You’ve likely heard the term “broody hen” before. It’s well known within the chicken community that some chicken breeds are excellent broody hens while others are terrible. Yet, exactly what does it mean to be “broody?” Is this something man can influence, or is it something that is genetic?
Broody Chickens Generally Make Excellent Mothers
Broodiness is the natural tendency of a hen to care for her flock of chicks. Broodiness comes and goes in cycles; it is not a constant state of being. When a hen “goes broody,” she experiences a strong desire to care for and protect her eggs. She will rarely leave them, rather sitting on them to protect them.
According to James Kash in his January/ February 2013 Backwoods Home Magazine article “Broody Biddies Make Sense on the Homestead,” “Broodiness is an avian behavior that is frowned upon in the world of agriculture.” Why? Broodiness inhibits egg production. If you want a constant supply of eggs, not chicks, broodiness is not productive.
However, broodiness can also be very beneficial. If you’d like to increase the size of your flock, having a broody hen will do this inexpensively. You also won’t have to worry about incubating your eggs, because the hen will do this. Broody hens can maintain your flock, especially if you use some of your birds for meat. Mother hens are also good protectors of their young and teach them helpful skills, such as foraging. She’ll teach them to eat and drink and keep her chicks warm and safe at night.
How Can You Tell If Your Hen Is Broody?
If you suspect you might have a broody hen on your hands, there are a few signs you can look for to make sure. A broody hen will spend a lot more time at her nest or nesting box and will be very protective of it, fluffing up her feathers, pecking, or even making a growl-like sound. Broody hens tend to be irritable. Allow your hens to nest away from other pets and chickens, because they can be quite mean to any animals (or children!) who come too close. A broody hen may only leave her nest to eat, water, or defecate. She may even pull out some of her feathers. Are you seeing these signs in your birds? If so, you’ve likely got a broody hen on your hands.
Be careful, though, because not all broody hens are good mothers. Some will abandon their eggs or young chicks and if this happens, you’ll need a good stand-by brooder or an incubator to keep these chicks alive.
Some chicken breeds, like Cochins, Silkies, New Hampshire Reds, Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Dorkings, and Old English Games are very likely to become broody. This is a genetic thing and is much more likely in some breeds than in others. Hens cannot be made to go broody. In fact, broodiness is a trait that has been bred out of many chicken breeds because broodiness inhibits egg production and many in the agricultural business consider this a bad thing. The leghorn is an example of a chicken breed that very rarely goes broody.
If you want to increase the size of your flock, choosing a broody breed may be just the answer. Keep in mind that broodiness varies even within a breed and some birds are naturally better brooders than others. With a little bit of research and some luck, keeping broody hens can be hugely rewarding.