Backyard Chickens / Health

How to Stop a Broody Hen: 4 Humane Ways That Work

How to stop a broody hen: 4 humane ways that work

A few weeks ago, my husband Will told me that he thought he’d seen a rotten egg in the chicken run, but didn’t know how long it had been there. It was black, and big, but looked like one of the chickens had broken it a while ago.

When I went outside to inspect and clean it up with the kitty litter scoop, I discovered that it was, in fact, a giant black poop.

Smelly. Hard. And looking like our chicken had been constipated for days.

I opened the coop to see if I could find any more poop bombs in there (because as a chicken-keeper, inspecting poop happens to be part of the job — lucky us!), and sitting inside her egg box was Iman, our Golden-Laced Cochin.

Her body was sprawled across the entire nest, nearly flattened, and she looked at me with defiance.

It had been a few hours since Will had gone down there and reported her sitting in the nest. She hadn’t laid an egg all week, which led me to believe that our gal had just turned broody again.

A broody Cochin hen in her egg box

What does it mean when a chicken is broody?

Broodiness is a natural chicken instinct that happens to some chickens every year, and others not at all. It switches on as soon as they’re old enough to lay, between five and eight months old.

Certain breeds of hens are more broody than others. Cochins have a strong tendency to turn broody every year during their prime egg-laying years, as do Buff Orpingtons, Buff Rocks, Brahmas, and Silkies.

Their hormones kick in overtime, much as women’s do when they’re pregnant, and they focus all of their energy into hatching a clutch of eggs.

The telltale symptom of a broody hen is a sudden display of motherly instinct: sitting on a nest to keep the eggs warm for several hours a day, putting the babies’ needs in front of hers and making sure the eggs are well protected.

This is all fine and dandy if your chicken does have eggs to hatch, but sometimes, a chicken will sit on unfertilized eggs or even imaginary eggs.

Hens raised without roosters can’t lay fertile eggs, but they can still go broody and attempt to sit on a clutch of eggs.

Warm weather and a hormonal imbalance, caused by no doing of the flock owner, will spur a hen to turn broody for weeks on end, waiting for non-existent chicks to hatch.

Broody hen sitting in an empty nest

What are the risks of a hen staying broody?

Even when there are no eggs to sit on, the hen doesn’t realize it. She’ll simply sit and sit, refusing food and water, barely moving from her nest.

Left unattended, a hen will stay broody for around 21 days, which is the time it takes to hatch a clutch of fertile eggs. After 21 days the behavior should stop, but sometimes, a hen will remain broody and it’s important to “break,” or stop a broody hen before she harms herself.

Broodiness is more of a problem for chickens that don’t have fertile eggs to hatch, because a stubborn chicken could make herself malnourished.

It’s unlikely that a broody chicken will starve to death or die in the nest (after all, it’s part of her mama instinct: she won’t do her chicks-to-be any good if she starves herself to death). But she won’t be drinking and eating as much as she normally would, and she’ll lose more weight than she should.

She’ll stop laying eggs the entire time she’s broody. She’ll pull out her own chest feathers in order to produce more body heat for her eggs.

A broody hen that pulled all her chest feathers out, revealing bare skin to keep her imaginary eggs warm

She’ll leave the nest only a couple of times a day to relieve herself, which often results in those big, stinky poops because she’s been holding them in all day.

She’ll also hog the egg box the whole time, leaving little to no room for other chickens to lay eggs. If they come near her, she might peck at them or screech at them.

It’s fascinating how a usually sweet, docile hen will suddenly turn Cruella once her hormones start surging! I call this period of her life “Chicken PMS.”

Broody chicken hogging the egg box
A broody and non-broody chicken in an egg box

When broodiness goes on for an excessive amount of time, it makes the hen more susceptible to respiratory infections and other diseases because she’ll be too weak to deal with any illness she’s exposed to.

Broody hens are also at risk for getting mites and lice, because they stay in the nest all day where these infestations are common. They aren’t dust bathing and they aren’t outside scratching and pecking, away from bedding material where parasites like to hide.

This is when an easily preventable or treatable problem like mites and lice can turn fatal, as a broody hen will just sit and suffer in her nest.

