Broodiness in backyard chickens: What to do with a clucky hen
A clucky chook is a hen who’s sitting on eggs, intending to hatch them. Here are the signs to look out for.
If you spot one of your backyard chickens sitting on a nest, and is:
- making a funny clucking sound,
- refusing to leave the chicken coop,
- looking grumpy,
- staring into space,
- trying to peck you if you touch her...
You, my friend, may have a clucky - or broody - hen. And it can happen to all breeds of chickens. Pullets can also become broody, although it's less common.
In short, she's ready to hatch out baby chicks in 21 days. Warm weather tends to breed this broody behaviour.
But some birds are serial year-round broodies, especially the heavy heritage breeds (large and bantam), Silkies, and Pekins. Some Silkies will lay around 12-20 eggs before becoming broody again.
Even if there are no eggs under her or you don’t have a rooster (which means the eggs aren’t fertilised) she may sit on the nest as if she is hatching a clutch of eggs.
What to do with a broody hen?
Breaking a broody hen - remove her from the nest
Do not leave her in the flock.
People ask me all the time why you can't leave a broody hen on the nest.
In the wild, a hen would only be broody for three weeks, assuming the eggs were fertile and hatched out chicks. But if you don't keep a rooster and the eggs are not fertile, your hen may sit far longer than 3 weeks, patiently waiting for these eggs to hatch, but of course they never will.
In this time, she will lose condition and be a nuisance to the rest of the flock. She will make egg collection hard with defensive pecking and can put off other laying hens and pullets from laying in that nest. Or, eggs can break as the rest of the flock carries on using the nest, and this may lead to egg-eating.
Also, if infertile eggs are left under a broody hen, the egg albumen (egg white) quickly deteriorates. If they are fertile, they may germinate, which will also spoil them for eating. I usually throw away any eggs that a clucky hen has sat on for more than 24 hours.
So, how do you stop a hen from being broody?
Place the hen in a separate pen or cage, away from the nest and where she can’t create a nest. Ensure she has plenty of food and water. After 72 hours, she should have lost her desire to sit.
Allow her to rejoin the flock, and watch that she doesn't run back to the nest. If she does, isolate her again for a further 48 hours before allowing her to rejoin the flock.
An interesting fact is that the longer you leave her sitting on the nest, the longer she will take to break and resume normal behaviour. So as soon as you see a hen on a nest in the evening, get onto it straight away!
Hatch your own chicks
The other option if you have a broody or clucky hen is to let her hatch some chicks with some fertilised eggs. This is a lot of fun, but you need to have a plan for any chicks that turn our to be roosters.
But if you have a hybrid layer that goes clucky, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to hatch chicks. These commercial layers often abandon the nest before the eggs hatch - these hens don’t make good mothers.
Want your chickens to be the healthiest and happiest they can be? I offer backyard chicken workshops, online programs, phone coaching, and in-person support to families, schools, and free-range egg farmers. Visit my online shop for natural, tried-and-tested poultry supplies in Australia.
Grab my free guide, The First 8 Steps To Naturally Healthy & Happy Backyard Chickens now!
Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.