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“Broody” or “Setting” Hens

23 May 2010

Sweetpea ruffles her neck feathers. She's not amused at being disturbed in the nestbox.

We are putting buckets in the nest at 4:00 p.m. each day after the hens have finished laying their eggs. After 21 days of “setting” we want Poppy to get back to roosting on the roosts with the others and stop being “broody”.

We used to call them “setting” hens when I was a girl. Today we refer to them as “broody”. Both terms refer to a hen that sits on a nest….. day after day after day. It works like this. Whether or not you have a rooster, a hen will lay a certain amount of eggs in her lifetime. Some breeds lay more, some less. If you have a rooster, the eggs will be fertile and if given the right conditions, will hatch into baby chicks. This is beginning to sound like Sex 101, isn’t it?

In their natural state, hens with a virile rooster will lay a clutch of eggs, then begin “setting” on them. In 21 days, if the eggs have been kept warm, they will hatch and the hen will protect them and show the chicks the ropes for their first month of their  lives.

Alas, as you know, we don’t have a rooster because they crow and might disturb neighbors. Our hens have never “known” a rooster (in the biblical sense) and don’t seem to miss one. Their eggs are just as healthy as fertile eggs, but will not hatch. Two of them have desperately tried to hatch eggs; their own and those of their flock mates. Sweetpea was the first to become “broody”. We took her off the nest several times a day to eat and drink. We also took her off the nest each night (when she couldn’t see in the dark and couldn’t return to the nest) and put her up on the roost with the other hens. In the late afternoons, when we were sure the hens had finished laying their eggs, we closed the door to the henhouse so she couldn’t get back into the nest boxes.

Poppy lets Petunia into the nestbox to lay an egg. Then Poppy will try to hatch it.

Hormones cause the hens to be “broody”. During this period of time, their temperature increases and they pull the feathers from their chests so their bare skin can “get down” on the eggs and keep them warm. By removing the hen from the nest, and putting her on the roost at night, we are hoping to decrease her temperature and break her “broodiness”. So far, nothing has worked with Poppy and there she sits. Day 15!

There is a drastic measure to break broodiness which we haven’t been able to summon the courage to try. That is to put the hen in a wire cage so that she can’t nest and her temperature will drop. It is referred to as “Broody Jail”. Supposedly it cures the hen in less than a week. I’m afraid poor Poppy, who has never experienced wire under her feet, and is a bit “anxious” by nature, would be traumatized. Then again, it would be a great relief to get her back to laying eggs, scratching in the dirt, and roosting alongside her sisters again.

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21 Comments to ““Broody” or “Setting” Hens”

  1. Putting buckets in the nests is a good idea. Your hens are so pretty. I love the polkadot look. I have tried to leave comments before but they don’t show up. Hope you had a good weekend.

  2. Hi Callie. Your comment went through! I only had to put in the buckets to keep Poppy out for three days.She was ready to quit, I think. She finally gave up after 23 days of trying to “set”. Poor thing. Next time it’s “broody jail” for her?

  3. How long before the hen starts laying again after the setting time is over?

  4. Hi Suzy,
    Our hens continued setting behavior for 2-3 weeks, then gave up. They were laying again in about a week. We were happy to see them become productive again!
    Good luck, Lee.

  5. Should I put my setting hen in a cage to seperate her from the other chickens? And if so will the setter be okay with us moving her and the eggs?

  6. Congratulations, Christy. I would wait until the eggs hatch then move the hen and chicks to a safe place where she can take care of them. She will not abandon the chicks but she may abandon the eggs if you move her nest. I get all my information from Backyard Chickens. You can ask them this question and will get expert answers. Good luck. Let us know how everything works out!

  7. We now have three broody hens and no fertile eggs to give them. Does anyone in the Stone Mountain/Lilburn, GA area have any fertile eggs to sell? We are feeling so sorry for our girls in this heat … we cannot break them of their broody-ness. Elizabeth and Isabella are Wyandottes and Big Red is a Red Star. Help!

  8. Hi! Went through that broody thing with Daisy and it about made me crazy. She was skin and bones. That heat in the southeast this year has been brutal, hasn’t it? I don’t know anyone in your area that might have fertile eggs but I would suggest that you look on Backyard Chickens. They have nearly 60,000 visitors now and many in your area. Put a post on there and you’ll find your eggs! I’m wondering how you will decide who gets to hatch! Good luck!

