Human logic says nature can be controlled. Sometimes human logic is right. Sometimes not.
When my Buff Orpington hen, Harriet, went broody early this year, I decided to flow with nature. I gave her a clutch of fertilized eggs and watched her faithfully hatch and raise them in the ways of chicken-ness. She was a great mama and she made my heart proud.
However, when Harriet decided that she wanted to hatch out another batch of chicks, this time I put the breaks on. It hasn’t even been four months since the last chicks were born and I decided, in my human logic, that wasn’t enough time in between (sitting on eggs is hard on a hen—she rarely gets off the nest, doesn’t get very much exercise, doesn’t get enough food and water, and loses weight). I also decided that I wasn’t ready for another batch of cute fluffy chicks in the chicken coop. I didn’t want to stress out the rest of the flock by overcrowding.
So, human logic went into full swing. There are lots of theories, tested and otherwise, that instruct you on how to help your hen over her broody spell without actually allowing her to hatch a clutch of eggs. I made my list and got to work.
The first thing I tried was to take Harriet off the nest (in which I’d already removed her eggs) and put her in the empty rabbit hutch. The hutch is suspended off the ground and has a wire bottom. The theory is that her underside will be exposed to cooler air therefore cooling her down and breaking her of the broodiness. Place only food and water in the cage with her and in a few days she’ll be back to normal. Several seasoned chicken owners swear by this advice.
Harriet, however, wasn’t having this locked in a rabbit hutch business. She freaked out, trying desperately to get out of the cage and back to her (empty) nest. After keeping her in the cage for the afternoon and her showing no signs of calming down, I took her out. Her beak was bloody from bashing the cage front, for which I felt terrible. She immediately ran back to her nest and settled in. Content at last. Ahhh.
On to Plan Two: I put Harriet out for recess, let the rest of the girls out, and closed up the coop. The theory behind this idea is that she’ll get distracted frolicking in the great outdoors and forget about the (still empty) nest. She didn’t. This time, instead of running herself ragged trying to get out, she did the same thing trying to get IN. She paced the wall of the chicken run, distraught, banging her head against the wire trying to find a way in.
When she wouldn’t give up, I let her back in. Again, she made a beeline to the nest and plopped down relieved.
I wasn’t finished though. On to Plan Three: ice cubes.
This idea is similar to the first in that you find a way to cool her off—instead of allowing cool air to do the job, you place ice cubes under her to sit on. I decided ice cubes alone would make too big of a mess as they melted, so I froze ice in plastic Easter eggs and stuffed them under her.
(Below is the cutest video of her first helping me arrange the frozen eggs and then shivering from their coldness.)
Then I made a trip to the feed store to see about the availability of some day old chicks. This was Plan Four. I decided, if she wasn’t going to give up, I’d at least lessen the torture, get her a couple of chicks, and give them to some friends who are in the market for some new chickens.
All the chicks at the feed store that day were 4-5 days old. At this point, they probably wouldn’t imprint on their new mama and therefore, wouldn’t know to listen and obey her. I decided to come back later in the week for the one day old chicks I wanted, when the new shipment arrived in.
I went back home and resorted to Plan Five with Harriet. This time I just came out and removed her from her (still empty) nest several times a day. Each day she stayed off of it longer, but eventually returned. Finally, the day before I got her some day old chicks, she was out in the run when I came to check on her. YAY! Success! She was off the nest at last.
It’s not always possible to bend the forces of nature. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I figure Harriet and I are even right now. The first time she went broody, I let her have what she wanted. The second time I won. Eventually.
UPDATE: After several years now of dealing with broody hens, I’ve come to deal with it one of two ways:
- The above rabbit hutch solution–this works the best and quickly. The mistake I made the first time with Harriet was that the hutch was facing the chicken coop. Once the coop was removed from view of the hen in the cage, this is a great solution. Works 100% of the time. If you catch the broodiness early, it will only take a day or so in the cage, if it’s been going on longer, it will take a couple more days.
- Let her get over the broodiness herself. They DO eventually return to normal. And sometimes I just wait it out with them.