How to break a broody hen
Backyard Chickens, Health

How to Break a Broody Hen

A few weeks ago, the hubs 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.

Then 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 the hubs 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 little girl had just turned broody for the first time.

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. Cochins have a strong tendency to turn broody, 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. It’s a motherly instinct: sitting on a nest to keep the eggs warm for several hours a day, putting the babies’ needs in front of theirs 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. Warm weather and a hormonal imbalance, caused by no doing of the flock owner, will spur a chicken to turn broody for weeks on end, waiting for non-existent chicks to hatch.

Even when there are no eggs to sit on, the chicken doesn’t realize it. She’ll simply sit and sit, refusing food and water, barely moving from her nest. This is when broodiness becomes a problem, because a stubborn chicken could make herself malnourished or even starve to death. She’ll cease laying 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 that pulled out all her chest feathers

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.

A broody chicken hogging the egg box

Tight quarters with a broody hen

Tight quarters with a broody hen

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.”

There are several ways to “break” a broody hen, or snap her out of her mood, and I’ve been through all of them.

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. If there are eggs in the nest, collect them right away so she can’t continue sitting on them.

Ruffled butt

Ruffled feathers

I’ll carry the chicken around for 10 or 15 minutes while I make my rounds in the garden to “air her out,” so to speak. I’ll set her down on the ground and encourage her to scratch and sniff the greenery. A disgruntled chicken may hop back into the egg box, so if she does, simply move her again. If after a few tries and a few treats she’s still determined to nest, try the next trick: the cold water bath.

Giving a broody hen a cold water bath

Fill a sink or wash tub with a few inches of cold water and gently lower the chicken into the bath. 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 spa bath, I place a towel over my chicken’s head to keep her calm and leave her in the cold 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!

Airing out her feathers

Wet chicken


For good measure, I’ll also lock my broody out of the coop; I do this when I know my other chicken has 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. Whenever possible, I’ll lure her with treats from the garden so she has to get up and move about.

Nesting in the mulch

Before sunset, I’ll unlock the coop so the girls can tuck themselves in for the night. The broody 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 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.

Do you know what happens to a bad 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).

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, milk crates, sawhorses, or anything that will provide plenty of air flow under and around the chicken as she sits. 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.

Iman in chicken jail

A broody hen in the broody breaker

Sitting in chicken jail

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. I put the kennel inside our enclosed run, as it gets good dappled light and a soft breeze throughout the day (mitigating her desire to nest) and offers protection from predators at night. It still feels social as well, as my other chicken likes 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. She also started following her flock sister around, which was when I knew she was “cured” — those two are nearly inseparable, so it was a relief to see them scratching and flapping around together.

Foraging for bugs

Scratching in the mulch

Scratching in the mulch

Dust bathing hen

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!

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  • Harold Glatzer

    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

    • 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.

  • chicken lady

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

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

  • Viola Brignoni

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

  • Tessa

    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.

    • Tessa

      I meant to say 3 or 4 days.

    • 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.

  • jakki

    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!

  • David

    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!

  • steph

    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!

  • Woodfarmsllc30

    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

    • 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.

  • Old Woman

    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?

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

      • Old Woman

        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.

        • 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. 🙂

  • Meghan

    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?

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

      • Meghan

        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?

        • 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.

  • garden mama

    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.

    • 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. 🙂

  • Megan

    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.

    • 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.

  • Candace

    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

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

  • chicken mom

    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.

    • 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.

    • graciesmom777

      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 🙂

  • Leslie

    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!

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

  • Su Reid-St. John

    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.

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

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