Attila the Hen went broody! It was mid-June and my number one layer decided her talents would be better dedicated to incubating chicks then laying eggs! Ok. What’s a broody hen? A broody hen is a hen who has got it in her mind that chicks are on the way. She is compelled to sit on the nest, irritable and aggressive, until her sweet little chicks are born. She will not lay any eggs or come out to play. But there’s no eggs in the nest?! I practically catch them as my girls lay them! Well that doesn’t matter. She will sit there just the same and do her due diligence to successfully hatch her chicks, imaginary or not.
It is not exactly known why a hen goes broody. It is a mixture of hormones, instinct and age. And why or when a hen will brood can not be predicted. Some breeds are more prone to it then others as are some hens. Some hens will go broody once and then never again, some every couple of months. Now this is my first experience with brooding but I certainly knew it when I saw it. In the early days of becoming a chicken mama I had read about this brooding thing. And as the days got longer and warmer, the eggs became frequent and plentiful, I came to a confidence that brooding is a problem other people have with their hens. Not my girls…. Well thank you Attila!
It was a Saturday that I noticed Attila sitting on the nest. Now sometimes these ladies take their sweet time laying so I left her to it. But hours later she was still sitting. In the exact same spot. I reached in to give her a nudge, ask her what’s going on and the she tried to bite me! That’s when I knew. None of my girls have ever shown aggression to anyone! I then knew we had a broody.
I racked my brains trying to remember all the things I had read on ‘what to do with a broody hen’. Something about a month until chicks hatch, then the hen snaps out of it, or you stick her in a cage? We let her be as we were hosting company that day and once it got dark Curt pulled her out of the nest and stuck her on the roost in her usual spot next to Princess.
Sure enough the following morning we found her in the nest box. Curtis pulled her out again and we found two eggs in the nest. With the knowledge that the other hens had laid we blocked the nesting area off from everyone. Well, Attila was not impressed with this. She wandered around, feathers poofed out, clucking to let us know of her displeasure.
Attila is the alpha hen. Princess had us fooled at first but over time I came to realize that Princess is, just indeed that, a princess. Attila rules the roost and unfortunately for Annie, it can sometimes be with an iron beak. Knowing this I had concern about where Annie would end up going to lay. Attila and Princess have a relationship that allows Princess to be very close to Attila. I’ve seen them share the nest box in the past. But poor Annie will get pecked for standing in the wrong place. It was important that she have a place to safely lay her eggs. I filled another milk crate with pine shavings and hay and placed it in the coop.
Back to dealing with Broody. I did some reading. It takes 21 days to incubate chicks and have them hatch. If left to her own devices, Attila will sit for 21 days until the “chicks” hatch and then return to her normal self. But… And there’s always a ‘but’, some hens will remain in a broody state because there are no chicks. This can be very hard on them as they are not drinking or eating much (I’ve even heard of hens starving themselves to death!). A brooding hen will leave the nest once a day to have a drink of water, eat some food and take an enormous, smelly pooh. Of course to maintain this behavior for long would have it’s effects. If I was interested in raising some chicks this would be an ideal opportunity. I could stick the eggs in her nest and let her do all the work. But I am happy with my three and feel no urge to raise babies.
After gathering my information, the first plan of attack on ‘breaking the broody’ was to check the nest as often as possible and pull her out of it. Over and over. Once the other girls had laid for the day we could then block access to the nests and leave Attila to wander the yard clucking. I feel for her. I really do. It’s hard when your hormones are all out of whack and the thing you want to do is not what you’re suppose to be doing and everyone is telling you you’re wrong. Life is hard for a broody.
After three days of pulling her out of the nest, chasing her away from the coop, moving her to the roost after dark and listening to her wander around complaining I decided to up the ante. After we found her on the nest for another morning and pulled her out I placed an ice pack in the nest. A hens body temperature rises to provide warmth for the fertilized eggs. She may even pluck her chest feathers out to allow her warm skin to have direct contact with the eggs. As far as I could tell Attila had not gone this far and apparently this ice pack trick could work to cool her down and make her forget she ever wanted chicks.
Well it didn’t. Attila made herself very comfortable right on top of the ice pack, multiple times. At this point I kind of gave up. Brooding wasn’t going to kill her and my other girls were still laying. There was no immediate shortage of eggs so I let her be. Curtis still moved her to the roost at night. That, at least, we weren’t going to give up. But after a few days even that got tiresome. We completely left her to be. She would still come out from time to time. Usually in the morning and wander around with the other girls, scratching and being a chicken. But then, shortly after emerging, she would march back to the nest to tend to her “eggs”.