If your hen turns broody in the height of summer, a poorly designed or poorly ventilated chicken coop could cause the egg box to heat up too much, putting your hen at risk of heat exhaustion.

So you see, there are several reasons to break a broody hen before it’s too late, and there are several ways to snap her out of her mood.

I’ve personally gone through all of these methods and if you need a humane solution, start with the first method and continue going down the list until you successfully break your broody hen.

A broody chicken will sit in her nest for several hours a day

4 easy ways to break a broody hen

Method #1: Remove your broody hen from the nest. Repeatedly.

The easiest one to try first is to gently pry your chicken from her nest and put her outside with the rest of her flock.

She’ll ruffle her feathers, spread her wings, keep her body low, grumble at you, even peck at you — anything to protect her nest from the perceived threat against her real or imaginary eggs.

A broody hen will puff out her feathers and try to peck at you if you remove her from the nest

If there are eggs in the nest, collect them right away so she can’t continue sitting on them. Try to collect every egg as soon as it’s laid to remove any temptation for the broody to sit.

I like to carry my chicken around for 10 or 15 minutes while I make my rounds in the garden to “air her out,” so to speak. I throw out some treats, set her down on the ground, and encourage her to scratch and peck in the yard.

I add a few logs, branches, or upside-down buckets as interesting new places to roost, put a head of cabbage out for entertainment, or just dump a bowl of kitchen scraps for the flock to fling about. (I keep a large bowl in the kitchen as my countertop compost, and empty it every day in the chicken run.)

A disgruntled chicken may hop back into the egg box once you put her down, so if she does, simply remove her from the nest and carry her around again. You want to distract her as much as possible with “shiny new things,” so to speak.

Method #2: Give your broody hen a (gentle!) cold water bath.

If after a few tries and a few treats your broody lady is still determined to nest, try my next trick: the cold water bath.

Fill a sink or wash tub with a few inches of cold water and gently lower the chicken into the bath. (Please use common sense if you live someplace with freezing cold tap water, like I do in Oregon, and turn the faucet to refreshingly cool water instead.)

Use a gentle cold water bath to stop a broody hen

You only need enough water to cover her chest when she sits. (Poor thing, she’s totally bare there!)

The theory here is that you’re helping cool down her chest and her vent, thereby lowering her broody body temperature.

Just as I do when I give a chicken spa bath, I place a towel over my chicken’s head to keep her calm and leave her in the cold (or cool) water for a few minutes.

During this time, I’ll clean her vent and pull off any dried poop stuck to her feathers; there’s usually quite a bit of it, as she’s not pooping regularly.

Then she’s quickly toweled off but not blow-dried, as I want her to walk around the yard, occupying herself with preening and air drying her feathers.

Please, only give your chicken a cold water bath when it’s warm and sunny outside!

Allow a broody chicken to air dry her feathers after a cold bath
A damp chicken will occupy herself with preening her feathers outside in the sun
A broody Cochin with wet tail feathers after a cooling bath

Method #3: Lock your broody hen out of the coop.

For good measure after doing Methods #1 or #2 above, I also lock my broody out of the coop; I do this when I know my other chickens have already laid an egg for the day.

Miss Broody will usually pace outside the door, crying, demanding to be let back in to nest. Or, she’ll find herself a comfortable makeshift nest on the grass, in the mulch, or in a shallow pit of dirt, and sit there for the rest of the day, ignoring her flockmates.

A broody chicken will sit just about anywhere, including a pile of mulch

Whenever possible, I’ll lure her with treats from the garden so she has to get up and move about.

Before sunset, I unlock the coop so the flock can tuck themselves in for the night. The broody hen may make a beeline for the egg box. If this happens, transfer her onto the roost. By that time, it’ll usually be dark enough that she won’t be able to make her way back to the box.

The next morning, you might find her wandering around with her flock… or you might find her nesting again.

Repeat the cold water bath, lock her out of the coop, and manually place her on the roost again that night.

If your chicken runs out to greet you in the morning and goes about her daily scratching and pecking, she might be back to her normal self. But keep an eye on her throughout the day, as I actually did find my chicken back in the egg box that afternoon.

