How to introduce chicks to a broody hen
Chicks are very cute on day
1, but by day 2, I'm heartily wishing they
were all grown up and able to take care of themselves. That's why
we decided to take the risk of slipping our
newest eleven under
broody hen. We knew there was a chance some or all of
the chicks would die if the mother hen rejected them, but we've been
nearly a quarter of our motherless birds to predators/power outages in
the first month anyway, so she can probably do the job better.
Mostly, though, the chance of foisting off motherhood on someone else
The best time to introduce
chicks to a broody hen is in the evening,
after she's been sitting tight on the nest for at least a couple of
days. You're banking on the fact that chickens can't count,
either time or eggs. If she wakes up in the morning with eleven
youngsters peeping amid her feathers, she'll just assume they hatched
out of the one egg she's been sitting on for a mere three days.
Of course, the chicks need to be young enough for this to be at least
vaguely believable, so don't try to toss those two week olds under your
Our hen was setting in a
plastic egg crate we'd tossed in the coop as a nest box and never
modified, and when we tried to move her to Mark's more chick-friendly
brood box on Monday
night, she threw a fit and I let her return to her old nest box.
As a result, we had to make the box switch at the same time we
introduced the chicks on Tuesday night, and the broody hen was not
pleased. After taking a nice chunk out of Mark's gloves as he
lifted her onto the cluster of
chicks in the new brood box, she proceeded to peck at the chicks
peeking out from beneath her feathers until they squeaked in
pain. Still, it was nearly dark, and soon she couldn't see to
peck, so we crossed our fingers and went to bed.
I figured the test would
come at dawn, so I slipped outside as soon as it grew light and padded
to the chicken coop. Ms. Broody was awake, and so were the
chicks, with several pecking at the surrounding straw while keeping
their bodies warm underneath the
white feather blanket. I was glad to finally hear motherly
clucking coming from the broody hen and being answered by soft chick
twitters, but had our hen really accepted the youngsters?
One of the chicks fell
out from under the mother hen as she turned to look at me (squawking
warningly.) The lost chick toddled down the ramp in the wrong
direction and quickly got cold. "Help! Where are you?" he
cheeped from the floor of the coop. "Junior, I'm this way," the
mother hen purred, and he scampered back up the ramp, pecked at his
mother's beak, and nestled down into her feathers. I guess the
adoption was a success.
For those of you keen to
try this at home, you'll probably sleep better if you follow the rules
a little better than I did. Move the box of chicks out to the
brood coop a couple of hours before introduction and their peeping will
make the mother hen think her eggs are hatching. Then slip the
chicks under the hen's feathers one by one, trying not to disturb
her. That said, internet lore to the contrary, our quick and
dirty swap seems to have worked just as well.
Our chicken waterer was well
chicks pecking away at the nipple within a day of hatching.
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