an open or community nest) and will be very reluctant to leave, even when fabulous treats are offered the rest of the flock. She will fluff up and may peck if you try to move her or collect the eggs (though THAT behavior is not unique to broody hens). Whether you leave them or not depends on what your plan is... chicks? Eggs? If you're not ready to deal with chicks right now, take away all the eggs as many times as you can during the day, take her off the nest. Put her up on the roost at night, and you may want to block off the empty nests at night if she goes right back. (You're going to feel like an old meany!) If that doesn't work and you really want to break up the broodiness, put her in a wire cage with air circulation UNDER her (with food and water, of course). There are some other threads on this site which may have more strategies. Good luck - it's tough to go against mother nature!
Hens are always "collecting" for the clutch. You just have to decide if you want to hatch them out. I have a separate "breeder" cage that, when I want, I'll put a hen and a rooster together for the last couple weeks of her laying cycle. Then I remove the rooster. Sometimes, however, a hen just won't brood. Period. You'll get to know which ones will and which ones won't, though. And through trial and error you'll be able to hatch out fairly consistently.
One more thing. One of the reasons I have a separate pen to brood is that most hens, once they realize one among them has "gone broody" will try and lay their eggs in her hen house. They're cheating...
Of I can't force her to brood. But, once a particular hen has laid 30-60 eggs I will pull her out of the pen along with a dozen eggs or so and place her in a very small cage. By her self. She will continue to lay another dozen or so until she has laid her clutch. She will then incubate. Works every time. I do not allow them to brood from the first egg of her new cycle because the first eggs usually won't hatch. I just feel this is a waste. I also write the date on each egg.