If your ducks (or other poultry) are laying soft eggs or having other reproductive problems like being egg bound, making them go broody may be a life-saving intervention. In this article, we’ll show you exactly how to make a duck go broody.
We’ve been owned by ducks for about a decade now. Over that time period, we’ve had to learn about (and deal with) a wide range of duck health problems, some of them caused by our initial inexperience as duck parents and some of them purely coincidental.
In recent years, we’ve had lots of people reach out to us via email and private message on our social media accounts for help or advice dealing with their sick ducks. Some of the most common health problems we hear about fall under the category of “reproductive issues.”
Examples of common duck health issues we get inquiries about:
- My duck is laying soft eggs, what should I do?
- Help, I think my duck is egg bound!
- My duck hasn’t laid eggs in a few days and is acting lethargic – is something wrong?
While we certainly don’t claim to have the knowledge or expertise of someone like our beloved avian vet, Dr. Hurlbert at HealthPointe Veterinary Clinic, we have learned to troubleshoot these common duck health issues. Depending on the context and severity, one good solution to many duck health reproductive problems is to make them go “broody.”
What does “broody” mean?
In case you’re new to poultry language, a broody duck is a duck that is entering the stage in their reproductive cycle where they sit on their eggs/nest. This stage also corresponds with hormonal and physiological changes.
A broody duck becomes very defensive of their nest — even an extremely tame duck will open her mouth and fluff her feathers in defense against her favorite humans. (This is why the term broody made its way into common vocabulary as a way to describe a moody or grumpy human.)
A broody duck will also reduce food and water intake, and even begin holding their poops until they’re off their nest. This instinct decreases potential pathogen exposure to their ducklings and decreases the likelihood of predators finding them or their eggs via scent in the wild.
Now, if you know ducks, you know how un-ducklike those last behaviors mentioned are. Non-broody ducks don’t sit in one spot all day, and they sure as heck won’t voluntarily restrict their food intake or outtake. After all, they’re basically feathered pigs.
The other important thing that a fully broody duck does: stops laying eggs. The cessation of egg production is caused by the release of the hormone prolactin.
Why egg production can cause health problems in ducks
Ducks and other poultry are perfectly suited to laying eggs, so how could egg laying cause health problems?
Domesticated ducks bred and fed for maximum egg production will lay hundreds of eggs each year. Wild ducks might lay a couple dozen eggs each year.
The amount of energy and nutrients it takes to produce an egg every single day for most of the year can cause problems in a duck’s reproductive system while depleting their bodies of key nutrients like calcium. A nutritionally-deficient duck will likely start experiencing other systemic health problems as well.
This is why — along with our vet — we recommend pet and backyard duck enthusiasts utilize a duck diet regimen that aims for optimal health NOT the highest possible egg production.
However, this preventative care advice doesn’t do you much good if you have a duck with an egg/reproductive problem right now…
Why make a duck go broody?
Here are a few reasons why we’ve made ducks go broody over the years — and why you might want to as well:
1. You want your duck to hatch eggs in order to raise ducklings. Obviously, you’ve got to have fertilized eggs for this scenario to work, so you’d need a drake to be part of this equation as well.
2. Your duck is laying soft or thin-shelled eggs or having other related reproductive problems.
3. You have a duck who has been laying eggs daily for a long time and you want her to stop laying BEFORE she starts having potential health problems. We did this with one of our ducks who laid every day for over 365 days, but still had hard-shelled eggs and wasn’t showing any health problems.
What about egg bound ducks?
Egg-binding is a condition that happens in ducks and other poultry wherein an egg gets stuck in the reproductive tract. This can cause other eggs to back up. In severe cases, the eggs can rupture inside the duck causing infection and death.
Egg-binding is a serious, potentially life-threatening medical condition for a duck. The severity of the case determines the optimal treatment, and minor surgery may even be necessary. For new/inexperienced duck parents, we’d advise taking your egg bound duck to an avian vet immediately.
It’s been years since we’ve had an egg bound duck (thankfully and knock on wood). However, we have effectively dealt with egg-binding twice.
Once, we gave the duck Metacam (an anti-inflammatory drug that treats pain) then put her in a warm bathtub. After an hour, she was calm and relaxed enough to pass the eggs.
