Broodiness in Backyard Chickens: What To Do With A Clucky Chook
A clucky chook is a hen that’s ready to be a mama. 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 - chook. And it can happen to all breeds of chickens.
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 and return to their broody behaviour 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?
Hatch Your Own Chicks
Place some fertilised eggs under the hen and hatch out chicks of your own. But if you have a hybrid layer that goes clucky, I wouldn’t recommend hatching chicks. They often abandon the nest before the eggs can hatch - these hens don’t make good mothers.
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 spoil them for eating.
Remove Her from the Coop
Do not leave her in the flock. They will make egg collection hard with defensive pecking and even scratching.
Place the chook in a separate pen or cage where she can’t create a nest. Ensure she has plenty of food and water. After 72 hours, she will have lost her desire to sit.
Eggs can break as the rest of the flock carries on using the nest, and this may lead to egg-eating.
In the wild, chickens would only be broody for three weeks, assuming the eggs were fertile and hatched out chicks.
Other poultry behavioural issues
Stress is the number one cause of illness in backyard chickens in Australia. Yes, diseases strike, but stressed birds are far more likely to be susceptible to infection.
What Causes Stress in a Chicken?
- Overcrowding – do not fill your chicken house to maximum capacity
- Heat - e.g., lack of airflow and summer heatwaves
- Cold temps - e.g., frosty draft or uninsulated house in low temperatures
- Windy weather and insufficient shelter
- Wet or dirty chicken coop
- Poor feeding, including insufficient chook feeder space, poor quality feed, or even changes in chick feed
- Lack of water (an obvious one)
- Internal and external parasites
- A scare from a fox or other potential predator
How to stop chickens flying away? If you have issues with your chickens not staying in their yard, you can trim the feathers of their wings.
This is known as wing clipping.
By clipping the feathers of one wing, the chicken cannot fly straight – only in circles. This prevents chickens from discovering that they can fly over the fence.
If you have a determined chicken that can out-fly the clipping of one wing, trim the other side, too. The feathers will grow back each year after moulting, and clipping them doesn’t cause any pain or harm to the chicken.
Egg eating is a difficult vice to break. Chickens WILL eat their eggs if given a chance. A broken egg can be the trigger to the birds pecking other eggs open. The solution is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
- Collect the eggs as often as you can
- Put golf balls and china eggs in the nest as a decoy
- Ensure the eggs have a soft landing of nesting box materials and even fake grass as a liner, as many chickens lay semi-standing
- Have at least one nesting box for every 5-7 chickens; crowded nests increase the chance of eggs breaking
- Consider roll-away nesting boxes if the problem persists. They are not foolproof, but they help
Do you have chickens with bare patches around their tail, vent, or back? They could be moulting, but it’s most likely feather pecking by themselves or a flock member.
Feather pecking can be caused by boredom, or their diet may need adjusting.
What do backyard chickens need to stop this destructive habit? A well-balanced ration consisting of greens goes a long way in preventing feather picking. Avoid overcrowding and ensure that you have dark, comfortable nesting boxes.
Floor Egg Laying
Do you find eggs on the floor or outside—everywhere except their nesting box? Your girls are saying that they’re not happy with their nesting box and want somewhere darker and safer to lay. So, pick up any floor eggs as soon as they are laid.
Destroy any floor nests where your chickens have dug into their soil or bedding. Stop them from getting into dark corners. But, if this is the coolest part of the chicken coop, consider moving their nesting box to this spot.
Encourage your backyard chickens to lay in the nesting box by:
- Placing 2-3 golf balls or fake plastic or china eggs in the nesting box. This says to the chicken, “Someone else has laid here; it must be safe”
- Giving pullets access to nesting boxes two weeks before they start to lay
- Ensuring their perch is higher than their nesting box
- Adding Nesting Box Herbs to provide a calming effect on your birds. It has the benefit of also repelling lice, mites, and insects.
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.
Become an expert in Backyard Chickens 101 and check here for the latest tips and trends all about chooks.
Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.