A while back I did a post on the issue of broody hens; what a great thing they are and how to manage them. There’s another side to this issue, however. Sometimes you have a hen trying to go broody and it’s just a nuisance. Maybe you don’t even have a rooster, so you know darned good and well the eggs will never hatch. Maybe you don’t care about having chicks, you just want eggs. Maybe her timing is lousy and she’ll be hatching chicks when it’s too darned cold. For whatever reason, there are times you want to convince a broody hen to get off the blasted nest.
As with many situations, prevention is best: choose chickens that rarely go broody (like Leghorns, which aren’t any good for anything but laying eggs; in my opinion, they don’t even make good chicken broth!). Gathering the eggs several times a day is supposed to decrease the instinct to go broody. Since I’ve seen broody hens try to set on rocks as well as bare nests, I don’t give this one much credence. The other prevention strategy is to keep the hens out of the nest boxes once they’ve laid their eggs. You can do this with a trap door that shuts behind her when she goes out, but it means you have to have enough nest boxes with doors to have one for each hen. Not to mention, that the broody hen just goes and finds a corner somewhere and starts setting in that spot instead of a nest box.
Other suggestions (and my comments on efficacy):
Keep taking the hen off the nest box – maybe you have enough time to traipse out to the chicken house every hour or so for several days; I don’t.
Block off the nesting box – she’ll just find another spot.
Take her out of the nesting box at night and put her up on the roost (you have to do this just after dark). I did try this a few times; the hen just went back to nest when the sun came up.
Use a Broody Buster – this is basically just a small cage with a wire bottom. Don’t put any bedding in it. Shut the hen in the cage with food and water and leave her for a few days. Put the cage in a spot with lots of natural sunlight. After three days, put her back in the chicken pen. If she socializes with the other hens and stays off the nest, problem solved. If not, repeat or try something else. This one works on some hens, but not all.
If none of these techniques work, give her the cold treatment. Apparently a hen that is broody undergoes a slight increase in body temperature. Cooling her down sends a hormonal signal that trips the broodiness circuit in her little brain and stops the process — errr, cold. You can put a bag of ice or frozen veggies under her, or get a bucket of really cold water and dip her in it so that her breast and bottom are well-soaked. I have actually found the cold water treatment to be quite successful, so if I really need to break a hen of broodiness, I just go straight to the bucket method and skip all the other stuff. In a few cases, it’s taken a couple of dunkings to solve the problem, but this method always works for me.