Method #4: Chicken jail.

Do you know what happens to a naughty chicken that stays broody?

Yup. Chicken jail.

Or as I like to call it, Casa de Gallinas (the farm version of casa de perros, which I’m sure every spouse has found himself in at some point).

A wire dog kennel works as a makeshift chicken jail

A chicken jail can be a wire dog kennel, a rabbit hutch, or an enclosed pen (which some flock owners keep as “hospital pens” for quarantining sick hens or isolation pens for introducing new flock members).

In my case, I used a medium-sized dog kennel. It came with a separate wire panel that could be attached inside to divide the space for puppy training. It also had a plastic mat underfoot, which I removed.

The goal of chicken jail is to make your broody as bored and uncomfortable as possible — no nesting areas, no warm dark cozy corner to hide in.

Ideally, the kennel should be elevated on wooden beams, cinder blocks, small crates, or anything that’s safe and stable and will provide plenty of air flow under and around the chicken as she sits.

Breaking a broody hen may mean a couple nights in "chicken jail"

In place of the plastic mat, I laid down the wire panel, which had a smaller grid and offered a little more foot grip. You want your chicken to be uncomfortable, but you don’t want her to hurt herself. A sheet of hardware cloth also works well for flooring.

Place your chicken inside the kennel with plenty of food and water, and leave her in there all day and all night. She does not roost with the rest of the flock, nor does she get her own roost.

Chicken jail is meant to keep a broody chicken as bored and uncomfortable as possible
It takes two to six days to break a broody hen with confinement in chicken jail

I put the kennel inside our enclosed run, as it gets good dappled light and a soft cool breeze throughout the day (mitigating her desire to nest). It offers protection from predators but still feels social, as my other chickens like to hang around it.

In the morning, let your broody out and observe her behavior. If she runs immediately to the egg box, back into chicken jail she goes. If she starts scratching the ground and interacting with the other chickens, success!

Do keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn’t retreat to her nest again. It took my chicken two-and-a-half days of chicken jail before I was able to break her broodiness. (I’ve read that some particularly stubborn chickens may spend up to six days in confinement before they’re back to their normal selves.)

When I let my chicken out on that third morning, she happily bounded out of the kennel and started dust bathing in the mulch. She ate out of my hand again and ran after every mealworm I threw out.

Happy Cochin hen scratching in the dirt
Cochin hen dust bathing in mulch
Cochin chicken dust bathing after stopping her broody behavior

She also started following her flock sisters around, which was when I knew she was “cured” — the flock’s super social, so it was a relief to see them scratching and flapping around together.

Broody hen back to her normal social self again
Cochin chicken scratching in mulch

Since it takes some time for their hormone levels to get back in balance, ex-broodies may not lay for a couple of weeks after they’ve been broken. Just make sure they continue to eat, drink, and socialize, and watch for that first egg to pop out!

This post updated from an article that originally appeared on June 12, 2014.

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

49 Comments

  • Harold Glatzer
    May 20, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Your broody hen advice is so welcome as we have been a bit stumped. 6 of our 12 bantam hens ,
    (a mixed lot of Plymouth bars, silkies, frizzled cochin and fleur d’ucles) have become broody. Chicken jail sounds fine but how do I “jail” six? I have just locked out all hens during the daytime hours to keep them out of the nest boxes. Yes, there are still 2 laying so I guess they will find another spot in the chicken run to lay their eggs. I am not around all day to monitor when the two lay their eggs to then lock out all the rest. A logistical puzzle for those of us not home a lot during the day. Help! Thank you. haroldg49

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      May 23, 2017 at 1:11 am

      Aside from locking them out of the coop, you can try jailing them in multiple dog kennels, or perhaps a separate “recovery coop” (if you have one), rabbit cage, or other airy enclosure that does not allow them to nest and get too cozy.

      Reply
  • chicken lady
    December 28, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    is there a way to get the feathers on her chest to grow back?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      December 30, 2016 at 12:44 am

      All the feathers will grow back over time. Just continue to give your chickens a well-balanced diet with the proper amount of protein.