Another time, The Tyrant had to put on lubricated surgical gloves and do some “exploring.” You can use your imagination here, but the eggs soon emerged.
In both instances, after getting the eggs out, we immediately set out to make our ducks go broody in order to halt egg production so we didn’t have a repeat incident — or worse.
Another essential step when dealing with an egg bound duck or a duck who is laying soft eggs is to boost their calcium intake immediately. The best way to do this is to give them 2ml of calcium gluconate twice per day orally, once in the morning, once at night.
Once they go broody, you can stop giving them calcium gluconate. Or you can start tapering back calcium supplementation once they start laying hard-shelled eggs again.
Don’t worry, orally medicating a duck isn’t hard once you get the hang of it, but you can kill your duck if you inject fluids down their glottis. So, please read our article and watch our instructional video first if you don’t know how to orally medicate a duck!
How to make a duck go broody
Now that you know what broody means and why to make a duck go broody, it’s time to find out how to make a duck go broody.
Thankfully, the broody-duck-making process is pretty simple:
1. In a shady/dark and safe environment, set up a nest for your duck. We use an animal carrier with pine or Aspen shavings shaped into a nest, and put the crate inside our house so we can keep a close eye on things.
Initially, the crate has a door and top on it, but these can be removed once the duck becomes broody because she won’t want to leave her nest.
2. Place ~6 eggs in the nest. This is trickier than it sounds…
If you place unfertilized eggs in the nest they can end up going bad after a couple weeks underneath a warm, damp duck. If you place fertilized eggs in the nest and you’re not intending to hatch ducklings, you could end up with quite a chirpy surprise on your hands after a few weeks.
Our recommendation? Use fake eggs. They’re lighter than real eggs, so you can tell the difference — but your duck can’t. That way, you can remove any real eggs from the nest laid prior to your duck going broody.
3. Insert one duck. That’s not an instruction you see often!
Keep the crate closed so she can’t come off the nest, but provide a small water and food dish. (Once broody, they’ll only need a water dish with some greens and other treats in it (like tomatoes), and can be fed their regular food when they’re off the nest.)
4. Wait for broodiness. It can take anywhere from a few days to a week to make your duck go broody. Several times each day, you’ll want to take the crate (with duck inside) outside to let your duck get some sun, exercise, and time cleaning herself in the water.
Why take the crate outside with duck still inside? Remember the thing we said about broody ducks not pooping? Well, when you remove a broody duck from her nest, you’ll have about 30-60 seconds before the poop explosion comes. Trust us that you do not want to have this happen indoors if you can avoid it.
5. Tempting though it may be, do NOT pet and touch your duck (or at least do so as little as possible) while she’s in the process of going broody. Being touched will keep your duck in sexually active/egg laying mode hormonally, rather than transitioning to broody mode.
Once your duck goes broody, you can return to normal levels of physical affection.
How will you know when your duck is broody?
Once you’ve had a broody duck, you’ll know the signs:
- They’ll want to stay on their nest and will try to get back to their nest shortly after being removed.
- They won’t poop on or near the nest unless they just can’t hold it any longer.
- They’ll fluff up and pretend to be scary when you come near the nest (and may open their bills at you which is oh-so scary!).
- They also have a really funny, sad/agitated sounding mwah-mwah-mwah broody call they make when they’re removed from their nest.
How long should you keep a sick duck on their nest once they’re broody?
Once our sick ducks have gone broody, we’ll usually keep them in their indoor crate for an additional 3-4 weeks. This simulates how long it would take their eggs to incubate and hatch under normal conditions.
Your duck will lose some weight over this time period and will likely pluck out some of her chest feathers to add as nesting material. This is perfectly normal.
How long does it take a duck to stop being broody?
At the end of this process, we’ll put our formerly sick ducks back outside with their flock. They’ll make agitated sounds and be grumpy for the first day, but will stop being broody within about 48 hours.
Within the next month, they’ll also have a molt.
Based on our experience, it seems to take at least two months or so for our ducks to start laying eggs again, although this will likely vary by breed, age, and season. For instance, if you make your duck go broody in the fall or early winter, she probably won’t lay again until the following spring.
Regardless, this process gets your ducks to stop laying eggs and gives their bodies time to heal, remineralize, and return to optimal health. This may well be a life-saving intervention that’s important to have under your belt if and when needed.
