Keep Some Broody Hens & Be More Self Reliant!
Keeping one or more of the best broody hen breeds is a great way to increase self-reliance on your homestead. Broody hens may hatch and raise several clutches of chicks each year. With a good broody hen or two in your flock, you won’t need to purchase an incubator or place an order with a hatchery!
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What is a Broody Hen?
A broody hen is an adult female chicken with a strong maternal instinct. She will want to set on a nest and hatch out a clutch of eggs, then raise her little family until the chicks can fend for themselves. At that point, she may very well return to the nest to set on another batch of eggs.
Some chicken breeds are more likely to produce “broodies” than others. Many modern breeds have had broodiness bred out of the lines because laying operations need to increase egg production. A broody hen goes out of production long enough to hatch her eggs and raise the chicks…decreasing the number of eggs she will lay during the course of a year. This isn’t economical for big business.
How to Tell if a Hen is Broody
Broody hens will set on a nest almost 24/7. Some hens like to sit in the nest for a while after laying their egg, so make sure that your hen is actually broody before you leave her with a clutch of eggs. Here are the signs to look for in a broody hen:
- Sets in the nest all day and night
- Settles down in the nest and gets upset when bothered
- Makes a squawking, grumpy noise when bothered
- Only leaves the nest for very short periods to eat, drink and poop
- May peck your hand if you attempt to remove eggs
What to Do With a Broody Hen?
This depends on whether you want a broody hen to raise some chicks or if you want her to produce more eggs. Your needs may change with the season and the number of eggs you are collecting. If you need eggs and don’t want more chicks, you can attempt to break the hen of her broodiness.
It may take some persistence to break a hen of her broodiness. You might want a pair of gloves for this! Here are the steps to take:
- Gently remove the hen from her nest and collect the eggs
- Break up the nest and scatter the straw or wood shavings, or…
- Place nest in noisy, brightly lit space in the coop if possible
- Take the hen outside during the day to see if she will return to foraging
- Place the hen on the roost with the others at night
- If all else fails, put her in a cage with food, water, and NO nesting materials
- Gather all eggs promptly
Some hens have such a strong instinct to set on a clutch of eggs that they will gather stone to set on. It can be difficult to break a hen of her broodiness!
If she won’t give up on setting, you may wish to let your hen go about her broodiness and raise some replacement chicks for your homestead.
Encouraging Your Broody Hen
Allowing your hen to set on a nest and hatch out a clutch of chicks is a great way to increase the size of your flock or replace older laying hens. Keeping a couple of broody hens will save you the expense of purchasing chicks from a hatchery or investing in an incubator. This is especially handy if you have an off-grid homestead, prefer not to order from hatcheries, or don’t have time or money to invest in incubating eggs artificially.
If you would like to encourage your broody hen to hatch out a clutch of eggs, follow these steps:
- Move hen to a quiet, isolated place away from the rest of the flock
- Prevent other hens from entering her space
- Make sure there is room for her to leave the nest to eat, drink, and poop
- Give her fresh, clean straw or wood shavings for her nest
- Provide food and water close to the new nest
- Use electrolytes in her water to keep her healthy
- Give her fake eggs until she settles down on the nest, replace them with the real thing
- Check on her often, but don’t disturb her
Sometimes moving the hen to a new spot will break her broodiness. If she doesn’t return to setting in a few days, remove the eggs and let her return to the flock, then see if she goes broody again later.
10 of The Best Broody Hen Breeds
Although you may have a hen with strong maternal instincts from any breed of chicken, some breeds are more likely to produce broody hens. Try raising one or more of these breeds if you would like to keep some ‘broodies’:
- Brahmas – cold and heat hardy breed, decent layer, frequently goes broody and makes a good mother.
- Chantecler – an extremely cold hardy breed, decent layer, often broody and good mother.
- Cochins – a cold hardy breed that lays few eggs, makes an excellent broody hen and mother.
- Cubalaya – an aggressive breed that lays few eggs, is tolerant of heat and often goes broody.
- Dominique – a decent layer and cold hardy breed that is fairly broody and makes a good mother.
- Dorking – a decent laying breed that is often broody and makes a good mother.
- Marans – a decent laying breed that is often broody.
- Orpington – a decent layer, very cold hardy, frequently goes broody and makes an excellent mother.
- Silkies – a very docile breed that lays few eggs and is more likely to go broody than most hens.
- Sussex – a cold hardy breed that lays well, often broody and makes a good mother.
The breeds that make the best overall choice for a broody hen, and also do a great job of raising their chicks, are the Cochins and Silkies. However, many homesteaders need their chickens to check more than one box!
Best Laying Broody Hens
If you would like a good layer that also goes broody and raises their own chicks, the Sussex is one of the better choices.
Best Dual Purpose Broody Hens
Many people wish to stick with one breed that lays well, makes a decent meat chicken, and will raise a few chicks too. For these purposes, the Orpingtons, Sussex, Chantecler, and Dominique should do quite well on your homestead.
Best Free Range Broody Hens
If you need a flock that fends for itself, gives you a few eggs and raises their own young, consider keeping the Cubalaya in hot areas and the Dominique in cold areas.
Runners Up For Best Broody Hens
There are quite a few chicken breeds that may serve well as broody hens and attentive mothers. Some of these are breeds that can be difficult to find, are not very hardy, or are not as broody as the ‘Best Broodies’ list above.
- Icelandics – these hens are quite broody and good mothers, but hard to find or expensive to buy.
- Australorps – frequently broody, but quite a bit of variation.
- Cornish Game Birds – not the Cornish x Rock meat chickens! Frequently broody.
- Araucanas – frequently broody, but purebreds lay few viable eggs.
- Turkens – ‘Naked Neck’ chickens, good mothers.
- New Hamshire Red – sometimes broody, good dual-purpose bird.
Keep A Few Broody Hens!
You might not want your entire flock to be a broody breed, especially if you are buying feed for hens that want to set on a nest all of the time! But keeping 2 or 3 of the best broody hen breeds will allow you to raise your own replacement chicks.
Just give your broodies some fertile eggs from any hens in your flock and she will take care of the rest. You won’t have to buy an incubator and spend time turning eggs, filling humidity trays, and babysitting hatching chicks. Of course, that can be fun too! But most homesteaders are petty busy and having a hen that raises chicks for you can be a win~win situation.
Remember that each hen is an individual and not all of the best broody hen breeds will work out for you. Sometimes a breed that rarely sets on a nest will produce an individual that turns out to be a great broody hen and mother. You’ll also find that every homesteader has a different experience with broodiness in their flock.
Do you keep broody hens to raise their own chicks? Tell us what broody breed you like best in the comments!
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In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.
The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.
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