A Fascinating Chicken Story

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

I have an unscheduled chicken post for you. This is not going to be one of those six, twelve, eighteen kind of things, but the other day something really cool happened in our chicken house.

Proud daddy

We’ve had a couple of hens wanting to set for a good while now. For you non-chicken types, this is one of those things that a hen does occasionally. She’ll want to stay in the nest box until the imaginary eggs underneath her hatch. Well, it’s a chicken thing. Everyday we take the eggs out from underneath them.

If you are looking to start a flock of birds, there are birds that are advertised as broody and non-broody. If you don’t want a bird to exhibit this type of behavior, get a non-broody breed. If you think you might want to hatch your own eggs using a hen, then get a bird that will go broody. But just because a bird goes broody, or I will call it setting, doesn’t always mean that they will sit on the eggs for 21 days, hatch the baby chickens and raise them. Some birds are good mommies and some birds aren’t. We have never let a hen set on a clutch of eggs.

Now, back to the story. As mentioned above, we have two hens that have been trying to set. We have an assorted flock, two is not bad. One is a Dark Cornish, one is an Black Australorp. Well, we put our recently hatched baby chickens in the chicken house about 10 days ago. Three nights back, one of the setting hens decided she would go over and set on the opposite side of the pen where the baby chickens were. Now she’s still in setting mode. The next morning, all the baby chicks are crowded on their side of the pen right up next to where this setting chicken was. This hen just happens to be a Black Australorp.

Well, Fern and I thought that was really cute. And then we thought about it some more and talked about it. This setting hen was talking to these baby chickens. We thought we would try putting this hen in with the baby chicks. We did. We watched her for awhile. Now, remember these are not day old chicks, they are about 10 days old. But these baby chicks took to this hen just like she was their mommy, and she probably is the mommy to at least a couple of them. There are dangers in doing what we did, because adult hens on occasion will kill a non-related baby chick. All the baby chicks are still fine and healthy. This hen has adopted these 36 baby chicks. I can’t necessarily say that they have all bonded with her, but at night many of them sleep under her wings and under her body, and the rest crowd around close. 

So, what does this mean to us, the humans? Now, this is what I have read and been told. If you release a mother with her baby chickens into the flock, then the mother will protect the babies from the other adult hens. After a couple of days, with the mother hen defending her chicks, the other adult hens won’t bother them. 

Here is our plan. We have already started another batch of eggs that will hatch in about two weeks. We will put these chicks in the pen where the current baby chicks are. We will move the current baby chicks into an adjacent pen, still separated from the adult birds, but without the direct heat source that the first pen has. After this move of birds, about three weeks later we should be able to release the current baby chicks with their mom into the general population. That would make them approximately six weeks old at that time. We normally don’t release birds into the general population until about 10 to 12 weeks of age. This will provide us with the opportunity to start another batch of eggs hatching a little bit sooner.

You might say, “Why do you need so many baby chicks?” Well, for all of the babies that are hatching, they will become our replacement laying flock in about six months. We will freeze more friers this year than we have in the past. But our big plan is to can quite a bit more chicken meat for long term use. We also make our own chicken broth when we are canning chicken. 

The cool part of this story is the mother hen and the baby birds. I thought you’d want to know this. If you’ve had any experiences like this, or know of anyone that has, please let us know in the comment section. We’ve heard stories about how you can take a setting chicken with eggs underneath her, and during the night replace the eggs with live day old chickens. But we were just floored with the behavior of this adult hen and the relationship she now has with the ten day old baby chicks. Hope you’ve enjoyed this story. Take care.

We’ll talk more later, Frank

22 thoughts on “A Fascinating Chicken Story

  1. Hi Pony. That's an interesting story. To this day I have never had another chicken do what this one did. The last couple of years, I have not had good luck with our small flock of laying birds. We provide water, feed, a calcium supplement, we let the birds range, their house could probably be cleaner, but we're getting less eggs, more hostile birds and the hatch rate when I use an incubator is terrible.Last year I didn't keep any of the chicks we hatched – poor hatch rate and lots of deformities. The birds I have now didn't start laying until they were about 8 months old and they still lay poorly. They are Rhode Island Reds and Australorps from McMurray hatchery.I have on order for April 1st, 25 straight run Buff Brahmas and 25 straight run Silver Laced Wyandottes. We'll see.Thanks for the comment. It's nice to talk chicken.Frank

  2. We used to have a banty cross (named Banty Anna) that would go broody, and would accept two day old chicks. Never tried it with older chicks, but we don't have any broody girls at the moment. Banty Anna went off, as she often did, to lay her own eggs, in the place of her choosing. She chose poorly, and her nest was attacked by a critter. Lost Anna and her chicks.She was a remarkable bird. I still miss her.– Pony

  3. Thank you for the comment. I hope the system we have will work for a few more years, at least until they grind me up and make me into Soylent Green. A little humor there.Frank

  4. Thank you for your comments, Sandra. We do plan on putting away quite a bit of chicken meat this year. We're going to use some of these new chicks we're hatching to not only replace the older birds, but to increase our flock size. It does appear that it's a good time to put more away. Neat story about your chickens. Take care.Frank

