Poultry keepers with commercial layers will be concerned if a sizeable number of laying hens in the flock go broody. It means a drop in egg collection therefore a reduction in the paycheck. Stopping or breaking broodiness of the affected hens will therefore become a priority. It is sensible to try and discourage hens from broodiness because it halts egg laying.
Broodiness is a hen's instinct to set on a nest and hatch eggs. If you are breeding chickens, this may be a favorable quality. However, if you are raising chickens for eggs, a broody hen can be problematic. She can make collecting eggs near impossible, can starve to death sitting on a nest of unfertilized eggs waiting for them to hatch or may take over the nesting area, preventing other hens from laying. Breaking up a broody hen quickly is essential. The longer she is left to brood the longer it will take to break her.
The first step in stopping laying hens from going broody is to identify the broody hens. This is easy if you only have a few hens but when the flock is large the exercise can be daunting. Generally broody hens want to sit on the eggs almost continually breaking briefly for food and toilet. Hens stay on the nest longer and longer each day and never seems to leave the nestbox. Hens pull out feathers under the belly and get aggressive, screeching to be left alone. They growl or peck at you if you reach for the eggs under her. The body temperature rises and hens want to be comfortable. This state can last about one to one and a half months then get back to normal. Thereafter they take a few weeks to start laying again. Any time longer than that may mean some other reason for not laying.
The basic principle for breaking broodiness revolves around stopping the hens from getting too comfortable. Poultry keepers have devised techniques of achieving this but some are not good for the hens’ health, others even weird and are not recommended. One example I came across is putting the broody hen inside a big gunny bag, folding the top and hanging it up overnight.
The water bath
This is not very effective. A hen broods in order to keep the incubating eggs warm. Her body temperature rises, telling her it's time to set a nest. A cool, not cold, water bath will cool her body temperature, breaking her broodiness.
Removing the broody hens away from other laying hens and putting them in temporary housing for a week where they cannot settle into a nest. Feed and water is provided. This method is fairly effective and the hen should stop her broodiness within a week.
Putting the hen inside a propped up wire cage for one to two days. Food and water is provided in the cage. This method is very successful. The airflow keeps the hens cool and after a few days they stop being broody.
Nesting boxes are usually dark, secluded and comfortable places. These conditions trigger the instinct to brood. Make it uncomfortable for hens to stay in the nests by increasing the amount of light up to 14 hours a day.
Isolating a broody hen with a rooster to keep the her busy and forget about brooding. That is if you don’t mind the hens laying fertilized eggs later.
Depriving hens of feed and water to break the broodiness. But this is not good for the bird. Lack of feed weakens an already weak bird and lack of water for several days can damage the liver.
Holding a hen’s stomach in a container full of ice water until it shivers. This is a cruel technique that can kill the hen and it is not recommended. A hen's body temperature is above average while broody and the cold water can shock her into a heart attack or cause other health problems.
Giving fake eggs to a hen to sit on and waiting for it to become bored and leave. This one cannot work. Hens that are broody will not leave until the eggs are hatched. She will literally sit on the nest until she dies of starvation.
Regularly remove eggs from the nests. Generally, a hen won't incubate a single egg. She'll accumulate several eggs, called a clutch, and stop laying. By regularly removing eggs from the nest, the hen will have nothing to incubate and will keep laying.