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How to introduce chicks to a broody hen

Day old chicksChicks 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 the 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 losing 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 was irresistable.

Chicken in milk crateThe 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 broody hen.

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 Two nest boxesher 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 Transferring hen onto chicksbodies 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 received, with chicks pecking away at the nipple within a day of hatching.


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