  5. Calidore, as a general rule we try to butcher at about 10 to 12 weeks of age for friers. We take our older birds, cook them, and grind them. We have canned ground, older age chicken meat before, and it cans fine. I don't really know if canning the meat makes it more tender or not, but the stuff we have that is tough that is canned, we feed to the dog and cats. Hope this helps.Frank

  6. Anytime we've ever mixed in younger birds with older birds, there is a pecking order issue. We've had some birds that never did accept replacement birds. Right now we have five birds that run together, and have never accepted the other adult birds. Just the way it is in henville.Frank

  7. Jayne, our other Australorps have not shown any desire to set at all, which is fine with us. We've had flocks of birds before where about half of the hens want to set at one time. This is not a good situation for egg production. Like other folks have mentioned, some birds will set right to the day of the hatch, then quit. That happened to us once. I took the eggs in, put a heating pad down in a big mixing bowl, put a towel on top of the heating pad, then the eggs, then another towel. I borrowed a scientific thermometer, and a few days later, we had baby chicks. Like other people have stated, not all hens are good mommies. Thanks for the comment.Frank

  8. Hello, Shannon. This hen is part of that group that had the cannibalism issues. That whole group of birds have always been strange. I guess this time strange worked out okay. But she is nurturing her replacement, hope they don't turn out strange, too. Frank

  9. Hi, Lynn. That's odd, isn't it? I'm always curious why things happen, but I don't guess we'll ever have an answer as to why a hen will take some chicks, but won't take the others. Thank you for reading.Frank

  10. C.M. it's been about five days now and everything is going fine. I hope the hen is making a difference, because the baby chicks were doing fine before we put the hen in there. Time will tell. Thank you for the comment.Frank

  11. Sandy, you know once prices go up they never come back down. I remember when bread was $0.25 a loaf. The price went up to $1.50 and people were outraged. After a while the price came down to $1.00 a loaf, and the people were happy to pay $1.00. Isn't it funny how that works?Hope your hubby is doing well. Take care.Frank

  12. I love baby chicks. We had a hen that would sit on a dozen or so eggs and hatch them. I lived seeing babies peeking out of her feathers and watching her walk around the farm, with them scurrying around her. Some are just born to be mothers 🙂 Good luck with your plans! Extra chickens are probably a good idea right now. We will probably regret, not getting any this year.

  13. I have Australorp hens and a rooster purchased not only for their egg laying but also their meat and I have to say mine are the most hopeless mothers I have ever seen. They go broody. There's no problem with that and will sit on the eggs – generally until they hatch – but the minute those chicks are big enough to be let out with the rest of the flock Mum thinks her job is over and they are on their own. By contrast I have a Modern Game Hen (we think – imagine a tiny chook) and she is amazing. She went broody the same time as the Australorp and we put three eggs under each of them both of which hatched within days of each other. Mummy Bantam raised her chicks to be fine upstanding chickens, hovered over them constantly and it was hilarious to see her trying to fit three chickens (who by that stage were bigger than mum) under her wings. Mummy Australorp just wanted to perch where there other hens were and couldn't care less. Guess which chicks grew the best and fastest. I hope you don't mind my asking but at what age or size do you butcher your chickens? Dear son and I killed two roosters who had just started crowing (made fabulous stock from them) but they were a little tough so the meat is being used for cat food. Does the meat become more tender if it is canned?

  14. Interesting story. We have a couple of broody hens, but they don't like the new hen replacements. We put them together at 5-6 weeks. Next time we'll try sooner. thanks for the idea.

  15. I have had a hen do that before. Also an Australorp. She was not a good sitter but she was an excellent mother. One of the other hens would hatch them and then I would put the chicks in with the Australorp. It was like a revolving door system! For weeks, she would take on all the new chicks. She is the only hen I have had that would do that. Maybe it is a strange characteristic of some Australorps?

  16. That is a great story. That hen really wanted to be a mom. Most of my hens are really good mother's, some are not so good. But they do not normally abide chicks that they did not hatch. Your hen seems a special sort.

  17. Hi, I had a bantam hen that hatched one egg is our greenhouse. She had escaped and we didn't find her until it was too late. Well I needed some replacement hens so purchased 3 Americana chicks and 3 Barred Rock chicks. We raise them in the green house also. I thought I would see if the bantam would accept the chicks and raise them as her own. Well she accepted the Americana chicks but would not let the barred rock chicks close to her.She eventually raised the 3 chicks and her own together and it was sure easy introducing them to the flock of hens with her mothering protection. The 3 barred babies had to be raised by us.I will try this again in the future.

  18. Fern and Frank,While out today doing groceries, I deliberately checked on the prices of eggs. Due to the bird flu egg purchases are being limited. A dozen of cage free eggs are going for almost $4.00. Good thing you have chickens that produce eggs, and fresh meat. I say fill your freezer before the economy crashes.I've never seen / heard of a hen taking charge like this.

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