Emergency care: a medication to halt egg production immediately
What if you have a very sick pet or backyard duck who needs to have egg production halted immediately? Contact your vet asap.
If you have a vet who specializes in birds/poultry, they may suggest using Deslorelin, a hormone implant which will quickly shut off egg production (as quickly as a few days or no more than ~10-14 days).
We hope the information in this article helps you become a better and more informed duck parent!
Dabble in some of our other helpful duck articles:
- How to make a self-cleaning backyard duck pond
- 17 tips to keep your ducks or chickens safe from predators
- Duck health guide: first aid kit, essentials, and other tips
- 5 tips to keep your ducks from destroying your yard or garden
- What to feed pet and backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity
… and more duck articles from Tyrant Farms.
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BobFebruary 12, 2023 at 2:46 pm
Hi, I have 2 hen ducks who finally started laying, and I want at least one of them to go broody in March-April. Since it’s February I don’t want them to brood yet, but I never collected about 5 days worth of eggs, and in the corner of the coop they’re all organized neatly in what looks like a clutch. No down or anything, though, just the eggs sitting there. If one of them is already trying to go broody, can I take the eggs thus breaking the broodiness and still have her go broody in a month?
Aaron von FrankFebruary 12, 2023 at 3:39 pm
Hi Bob! Yes, removing the eggs from the nest now under the circumstances you’ve described would prevent your duck from going broody.
DonetteFebruary 10, 2023 at 3:23 pm
how long do you wait before letting her out of cage. my welsh harlequin has laid daily in a beautiful nest she built in our duck house but just drops the egg and stays outside day and night. we just pulled all but 12 eggs and locked her in alone the cage. you mentioned dont touch them but we normally have ro chase her and physically put her in the cage. how l9ng should we leave her in before we let her out for sun water and pooping?
Aaron von FrankFebruary 11, 2023 at 3:12 pm
Hi! I’ll try to clarify things a bit to answer your questions:
1. Assuming your duck is not already broody (it sounds like your girl isn’t), it may take 3-7 days of being caged on a nest for your duck to go broody. We recommend using fake eggs, but you can use real eggs if that’s easier for you.
2. Initially, you should provide both food and water in the cage next to her nest. You should also let her out 2-3 times per day for sunlight, swims, etc. You’ll have to touch your duck to catch her, put her in her cage, etc. However, we recommend keeping physical contact to a minimum at this point (don’t pet them) otherwise you can delay or prevent them from going broody.
3. Once she goes broody, you’ll know it. That’s because she won’t want to come off of her nest and her behavior will change. Even her voice will change a bit. From there, you’ll still need to remove her 2-3 times per day for sunlight, exercise, swim, etc.
4. Pay close attention to the number of eggs. She should stop laying eggs within a few days of going broody.
5. How long you wait from the day she stops laying until the day you remove her from her nest to put her back outside is somewhat subjective. We usually wait about 30 days from start to finish to mimic a natural brooding cycle, but you don’t have to wait that long.
Hope this answers your questions, but let me know if you need anything else!
Hayden SykesOctober 8, 2022 at 7:10 am
Fascinating, educating and thoroughly enjoyable advice on how to get ducks to get broody. Found it whilst trying to find advice on the opposite problem!
We have 2 Khaki Campbell’s which have both laid at one time or another, but never for more than about 3-4 months. In fact, one has only laid for a couple of 2 month periods. They’re now approaching 2 years old, have a 20 ft pond, surrounded by grass, and a choice of nesting areas and shelters. They’re fed layers mash, with treats of fish pellets (love ’em!) and lettuce leaves.
If you’ve had reason to write any advice on LOW egg production, I’d really appreciate a steer on how to find it. Khaki Campbells are supposed to be pretty prolific, aren’t they?
All the very best,
Aaron von FrankOctober 10, 2022 at 11:03 am
Hi Hayden! That’s a very odd scenario you’ve described.
Yes, Khaki Campbells are considered excellent egg layers. In our article about duck breed comparisons (https://www.tyrantfarms.com/how-to-choose-the-best-duck-breed-or-breeds-for-you/) we detail that they can lay up to 240 eggs/year with a laying score of 8.5 out of 10. The only breeds we know of that have the potential to be more prolific layers are Golden 300, Hybrid Layer, and White Layer.
