Using a Broody Hen to Raise Day Old Chicks. (part 1)
This was yet another adventure of ours that we thought we could learn from Google and other chicken sites. Well, as it is almost always true, things are never as easy as they appear when someone else is doing them. When we integrated our last flock in the main group it took a long time. Or should I say we were very cautious and afraid that we'd have a blood bath on our hands if we pushed them together to fast. So this time we had the great idea of using a broody hen (or two) to raise the chicks and help integrate them into the larger flock.
So we did our typical homework and started reading everything we could find in our chicken books and online about using a broody to raise day old chicks. Let me tell you, there's not a lot out there. There is tons of stuff about using a broody to hatch eggs, but it's not quite the same. And the few people that do talk about it just give hints and vague details about parts of the process, the parts we had to white-knuckle through. So feel free to learn from us and ask us questions if you'd like. First let me say, we started with 12 chicks and still have 12 chicks, so I'd consider that a success so far.
We ordered 12 chicks from MyPetChicken.com back in November for delivery in May so we didn't have to worry about it being to cold for the chicks to be outside on day one. And while they won't be laying till late fall, we are okay with that since we won't be spending days dusting the house from raising the chicks indoors for a few months like last year. Be prepared, the number one question you will get if you talk about this, and even at the post office when you pick them up is, "You can get chickens in the mail??!?!?!" Yes, you can. Here is Jessica at the post office with our little girls.
Once we got the chicks home we put them in our temporary brooder so they could stretch their little legs and wings and get some food and water. We were told to wait for night to do the old switcheroo with the fake eggs our broody's were sitting on. Do not attempt to do this in the day. I've seen a few YouTube videos that will make you cringe. We also put our two broody girls in a separate, smaller coop a few days prior to this so they could get acclimated to their new home. Under the cover of darkness we reached under each momma and pulled out an egg and pushed under a chick. So far so good. We put one at a time and waited a minute or so between each one to see how the momma would react. After all 12 were placed we closed up the coop and watched. Did I mention we have coop cams? Well, we do. We totally sit around sometimes in our house and watch our chickens in their coop and run doing chicken stuff. And it gives us the peace of mind to check in on them before bed without disturbing them. I highly recommend them if you have the infrastructure (power / wi-fi / etc...) and it's something you feel comfortable messing around with. We basically got the same system we already had for our house and duplicated it for the coop and run.
Ok, back to the chicks. So this is the part that is not well documented and the part that almost drove us crazy. Now what? Most of the blogs we read and videos we watched either ended here or said something like "and everyone grew up happy with their new momma, the end." Um, ok. Thanks for the details. We knew that if the broody started to peck hard, as in trying to kill the baby, that was bad. But what if she is only gently pecking the chick? What if she pushes one out of her nest and then lets it back in? Is she just messing with them? Why is she pecking them when they try to get out from under her? Why is she pecking that little one over there? We ran out at one time and pulled one chick from the Silver Maran and put her under the Cuckoo Maran. It seemed the Cuckoo (Camille) was a bit more gentle and didn't peck as much. Now, when I say peck, I mean more like a little nudge, nothing that would draw blood. But we thought everyone was supposed to cuddle and be fine? So after going to bed and hoping we weren't going to wake up to 12 dead chicks, we were happy to wake up to everyone alive and well. So here is the funny / strange part. Mamma Stormy (the Silver Maran) had 9 chicks following her around, and Camille only had 3. So the broody we thought was being mean actually turned out to be a better mom, at least in the chick's eyes. On day 3 Mama Stormy also was the first to take all her chicks outside to run in the grass. Camille didn't go out until day 5. Now, on day 7, everyone goes out all day and runs in the grass and plays around. We are still working on going back up into the coop at night. We placed battery operated lights near the ramp into the coop and inside the coop since we read that helps them to go back inside. After 2 nights of that system the mamma's are going up the ramp and most are following, but not all. They still need a little push to find the ramp, but once on it they will run up. We will update with a part two in a few weeks as we prepare to integrate them into our larger flock. For now they are separated by a double ply fence (so no chicks can get through the larger fence holes) so the main flock can see them and eat near them during treat time. We are so very pleased this is going well (after panicking our first night) and hope the trend continues. Thanks for reading and please let us know if you have any questions or even suggestions!