Annie began using the other nest box. Thankfully. But after leaving her egg behind Attila would move in to steal it. She had no interest in sitting in the new nest but she sure wanted the egg under her. I started to find eggs pretty much anywhere in the coop and Attila sitting right on top of them. She even managed to roll one right out the door and break it. I decided to give her the allotted 21 days. After that I intended to put her in a dog cage. Lifted off the ground, with nothing but food and water. No nest. Nowhere to cozy up. She’d have a cool breeze under her belly at all times and hopefully remember how great being a non-brooding chicken was.
A new dog cage would cost close to $100 and driving around all over the place to buy a used one wasn’t appealing. I remembered that our neighbors had a whole bunch of old mink cages kicking around. Our property and the one neighboring used to be rather large mink farms. We got in touch with the neighbors and asked if we could steal a couple cages off them to make into a “broody jail”. They agreed so we ended up with three cages in a row.
The game plan was to remove the center barriers and create a single larger cage. I got some side cutters and got to work. I removed the dividers in the cage and pulled what would’ve been the old floor off. It was pretty well rusted out in some spots. I reattached the center barriers to the side I’d removed and fashioned a door. I zip tied all the original mink doors closed and ended up with a spacious cage enclosure for Attila. That night before bed I asked Curtis how much he wanted to bet she wasn’t broody in the morning…
The next day Attila came wandering out with everyone else in the morning. Just as I thought, as soon as I finished up the cage she snaps out of her broodiness! But it wasn’t long before I saw her marching back to the coop and onto the nest. Oh well, looks like she isn’t over it. I decided to use this opportunity to do a big clean of the coop and nest boxes and replace all the bedding and straw. I moved the broody girl, nest box and all, out side while I cleaned. Eventually she left the box and marched off clucking. “She’ll be back” I thought. I cleaned out her nest box and then set up her “broody jail”. I placed the cage on two 2x4s, leaving the center of the floor exposed to free moving air. I put a dish of fresh water in it and some food that I had wet slightly. (It helps prevent the grumpy girl from just spilling the food everywhere instead of eating.)
Curt and I agreed to let her be with the others outside and once back on the nest we’d stick her in the cage. But she never went back to the nest. After all the trouble I’d gone to, the curse was lifted without my intervention! Or was it? I checked in on them late that night and sure enough she was back on the nest! The next morning she was moved into “broody jail” for a time out. I’m going to admit. I felt bad doing it to her. It isn’t a comfortable looking place to be stuck in. But she seemed to take it well and she had food and water. She would still be exposed to lots of day light but not directly. We were in the beginning of what was ramping up to a considerable heat wave. But it couldn’t be any worse then sitting in a nest box all day. And it was only for a couple of days!
I had struggled with deciding whether or not to let her out the following day. Just to see what she’d do. Maybe she’d be broke of it and back to normal?! I think the reality was I just hated seeing her in there. But I didn’t want to extend this process any longer then it had to be so I left her. By Saturday afternoon I really felt like she was returning back to her old self. She didn’t seem as grumpy and she stood up and looked interested anytime I went into the run. But I remained strong. Attila wasn’t to be released until Sunday morning.
Sunday morning rolled around and I went out to the run. Everyone was awake and ready to be let out. I opened the door to the broody jail and let Attila out. I gave her a hand getting down and then she was off, running out into the yard to be with her sisters. For the entire day I was still unsure if the spell had been broke. She had, after all, deceived us before. As dusk settled on us I watched as everyone made their way back to the coop. I don’t think the thought even crossed her mind to go to the nest. With a few hops up to the upper roost she was settled in for the night. Broody busted!!
Like every experience I end up in I like to think that the journey is worth the knowledge I gain coming out of it. I know a lot about brooding hens now. Over the course of this year I’ve learned a lot about chickens in general. From combating scaly leg mites and treating for worms to diet requirements and dust baths. There is so much more to these silly little creatures then most people recognize. I dread the day where my learning curve will take me to patching up an injury or dealing with an egg bound hen (that’s where the egg gets stuck inside them…. it actually happens!), but owning animals of any kind requires the ability to step up and do what needs to be done for them. You, after all , are their support. You are the one they turn to for help. So it must be you that is ready grab that responsibility by the reigns and ride it out.