Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chicken Follies

Mama Hen

I posted previously about one of my hens hatching out chicks.  She had been sitting on a clutch of four eggs.  Unfortunately, when I checked on her again, I found that only one of her chicks had hatched out.  Such is nature, sometimes these things happen.  The eggs may not have been fertile, or maybe the chicks had a genetic defect that prevented them from surviving, or maybe they weren't strong enough to get out of their shells.  It doesn't really matter, nature took its course and the strongest, healthiest chick survived.  But I still felt bad for Mama with only one little chickie. 

The Rooster and his Ladies

Plus, I've been wanting to get some new hens for awhile.  Not that I don't like my hens, they're great.  The breed I have is American Gamefowl.  They're tough, smart (for a chicken), good layers and great mothers.  Actually, they're almost too good of mothers and that's a problem.  You see, I have chickens to get eggs.  I like for them to hatch out a few clutches every year for meat and to replace lost hens, but these hens go crazy with brooding!  A hen that's brooding (sitting on eggs or with chicks) isn't laying.  So, when all my hens go broody, I get no eggs.  And my hens love to go broody!

Those good mothering instincts also mean that my hens will take on adoptees.  Seriously, you could give them a rock and they would attempt to be it's mother!  Chickens aren't that bright. 

So, I went to my local feed store to see if they had any chicks.  I wanted a breed with good layers and low mothering instinct.  I ended up buying Golden Comets.  They're a hybrid, a cross between White Rocks and Rhode Island Reds.  They're bred to be layers, but also to make it easy to tell hens from roosters as chicks.  Pullets (female chicks) are reddish-orange, males are white.  I bought six adorably fuzzy little pullets and headed home.

Mama was in the coop with her one little chick.  As soon as she heard me come up with my box full of peeping chicks she ran over.  There's a reason overbearing women are called "mother hens".... my Mama hen illustrates that title perfectly.  She knew exactly what was in that box, and she wanted them! 

I opened the box and placed the chicks on the coop floor.  Mama rushed over and rounded up her new babies, gently herding them over to the nest.  She clucked and fluffed at me, telling me in no uncertain terms to get out and leave her babies alone.  She was in charge now!  I left the happy Mama alone to get her little adoptees squared away.

Mama and adoptees

The next day everyone seemed to be getting along well, so I let them out of the coop.  Unfortunately, I had severely over estimated the intelligence and hardiness of the store bought chicks.  When I went out to check on everybody an hour or so later, I found that three of the new chicks had gotten trapped behind the coop door and were hypothermic.  Chicks can't regulate their body temperature that well, they need to frequently get under their mother to stay warm.  Because these chicks had gotten trapped and couldn't get back to Mama, they had quickly gotten too cold.

I herded Mama back into the coop.  She rounded up her four mobile babies, but the three who had been trapped were stranded.  I scooped them up to give back to Mama, who had gotten back on her nest to protect her babies.

Unfortunately, it was not quite clear to Mama what was happening.  She thought I was attacking her babies.  Every time I tried to get the hypothermic babies back under her, she attacked me.  Chickens may look defenseless and delicate, but I can personally attest to the sharpness of their beaks.  As they say, no good deed goes unpunished!  I eventually managed to get the chicks into the nest, after sustaining many chicken bites to my hands and arms, and beat a hasty retreat out of the coop. 

Don't mess with Mama!

This story has a happy ending.  The stranded chicks warmed up under Mama and are just fine.  I blocked off the part of the coop where they became stranded, so we won't have a repeat of that!

Mama and babies, out and about


  1. I love your chicken posts...they are the cutest things and that mama pic was priceless

  2. Well you had quite the ordeal! We don't have a rooster so we always go to the feed store and buy chicks when its time to replenish the flock. We only have one hen who gets at all broody and when I introduced her to new chicks she took off running like they were little aliens or something - so we raise them in a brooder and gradually introduce them to the herd.

  3. Thanks for the story! I really enjoyed reading it. I wish I could have some of your experiences...

  4. I'm so glad you went and got Mama some chicks! What an adorable story (except for the pecking you part). So glad it ended happily - I was tensed up there for a big wondering about those cold babies! Great post.


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