Friday, May 24, 2013


It is now clear to me why the words "brooding" and "broody" sound so much's because they describe the same set of moody and touchy symptoms.  Portia, one of our Buff Orpington hens, went broody about a week ago and I watched as her disposition went from gentle and sanguine to paranoid, antisocial and hostile. 

And as this is the first year we've been able to keep hens, I was at a loss about what, if anything, to do about it.  For the first few days I coddled her, letting her sit on a golf ball so she wouldn't freak out when I took her eggs.  In hindsight, that was a mistake, as it just enabled the bad behavior to continue.

So why is being broody a bad thing, you ask?  Well, its not, if you are a hen sitting on a fertile clutch of eggs and caring for them until they hatch.  But with nary a rooster in sight, Portia's territorial and occasionally aggressive behavior was having an impact on the rest of the flock.  No one was able to sit on a nesting box in her vicinity without her chasing them out.  She would randomly attack hens who got too close to her when I placed her outside to free range with the others.  She was not eating.  It clearly was having an impact on the entire flock, and that was what ultimately led to my decision to break her of the brooding urge.

The internet has a wide variety of suggestions on breaking a broody hen of her bad habits, and some of those suggestions are helpful, some not.  We did not, for instance, get her a fertile clutch of eggs to sit on so she could "be a mommy," because that would only have reinforced the behavior.  We needed her behavior to change, as quickly as possible, for the sake of her and peace in the rest of the flock.

Ultimately, two things helped.  One was removing her from the chicken run and nest box area and placing her in a separate area, in a large wire cage, with food and water, but no place to brood.  Brooding is prolonged by elevated chest temperature in the hen, and with a wire cage there was always cool air circulating around her.
Portia in solitary confinement

The other thing I did was bath her, from about the chest down, in cool water.  As I've had to give her baths before to clean her bum, she is not afraid of the water and did not mind this at all.  I left her in the cage and gave baths for two days before putting her back with the flock this morning, and so far, she looks like she's back to her old self.

Whether we women like to admit it or not, hormones do play a role in our behavior while we're of breeding age, whether we have Homo Sapiens or chicken DNA.  I can think back on times when my children were small and my behavior was, indeed, something approaching "broody."  I was protective, moody, inwardly focused and didn't want to be disturbed.  All creation, whether we're making another life, a painting, or a piece of writing, requires a brooding period. But probably not if you're a chicken laying infertile eggs.  Then its just an inconvenience.

It's for that reason that I won't be culling any of my hens once they age past the laying stage.  After living at the whim of their hormones for the first half of their lives, I figure its only fair to let them enjoy what's on the other eggs to lay, and no brooding moods to manage.  

I know it's a time in my life I'm personally enjoying, so why shouldn't they get the same chance?


  1. I never knew chickens had to be trained. Just like dogs! How did you arrive at the number of your flock? I've always just figured when I start mine I'd have 20 or so. But seeing someone logical like you start with three makes me wonder.

  2. We figured we could use the eggs from two hens easily, without getting backed up, and then we bought one extra chick so we'd still have two laying hens if one did not survive into adulthood, chick mortality being what it is. We also figured three were easier to care for and keep an eye on. So all three thrived and we now get about 15 eggs a week, giving away the eggs we don't use to happy neighbors and friends!

    20 hens means about 100 eggs a week, if they are good layers. That's a lot of frittatas, lol.

    Whenever these girls start to slow down on their laying, I will buy a couple more hens -- probably next spring. Can't wait! : )