Any experienced waterfowl owner has seen the signs of their females going broody. To new owners, however, it can be alarming. We regularly receive frantic phone calls saying that their females have started behaving strangely and that they do not know what to do.
Broodiness is basically a biological clock that tells a female bird that it is time to sit on her eggs full time. When she lays eggs, she is not broody as she does not sit continuously on the eggs. She merely lays her eggs in the nest and then leaves. Once she has a full next of eggs, she will start sitting on the eggs to hatch them. Only in extreme instances will a female become broody without eggs in the nest. During this time she leaves her nest once a day to eat, drink, and do her business. As it is her instinct to protect her eggs, she will become territorial and grumpy. This will continue until the eggs hatch.
Most birds that become broody take care of themselves while on the nest, only leaving once or twice a day to eat and bathe. As such, they are more susceptible to predators, mites, ants, and other bugs and pests. In extreme cases of those that continue to sit on eggs that will not hatch they run the risk of malnutrition, dehydration, and even death.
If you think your bird will go broody, it is important to encourage her to nest in a safe place. This can be done by providing nesting boxes in advance. Waterfowl have a tendency of choosing a spot for their nest and sticking to it even if the nest is moved. (We had a customer call us once at her wits end. Her goose had built a nest in the middle of a high traffic walkway and was plugging up a pipe. We told her to move the nest since she did not want to destroy it, but when she did the goose rebuilt the nest in the exact same place as before!) Chris and Mike Ashton suggest in ‘The Domestic Duck’ to leave the bird alone while she is sitting and to separate her from any males. To help with exercise, Dave Holderread in ‘Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks’ suggests placing food and water just out of reach in order to entice her to leave the nest in order to take care of her needs. We suggest switching from a layer feed to a grower feed while she is broody. In the situation that a bird goes broody, but there is no possible way for the eggs to hatch (no males in the flock), it is possible to slip fertile eggs under her or even ducklings/goslings and trick her into thinking the eggs have hatched.
There are some instances in which you do not want your bird to remain broody such as when they go broody without eggs or you rely on her for egg production. Once they start sitting, they stop laying. The best way we find to stop brooding is to take away any eggs and destroy the nest. To discourage her from attempting to make another nest, make sure there are no materials available to her to make a nest. In large-scale turkey farms they have small pens in the laying buildings that have cement or wire floors in which they put their broody hens. After they appear to have lost their broody instinct and no longer want to sit, which can take about 3-4 days, they are returned to the rest of the flock.
We find there are some breeds that are broodier than others. Sebastapol geese are the worst of the bunch on our farm, followed by the African and Buff. On the duck side, the Cayuga seem to be the broodiest followed by the Rouen. On the opposite end, we do not really know who is less broody out of our geese, but our Runner are the least likely ducks to be broody.
A bird going broody is perfectly natural and some breeds can be more broody than others. There are steps you can take to help them through it or to stop it. Hopefully these guides will help you with your broody birds.