Our 9-month-old hen Goldie began to go broody this past week.
At first I thought she was just having trouble laying her egg and I was concerned with her clucking all the time and sitting on the nest for hours. I thought she might be egg bound. Then Gene figured out that she was acting broody and we realized what was really going on – our first broody hen!
This is making things quite difficult for us right now because of the demands of having new chicks, the porch’s membrane roof research and quoting project, spring garden demands (two flats of native lupines, 48 comfrey slips and 6 custom grated fruit trees are coming soon and we must have the ground ready) as well as a big joint birthday dinner at the homestead this Sunday (more about that later on this week.)
When it rains…it pours…
Gene named this hen Goldie from the iridescent golden color in her hackles, the ruff around her neck that is prized by fishermen who tie their own flies. Of the five Cochin/Phoenix mixed chicks we rescued last fall, Goldie is the only one that has this unique and rich golden coloration. The golden hue against the subtle and contrasting black and teal and green shimmers is simply beautiful.
Goldie is second in from the right hand side.
Because my hens only started laying eggs about a month ago, it took me a couple of days to recognize this brooding for what it is, a deep hormonal desire to sit on her eggs and hatch them. When a hen goes broody, her pituitary gland releases prolactin, a hormone that stops her from laying. Her body and her hormones are telling her to brood but the catch is we have no rooster and that means no fertile eggs.
Hens who brood like this often do so endlessly without eating or drinking and often they starve themselves to death. So we knew we were going to have to break her of this desire for broodyness or she could be endangering her own life.
To Break a Broody Hen:
- Removing her from the nest box repeatedly, often multiple times a day which of course she does not like and she screeches loudly and goes right back on the nest at the first available opportunity.
- Finally closing off the chicken door which stops her access to the box (but also to the other hens as well, which obviously not a long-term solution.
- Separating her from the nest box in a more assertive way.
Story’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow also has a nice section on “Discouraging Broodiness.” I can recommend this too.
By Tuesday I decided to set up the dog kennel in the corner of the enclosed run for her. I put in leaves, food and water as well as a low wooden perch the same size as the one she is used to. This is a system that was originally set up for momma Clover when she began to peck her chicks after she “weaned” them and they would not leave her alone.
The dog kennel in the sandbox dusting pen in the North coop corner.
I give Goldie several, supervised, outdoor free-ranging periods throughout the day so she can exercise, take in the sunshine and of course find and eat worms. During these times the chicken door is latched shut so she cannot get back to the nest.
I know this sounds cruel. but I must remember that a hen who wants to brood but has no fertilized eggs can actually die from starvation and thirst if she will not leave the nest.
And when one hen is hogging the “favorite” nesting box that every other hen wants to use – big trouble resides in the henhouse. This requires constant monitoring by me as well.
Poor Goldie is very unhappy in her temporary, protective kennel home.
Her latest “stunt” is to fly up to the top of the nesting box and try to get in through the ventilation window which is blocked with hardware cloth. She also flies up to the rafters and tries to get in through the roof which of course is impossible with the corrugated plastic roofing panels covering it. This look like a serious injury in the making.
I am sorry Goldie girl, I feel really bad to have to put you through this agony but I have to protect your health above all….
I’ve read that a week is standard to break a broody hen from wanting to brood 24/7, sometimes two weeks, but we shall see just how stubborn Goldie is. She doesn’t yet realize just how stubborn this German chicken momma can be!
Small House homesteader and chicken momma, Donna