Monday, June 13, 2011

Feelin' Broody

The sign says it all

Pencil, our 11 month old Blue Orpington hen, is broody for the second time this season. She raised our first batch of incubator chicks, who are now huge and independent. Now she is sitting on 10 Orpington eggs of various varieties, which should hatch out around June 27th. She is brooding on our back porch in a pet carrier- sans the door- to allow for quiet, privacy, and a bit of human monitoring.

Pencil, making babies

So what does it mean when a hen goes "broody"? 
Broodiness is a hormonal response in female poultry and ducks that drives them to sit on a clutch of eggs until they hatch. Their pituitary gland releases a hormone called prolactin, which causes the bird to stop laying eggs, at which point broodiness begins. 

Other symptoms of broodiness include:
~Loss of breast feathers, usually found in the nesting box shortly before broodiness begins- this allows her to bring her body warmth as close to the eggs as possible and keep the eggs from drying out too quickly by sharing her own body moisture.

~Stockpiling eggs just before exhibiting broody behavior.

~Remaining in the nesting box nearly constantly, leaving for only a few minutes each day to eat and drink. The first few days of brooding, the hen may not leave the nest at all.

~Puffing up feathers; growling/pecking/screeching at intruders.

Broodiness is unpredictable, once a hen is broody she may not sit for the entire 21 day incubation period. Many production chicken varieties have had the brooding bred out of them by culling hens that exhibit even the slightest signs of broody behavior. A broody hen is a hen that isn't laying eggs, so producers cull viciously for that reason. Some breeders are looking for their hens to brood, so they will cull those girls that don't seem interested in being mothers.

Several examples of breeds known for their broody behavior are Silkies, Cochins, and Orpingtons. 

I love having broody hens raise chicks for us. While the incubator is convenient, there's nothing like watching a momma hen teach her babies how to scratch in the dirt, take a dust bath, listening to her softly cluck to them all the while. 

From this...

... to this, in 21 days. All you need is a broody hen! 

Stay tuned for updates on Pencil and her impending hatch...



  1. So my question is - why aren't these hens producing their own eggs and instead you are giving them some other hen's eggs? just curious. Your farming world is totally foreign to me, albeit beautiful and I am glad it brings you purpose and joy.

  2. I have a broody hen, but her eggs aren't fertilized! Dang.

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  4. This is very interesting information. I really enjoy reading your blog and I learn a lot! Thank you.

  5. Lydia, i love you and your farming ways! this is a great post, by the way. let me know when you'd like a visitor - i'd love to meet your hens, lamb babies & such. plus i'm still counting on getting into a cheese class w/you sometime this fall...

  6. Tirzah- Because we don't currently have an adult rooster, our hen's eggs are unfertilized. So, I seek out fertile eggs of various breeds that I'd like to try and have our hens hatch them. The hens don't know that the eggs aren't theirs. They just want to have babies.

  7. Kat- It's not difficult to find hatching eggs if you live in Seattle. Otherwise, search your local Craigslist, check eBay, or I hope you have a chance to put your broody hen to good use. It's a great experience!

  8. Amanda- Come down anytime, we'd love to show you what we're doing! Just give me a call or email. We're going to be participating in the Seattle Tilth Urban Farm and Chicken Coop Tour on Saturday, July 9th from 10am-4pm, so please come on down!