It sounds like you’re feeding your Khakis for maximum egg production. The only three possibilities we can think of that would cause lower egg production under the circumstances you’ve described are:
1) Low light levels. Are your ducks in a shady spot for most of the day? Just to clarify, seasonal sunlight fluctuations affect egg production. Ducks need at least 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs, but if they’re in a spot that’s shady, they might not be getting the light stimulation they need for egg production. Just for clarity, this does NOT mean ducks should be forced to live in full blazing sun during the hot months – they should always have shady spots to retreat to if they desire.
2. Hiding eggs. Is it possible your ducks have a really good hiding spot for their eggs? You’d probably notice this by the awful smell produced once the eggs went bad at some point, but it’s worth considering. Our ducks can be quite sneaky when it comes to hiding eggs – especially when they lay outside their coops.
3. Breeding. Did you get your ducks from a source like Metzer Farms or somewhere else? Big breeders tend to breed with egg production in mind, whereas a local/backyard breeder might not.
Hope this helps narrow down a cause of your low egg production!
EmilyFebruary 24, 2022 at 12:08 pm
Hi! I’m hoping you’ll have some advice regarding our Khaki Campbell. She has laid an egg every day for over 18 months. She seems perfectly healthy and the eggs are still normal (hard-shelled, no deformity, etc), but her last two molts have been incomplete, presumably because she doesn’t stop laying during them. She only has new feathers on about half of her body and the older feathers have lost their waterproofing, so she no longer bathes/swims. I would really love to halt her egg-laying so she can do a complete molt and rest her body, but I worry that the broodiness won’t take due to her being a Khaki Campbell. From what I’ve read, they almost never display any maternal behavior. Do you think it’s worth trying or have any suggestions for alternatives? Thanks for your time!
Aaron von FrankFebruary 24, 2022 at 1:18 pm
Hi Emily! Yikes, 18 months straight of egg laying is a lot of stress and strain on a little duck body.
Years back, we had a similar situation with a duck and it ended up causing ovarian damage, so she no longer lays eggs. Odd as it sounds, this caused her body to stop producing female hormones (the default sex in ducks is male) so she now displays secondary sex characteristics of a drake, e.g. she looks like a boy duck. (If you’re interested you can read details here: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/can-birds-change-sex-the-curious-story-of-mary-marty-the-duck/)
Now, I’m not saying any of that is going to happen to your duck, only that laying eggs for that duration takes a LOT out of them and can cause damage to their reproductive system in addition to a wide range of other health problems, some of which you’re starting to experience. So you definitely want to get her to stop laying eggs asap in order to molt, remineralize, and recover.
We only know of two ways to make a duck stop laying eggs:
1) Make them go broody, as we detail in this article.
2) Get an avian vet to do a deslorelin implant (the brand name medication vets use is Suprelorin).
Making a duck go broody can be a pain for all involved, but it’s free and doesn’t require a hormonal injection. A deslorelin implant is going to likely run you at least a couple hundred dollars, but it’s fast-acting and guaranteed to shut down your duck’s reproductive processes within 1-2 weeks. She’ll be molting shortly thereafter. (We’ve taken this route a couple times over the years.) The implant is a good option if you’re stretched for time and/or have a duck who refuses to go broody.
If you’re wondering what the heck deslorelin is, it’s a synthetic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist deslorelin acetate. Non-jargon: it’s a synthetic version of a hormone birds/ducks naturally make, and the continuous, high-dose presence of the hormone (via the implant) quickly shuts down the processes that lead to reproduction/egg laying. The effects of a deslorelin implant will last for 4-8 months, depending on the implant your vet uses. Either timespan should hopefully be enough for recovery and remineralization, assuming they have good nutrition, time in the sun, etc.
Not sure of your exact circumstances, but you could always try to make your duck go broody (example: give it two weeks of effort) and then if things just aren’t going as hoped/planned, you could opt for the implant. Either way, since your duck has been laying non-stop for 18 months and is beginning to display outward signs of health issues, you want to get moving on it as soon as you’re able to.
Best of luck and please keep us posted on how things go, for our sake and the sake of other readers!