Ducks

Why and how to make a duck go broody

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If your ducks (or other poultry) are laying soft eggs or having other reproductive problems, 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.”

Jackson, our broody Welsh Harlequin duck, hamming it up for a photo.

Jackson, our broody Welsh Harlequin duck, hamming it up for a photo.

 

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.) 

Jackson the broody duck is very upset about being temporarily taken off of her nest so that lettuce scraps can be removed.

Jackson the broody duck is very upset about being temporarily taken off of her nest so that lettuce scraps can be removed.

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. 

In this article, Jackson the Duck will demonstrate how to make a duck go broody.

In this article, Jackson the Duck will demonstrate how to make a duck go broody.

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. 

At some point along the way, Susan The Tyrant decided that she was tired of cleaning up wood shavings in our house, so she transitioned Jackson the Duck and her eggs to a nest made of old towels. If you go this route, only do so AFTER your duck goes broody or you'll be washing a lot of poopy towels.

At some point along the way, Susan The Tyrant decided that she was tired of cleaning up wood shavings in our house, so she transitioned Jackson the Duck and her eggs to a nest made of old towels and linens. If you go this route, only do so AFTER your duck goes broody or you’ll be washing a lot of poopy towels.

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.  
A couple of telltale physical signs of a broody duck on her nest: tail straight up and wings drooped to better warm the eggs.

A couple of telltale physical signs of a broody duck on her nest: tail straight up and wings drooped to better warm the eggs.

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.   

Susan kept Jackson the broody duck with her throughout the day so she would move her nest (with duck installed) around with her to different spots. Not many people get to enjoy dinner with a broody duck plus duck nest on the table.

Susan kept Jackson the broody duck with her throughout the day so she would move her nest (with duck installed) around with her to different spots. Not many people get to enjoy dinner with a broody duck plus duck nest on the table.

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. 

At peak broodiness and after she no longer had access to her nest, Jackson the broody duck was extra affectionate with us and her best friend, Marigold. It takes a bit of time for this hormonal response to recalibrate. Here you can see her resting her bill on Marigold's back.

At peak broodiness and after she no longer had access to her nest, Jackson the broody duck was extra affectionate with us and her best friend, Marigold. This is a helpful when a duck has to raise ducklings. It takes a bit of time for this hormonal response to recalibrate. Here you can see Jackson resting her bill on Marigold’s back.

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 shut off egg production in a matter of a few days.  


We hope the information in this article helps you become a better and more informed duck parent!

Quack on, 

why and how to make a duck go broody

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