      Reply
  • Viola Brignoni
    November 12, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    I followed your instruction and they worked perfectly!!
    Thank you so much.

    Reply
  • Tessa
    September 16, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    Can I start with chicken jail from the beginning. I think she’s only been nesting or being Brody for 3 or 4. Two of them are doing and the same breed. They are 8 or 9 months old.

    Reply
    • Tessa
      September 16, 2016 at 8:33 pm

      I meant to say 3 or 4 days.

      Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      October 15, 2016 at 12:31 am

      Yes, you can start with chicken jail. These days I do just that, since I know I can’t break my hen (the only one who turns broody around the same time every year) with the other methods.

      Reply
  • jakki
    July 19, 2016 at 5:49 am

    My skyline has just hopefully completed her broody rehab successfully!
    After two days of just purely removing her from the nesting box to no avail it was straight to jail! 24 hours later she emerged a different girl and touch wood isn’t showing any broody signs at all – except for not laying, which she has the upper hand on!

    Reply
  • David
    June 15, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    After months of having three of my eight layers being broody most of the time and only getting 2-6 eggs a day, I am starting my chicken jail program. I am using an animal trap up on blocks as my jail. The hen will have plenty of room to move around and get plenty of air circulation.Wish me luck!

    Reply
  • steph
    April 5, 2016 at 6:06 am

    Thanks for the info, even though I have 3 boxes for my 2 chickens, they want to lay in the same one. This is preventing my other chicken from laying which = no eggs at all for me! When I tried to move the broody one she was pissed. When I moved her, there was no eggs! I can’t wait to try your method, I miss my yummy eggs!

    Reply
  • Woodfarmsllc30
    March 15, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    One of my Banty chickens never leaves her nesting box and has lost all of her feathers on her wings. Her nest mate also lays with her in the same nesting box. She now has a pale come and white scaly legs. Any suggestions

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      April 26, 2016 at 11:34 pm

      If she’s broody, then following one of the solutions mentioned in this post should help. White scaly legs can also be a sign of scaly leg mites, in which case you need to treat your flock for parasites and disinfect the nest and coop before the infestation gets out of control.

      Reply
    • Jill
      January 4, 2018 at 12:38 pm

      My broody girls starting losing feathers on their wings too.. it was the depluming mite. Sulphur powder helps if you want to look that up 🙂

      Reply
  • Old Woman
    January 16, 2016 at 12:43 am

    We have 19 hens and 5 roosters but they only put eggs in two nest. Now one hen has taken about 15 eggs and others are still laying eggs in her nest. How many eggs can she hatch? They were all hatched May 11, 2015. She has white, green, brown and chocolate eggs so she has adopted all the eggs she can get. How do we get the other hens to use a different nest they have 4 nobody uses?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      February 8, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      You can try moving the eggs to the empty nests, and leaving them there until the hens take notice and start laying in them.

      Reply
      • Old Woman
        February 9, 2016 at 3:21 am

        We took away all the eggs because some hatched and they killed them. We got an incubator to put them in and they had over 4 dozen in the nest with three hens. Now three have hatched and we are putting them in a smaller hen house away from the grown fowl. What can we do with dozens of baby chicks? He won’t kill any to eat, they are pets but when you get to about 6 dozen pet chickens you would think some could be food.

        Reply
        • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
          February 9, 2016 at 10:21 pm

          That’s quite a handful of new hens! I hope you’re able to find them good homes if you don’t keep (or cull) them. 🙂

          Reply
  • Meghan
    November 14, 2015 at 9:07 am

    Hello! I have 2 8 month old hens of different breeds, one is unknown and the other is definitely an Orpington and the Orpington has stopped laying eggs completely this October. The other has continued laying. I caught the Orpington sleeping in the nesting box last night. She has continued to spend a lot of time in the nesting box but isn’t completely distraught when I move her and take the egg (laid by the other chicken). I’m not sure if she is truly broody or not….we live in northern New Mexico where it has froze a few nights here, nothing extreme, so maybe it’s just the season? Is it possible for a hen to be “sort of” broody, particulalry in the winter?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      November 24, 2015 at 3:13 pm

      Chickens can and do get broody in winter, so definitely keep an eye on her.

