“I know you’ve addressed this topic before but I’d like to know how long a chicken will stay broody. I’ve got one that’s going on six weeks. There’s no roosters. Just eleven hens. I most always let them out to wander the backyard at night for an hour or two before sunset.
I’ve been throwing out the broody hen to get her to exercise. She complains a bit but then goes around and scratches in the dirt like her companions. But the next day she’s back to sitting on the eggs. She even sits after we’ve collected the eggs.” ~ Gershon, Santa Fe, NM
We haven’t addressed breaking a brood in about a year so I think it’s worth taking the time to address again.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term “broody”, it’s when a hen’s natural instincts tell her it’s time to start a family. It doesn’t matter if there is a rooster present or not. She will start collecting a clutch of eggs to incubate and she’ll stay on the nest longer and longer each day.
When her clutch is complete, she’ll stop laying and sit on the eggs for the 21 days it takes to incubate the eggs. It will be another 2 months or so before she’ll start laying again, the time it takes for the chicks to mature enough to care for themselves.
This is wonderful if you want to hatch chicks but if you’re like Gershon, and don’t have a hen, nor do you want to hatch chicks, having hen out of commission is not very convenient.
So Gershon, to specifically answer your question, the length of time a hen will stay broody, if left to herself, will depend upon her breed and how strong the instinct to brood is within the individual chicken.
Once you’ve broken her brood, it will likely take 2 to 4 weeks for her to start laying again.
It appears that you’re going to have to step up your game if you’re going to coax her out of her brood.
The good news is that I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble since she does stay outside in the afternoon and doesn’t run right to the next box.
Here’s a few things you can try:
Removing her from the nest often, can sometimes get her really frustrated with you, but convince her that this brooding thing isn’t worth the trouble.
Continue collecting eggs often, four or more times a day isn’t too many.
Get some light into the nest box. Broody hens like secluded, dark, cozy nests in which to prepare for their family. If you can get some light into the nest it will be much less appealing to your hen.
On the same note, remove all nesting material from the nest so it’s not so comfy.
In fact, not comfortable is your goal here.
If you can keep your hen from settling down and getting comfortable, you can snap her out of her brood.
Keeping her from her nest box can be quite effective. If you can put her somewhere that she cannot see her nest box for a few days, she might forget all about brooding.
If possible, put her somewhere that she is close enough to the others in the flock that they can see each other. This is in the hopes that she doesn’t lose her place in the pecking order.
Ideally this alternate location will be uncomfortable, like concrete floor uncomfortable. Just make sure she has food and water available.
If you don’t have an alternate location available, sometimes closing off her nest box will discourage her, other times she’ll just take up residence in another nest box but it’s an easy thing to try.
Another option would be to build or buy a simple cage with a wire bottom. Place bricks under the outside edges of the cage so that your hen gets lots of breezes to her undercarriage. Again, the point is to make her uncomfortable so that she’ll come out of her brood.
There are also cages available that are constructed with a slanted bottom. The cage is suspended from the hen house ceiling. Because the bottom is slanted, she has a hard time getting comfortable.
This might not want to be something you’d want to try but isolating a broody hen with a rooster can be quite effective; he’ll keep her quite busy.
Again, some hens are easy to break and others are just about impossible. Gershon, just hang in there and give it your best effort.
And for everyone, if you notice a hen starting to show the signs of broodiness and you’re not wanting chicks, start the process of breaking her of it early, before she really settles in. You’ll be more likely to get results faster the earlier on she is.
Once while addressing this issue, I shared a solution I read in a book; the authors mother used to pour a bucket of ice cold water over a broody hen to snap her out of it. I’ve never tried it. If any of you find the occasion to use this method, be sure to write and let me know how it worked.
Thanks again for the question.