Silkies are a breed of chicken that goes broody regularly. This is important to know because the first time you experience it you may fear that your hen has developed some strange malady . I have people call me and are sure that something terrible is wrong with their silkie hen because she is acting so strangely.
A hen goes broody when she wants to set continuously on a clutch of eggs for 21 days and to have chicks hatch out. She may be sitting on real eggs, fake eggs, or imaginary eggs. Her hormones are telling her it is time to become a mother and nothing is going to deter her from her goal.
Some hens will never go broody, some will go occasionally and some will go very frequently. Conversely, it is very difficult to make a hen go broody if she is not interested. They have their own timetables.
The best way to tell if a hen has gone broody is when she wants to stay in her nest spot at all times. Even at night she will still be sitting in her corner. She’ll pull her feathers out, flatten her body over her eggs, growl or shriek if disturbed and peck or bite any hand that comes close.
A broody hen is wonderful if you are trying to hatch chicks. Silkies make excellent incubators. Many people purchase silkies for the sole purpose of having them hatch out other eggs. They can hatch other breeds of chicken’s eggs, duck eggs or even pea cock eggs. They will then raise these offspring as well.
A hen has a hormone surge prior to egg laying that causes her to create a nest and prepare . She will lay an egg every day. This is her clutch. Then she will settle down to business and won’t be moved. The broody period typically lasts for three weeks.
Broody hens will stop laying eggs and pluck out their breast feathers. This is known as “feathering the nest”. They only leave the nest for short periods of time to eat, drink and poo. Broody poo is easy to recognize as it is a very large, smelly amount.
Broody hens will lose weight. They can actually starve themselves if they take it too far. They will sit in their nesting box for 24 hrs a day and almost look as if they have gone into a trance.
Broodiness can be contagious and can lead to other hens going broody too. Sometimes I will have four or five in a heap together. One hen will come over and lay an egg and the broodies will all fight over who gets to sit on the egg. When one hen isn’t looking they will steal it and keep passing the egg around between them.
The key to breaking a broody hen is to cool her abdomen and vent area. It is the elevated temperature that signals her hormones so that she will continue to sit.
The best way to break a broody hen is to contain her in a wire bottomed cage. Put it up on a saw horse so that air can flow underneath. This air flow will help to cool down her vent area. A bird or parrot cage is often used. The best would be a rabbit hutch that is already up on legs. People call these cages “Broody Breakers.” Make sure that she has food and water but no bedding.
Other tricks to break them would include things such as collecting the eggs quickly and not allowing her any to sit on. Remove the hen from the nest and put her out in the run with lots of interesting treats to eat. Put frozen water bottles or ice cubes in the nest. Remove all nesting material and close down that area of the coop.
I have tried the water method. You dip the bottom of the hen in water in order to cool her down. This needs to be done on a warm, summer day so that she does not become too chilled.
If you are determined to break her, break her sooner rather than later. The longer she is allowed to sit, the longer she will need to stay in the cage and the longer it will take her to get back to laying eggs.
I do not break my broodies. I just leave them alone and let them cycle through it. Eventually, they all give up and go back to their former social existence. Keep a close eye on your broodies and make sure there is food and water close by especially if it is a hot day.
The most inconvenient thing about a hen being broody is that it is no longer laying eggs. Remember that she probably still has eggs under her because she is stealing other hen’s eggs. It is important to collect them every day or you may end up with a hatch of baby chicks.
Whether you decide to break your broody or not, silkie hens will give you plenty of experience with how to handle broodiness. Good luck with your silkie hens!
VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available. Follow us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.