We had been gifted recently with a rare sweet rooster and his companion hen. They are both “Heinz” chickens from a neighbor’s flock that needed to downsize after a glut of spring hatchlings. We had some room so we took them and all was well for a few weeks. Then one day I noticed the little gray hen, who I had christened “Ginty McFeatherfluffy” (Ginty for short), was going broody. I’m going to share with you a method I have found that works, but first let me tell you a little about broodiness.
A broody hen is a hen that wants to sit on a clutch of eggs in order to hatch them. It’s an instinct, and not all chickens have the urge so strongly. Ginty has it strong, but we don’t have a pen that is set up for chicks so it just wouldn't be a good idea for her to hatch any. If you don’t want your hen to hatch her eggs, you need to stop her broodiness as soon as possible. If she goes beyond the 21 days it takes to hatch eggs, she can die of malnutrition. You see, when a hen sits her eggs she doesn’t eat or drink but once a day, and having this go on too long can have unhappy consequences. You might think that if you just take the eggs away she will stop. I guess it could happen but I've never seen it. Once they’re in brood mode, they just sit there no matter what. They’ll even sit on infertile eggs or even an empty nest. They can’t help themselves. Nature flipped her switch and now she’s in the groove.
So if you see your hen sitting in her nest all day long for a couple days, you’ve most likely got a broody. Take action right away. The longer they sit there the longer it takes to stop them. You might also notice that her behavior gets very grouchy. Luckily my Ginty is not this way. She still lets me pick her up and she barely tries to peck me. However, most turn into the Tasmanian Devil, and you can’t get anywhere near them unless you’re clad up to the elbow in leather. You might see that she plucks her own breast feathers to expose the warmth and moisture of her skin directly to the eggs. I think this is where the expression "to feather one's nest" came from.
There are a lot of methods on the Internet. I think this way is the most humane. You need a large wire cage. I got one from my rabbit breeder friend. When you get chickens, this might be an item you want to have on the side, just in case.
What you’re going to do is take your broody darling from her dark and private nest and put her somewhere safe that’s well lit but not in direct sun. You’re going to provide her food and water, and then you’re going to wait. Depending on how long she sat on the nest, it might take a few days to reverse the broody hormone urge. In the cage she might go right back to sitting but eventually you’ll see her up and about. You can try taking her out now and putting her back in her normal home and see what she does. If she goes back to sitting, you just put her back in the cage. If you elevate the cage off the ground it helps cool off her bottom. A hen's temperature goes up a bit while she's broody. Also sitting on the wire floor is not as comfortable as the lovely nest so that’s an added deterrent.
This is Ginty in her cage within the coop. She’s in the shade. She has plenty of water and food but she’s still a bit upset. After all, this is odd and not what she had in mind. She settles down quickly because I put her favorite food – dried mealworms – in there with her along with the lay crumbles. Her pals flock around her for support. Later on I will take her some watermelon for hydration and some halved grapes. It’s for her own good. I hope it works for you. Let me know how it does.