If you check out my page, "Projects on the Farm", you'll notice I have assigned myself the summer project of finishing the trim on the hen house and repainting the whole thing. Well.... the other day, when I was about to begin that project and forming my thoughts, I noticed that one of my Buff Orpington hens had gone broody. I had ignored the behavior for a couple days, just to make sure she was broody for sure, but soon my concerns were confirmed. FULL blown BROODY! Even though I don't have a rooster, this hen was convinced she needed to lay on a clutch of eggs and begin the incubation process.
In case you have never had a hen go broody or you are new to raising chickens, let me go through the symptoms. First of all, they will stick tight to the nest and puff up and growl if you get too near with your hands. If you try to collect the egg or eggs, you may get pecked! The hen may pull feathers from her own breast as she tries to "feather her own nest", but not all hens will pull feathers. The broody hen will develop a distinctive putt, putt, putt, style of clucking that the chicks (if they were to hatch) would recognize as their mom. Late developing chicks can hear that clucking while still in the egg! All broody hens will make that distinctive putt, even if you remove her from the nest. The broody hen doesn't even care if the eggs are her own.... She's just determined she needs to incubate. The last and worst symptom is she will stop laying temporarily and she is therefore NOT a productive member of the flock.... HOWEVER and this is a big one, if you have a rooster and therefore have fertile eggs you could also allow the hen to set and she will then hatch the eggs. OR, if you want some replacement chicks you could buy some from the store and sneak them under the hen at night, removing the eggs as you do. She will accept new chicks like they're her own. Remember if you let her hatch her own chicks it's a good chance that half the babies will likely be roosters. If you buy chicks, you could have her raise all new laying hens. If the chicks have ample space, the rest of the flock will accept the chicks and protective mom pretty quickly. If your space is too confining, other hens may kill some of your babies. Space vs tight confinement is the key.
The other alternative is to "break" the broody hen. You can remove the hen from the nest a dozen times and everytime you leave the area, she will just return to the nest. I have tried a variety of ways to break broodiness, and the best way that I have found is to simply hang a small wire cage in the hen house. A rabbit hutch would work well, but I built my own. Make sure the broody hen has food and water but is absolutely locked away from the nest. DO NOT give her any straw or bedding as she may just make a new nest and squat in the corner, trying to hatch an egg that isn't even there!! It helps some if the cage is hanging on the wall and open wire on the bottom, since a warm underside is encouraging her to continue. If you can keep her breast and belly cool, she'll break in a few days. I have never had a hen that did not go back to normal behavior in just a few days. Just to be sure, I usually cage the hen for 3 or 4 days. One word of caution, if she repeats the process or is double stubborn, you might consider culling the hen from your flock, but 9 times out of 10, the cage process works.
Some may consider this cruel confinement, but the truth is, you could actually be saving the hen's life! Some hens will go broody, lose weight and deprive themselves of food and water to the point of death. This is especially true if you happen to live in an area with warm weather extremes. Anyway, that's the story of a broody hen. They make good mothers if that's the way you want to go, but you can also break the behavior if needed. Now back to trim and paint on the hen house.