      Reply
      • Meghan
        November 25, 2015 at 9:17 am

        Thank you Linda! I haven’t caught her in the nesting box again but she still isn’t laying. But I think she’s pulling feathers out of the other hen! 🙁 Just around her neck. It’s not super aggressive, just a little each night, it seems, because most of the feathers I find are in their roosting box. Is that an additional behavior of broody hens?

        Reply
        • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
          November 27, 2015 at 5:09 pm

          Yes, broody hens can become quite bitchy! LOL… mine turns into a little terror if the other (non-broody) hen tries to invade her space or eat “her” treats. Hormonal issues, I guess. This time of year, it’s also common for hens to stop or slow their laying because of the reduced daylight. They’ll usually pick up again in late winter or early spring.

          Reply
  • garden mama
    March 13, 2015 at 5:22 am

    I would like to have a few chickens from spring til fall as winters are brutal sometimes and I’m not equipped enough to care for them and I can see myself bringing them inside; I know I know, not something ya do with chickens. The information is wonderful to know and share.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      March 13, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      There are many people who raise chickens in harsh winter climates, but they take extra measures to ensure their flock stays safe and healthy. I recommend waiting until you’re ready, time- and equipment-wise, before getting your own. 🙂

      Reply
  • Megan
    March 1, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    If my chickens are stil laying every day but spending almost all day in the nesting box does this mean they are broody? Their behaviour is normal in the morning and late afternoon but spending 4-6 hours inside the nesting box. I’m a bit confused and not sure what to do. They have both only been laying for 1 and 2 weeks. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      March 3, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      Broody hens will generally stop laying once they’ve laid a clutch of eggs to sit on. Make sure you collect all of their eggs at least once or twice a day, and try to lure them out with treats if you find them spending too much time in the nest.

      Reply
  • Candace
    September 8, 2014 at 10:48 am

    I LOVE to read your blog entries. Your blog is always so informative and fun to watch, it’s like a breath of fresh air on a writing form

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      September 8, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      Thank you for the kind comment! Made my Monday!!

      Reply
  • chicken mom
    August 10, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    NEVER give your broody hen a COLD WATER BATH. That is INHUMANE. You break broodies by using a wire dog crate and nothing more. It may take up to a week and you may need to repeat the process but you treat your chickens humanely at all times. COLD WATER BATHS are not humane.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      August 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      I have to disagree, as I don’t feel cold water from the tap is an inhumane treatment. My broody settles right into her cold water bath without putting up a fuss. Now, if you were forcibly dunking your chicken, putting a wet chicken outside in cold weather, putting ice in the bath, or maybe even live in an area where your cold water comes from snowmelt, then I’d consider that cruel. As always, use your best judgment.

      Reply
    • graciesmom777
      July 26, 2015 at 10:46 am

      Totally disagree with you! Not inhumane at all!! Of course never in cold weather but most broodys go broddy in the warmer months anyway. Cool not cold water is all that’s needed and anyone who has chickens know they go out in the rain quite happily even in cold weather 🙂 in fact I think separating a chicken from her flock for days on end with nothing at all to do on an uncomfortable wire floor to be even more inhumane than a quick cool bath and back to her normal chicken life 🙂

      Reply
  • Leslie
    June 23, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you for your detailed information re: broody hens. Just as I was reading your post, we were in the process of “curing” our Cuckoo Maran of this undesired behavior. It took about three days of total isolation in the dog crate to get her to “snap out” of it, but she seems to be back to her old self, just mingling and pecking with the other eleven hens!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 25, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      I’m glad she’s back to her normal self!

      Reply
  • Su Reid-St. John
    June 13, 2014 at 8:24 am

    What a timely post! We just let our Barred Rock, Molly, out of Chicken Jail a couple of days ago. It was the first broody episode within our flock — we’re getting such an education from our 3 girls! Can’t wait for the eggs to start coming again. So glad to hear Iman is back to her sweet self.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      If by sweet, you mean hungry and bossy, yes, Iman is back to normal again. 😉

      Reply
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