  9. Hey! I acquired three peps from my nephews school (school project to hatch eggs). After which one of my girls went “broody” now for over a month. I now have another girl who is broody for about 3 weeks. I do take them off a few times a day (boy do they get upset with me). What do you suggest I do? They dont seem to be losing any weight or feathers seem to remain healthy. The other 4 girls are laying rarely may 1-3 eggs a day I am getting. Do you think it has anything to do it the July weather? I am going to put them on their roosting bar at night.

    Thanks for your help!

  10. Hi! You’re doing about all you can do except putting them in a wire cage to cool their undersides. I’ve also heard of dipping them in cool water (I’m sure they’d love that!) I didn’t have the heart, but a month is a long time. The idea is to cool their body temperature and if it is hot where you live that’s hard to do.
    I think that backyard hens should lay regularly but not every day. A hen is born with just so many eggs in her (in the 2-3 hundreds). I want my hens to lay longer. Commercial hens only last a couple of years then are made into chicken soup. Shudder to think. Let us know how all this turns out.

  11. Hi! I have a Silkie that we have solely to raise babies in the spring. However, she has been trying to set for the last 3 weeks or so. We have tried locking her out of the house away from the other hens, but so far nothing seems to be working. We live in North Idaho, so it’s really cold and I don’t know how that would affect cooling her down. She stays off the nest for a bit after we let her in but then someone lays an egg and she’s right back on it! Any ideas?

  12. I have nothing that I have found to get hens to stop setting except to exclude them from nesting areas. Some swear that putting them in a wire bottom cage will cure them in a week or so but I don’t have the heart. I guess you know that Silkies are highly valued for setting on eggs, hatching them and then mothering the chicks. You will be so glad you have her when the time comes. Try keeping her off the eggs during the daytime then put her on the roost at night with the others. You may be able to shorten the setting time a little. Good luck!

  13. I have 3 broody hens. and there eggs are not fertile. how long before thay will stop setting? or is there something I can do to make them stop. or should I do anything?

  14. Hi Sue. It is so frustrating when hens get broody. It usually lasts for about 20-25 days. You can shorten it a bit by taking them off the nest several times a day, putting them in a cage with a wire bottom, and taking them off the nest at night and putting them on the roost with other hens. The idea of all of these is to cool their bodies. They heat up when they are broody. Search this site, I’ve written about my frustrations and remedies, all of which help a little but do not cure it. They just want to do what nature urges them to do. Good luck. Have patience. They’ll be laying again in no time.

  15. Im new at this back yard chicken thing about 4 months in I now have my first brooding hen and im excited about it but im worried for my hen,shes been on the nest for over a couple of weeks now, i never se her off,does she come off in the heat of the day for food and water,im afraid she will die

  16. You should take your hen out of the nest several times a day to get food and water. If possible, put her on the roost at night with the other hens. Her “broodiness” shouldn’t last much longer. Good luck

  17. One of our hens just became broody a couple days ago…we do have a little silkie roo, and there is a good possibility that she could have fertile eggs…this is our first experience with backyard chickens…we were told by a reliable chicken farmer that she will get off briefly to eat and drink…I’m hearing from everyone on this sight that you have to “take them off to eat and drink”? the good thing is, it is very cold here in NC winter- avg’g 25-30 degrees this week…so I’m not worried about her overheating or dehydrating….Also, I wonder if the other hens will lay in the nesting box beside her? Normally they all use the same nest….which is the one she’s setting on.

  18. I do take our “setting hens” off the nest a couple times a day. On their own and in the wild, they probably do get off by themselves. I just don’t want to risk the hen losing too much weight. If she lets the other hens in to lay eggs, she will try to hatch them. If you don’t want this to happen you will have to remove the other hens’ eggs so that she doesn’t incubate theirs along with her own. Perhaps you could put a temporary nesting box (like a wooden crate) in your coop for the others to use until she’s finished. Good luck! What fun!

  19. I have a cochin hen setting in the nest box in the hen house, one has hatched and 3 more have pipped, if I move her, bittie and other eggs to a biddie coup, will she continue to finish hatching the rest of the eggs? Where she is now, I’m afraid the bittie will starve as there is no room in the nest box for food & water. Or do I need to take the biddie away til she finishes hatching. This is my first setting hen. I’ve “googled” my questions but not finding the answers I need. Thanks alot. A speedy reply would very much be appreciated!!!

  20. Hello! I do not have a rooster and I have 4 hens. 3 of them are on the nest together and will not come off. its been a week now. When I try to remove them they attack me.What do I do ?

  21. The hens just want to hatch eggs. This broodiness lasts for about 21 day. There is not much you can do. Put on a long sleeve jacket and wear some think gloves and take them off the nest several times a day. We block off the nests each night so they will not be able to “sit” in the nests at night. Don’t worry, Cindy, they will be laying again soon!

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