Henpecked

Ella in solitary confinement

Ella in solitary confinement

All the backyard chicken forum posts I read about introducing day old chicks to a broody hen provided suggestions for how to successfully get chicks to imprint on their mama and visa-versa. We did everything they suggested: putting the peeping chicks in the box next to the mama hen for a couple hours, sneaking them under her in the evening one-by-one, and removing the eggs she’d been sitting on. We made sure that their food, water, and heat lamp were ready and available and we tended to them each morning and evening. We were successful in April Fooling My Hen and watching the chicks has been one of the best parts of Springtime in the Tiny House.

Everything has gone exactly as the chicken forums described. Ella literally tucked her babies under her wings to keep them warm. It was fun to see them follow her around and jump on her back for a ride. She taught them to forage and she clucked to her the little fuzz balls to show them worms and bugs.

But none of the posts that told us how to introduce chicks to a hen said anything about it being common for a hen to reject her chicks at four to eight weeks old. Five weeks from the time we gave Ella her chicks she started laying eggs again. Two days later she started acting really agitated and pecking at her babies. I separated them while I did some research.

Here’s a post I found:

“We had our top hen a Black Australorp go broody this spring… We finally decided to slip three 1 day old chicks under her at night.  It was a success and Precious was an excellent mama!  She protected them, taught them how to forage, and integrated them into the flock of 6 other 1 year old hens.  Then when they turned 4 weeks almost to the day, she cut them loose.  She started laying eggs and roosting with the flock.  She didn’t want anything to do with them and even chased and pecked them.  Poor babies didn’t know what was happening!”

chick's head pecked horribly by mama hen

chick's head pecked horribly by mama hen

It was a relief to know we weren’t alone in experiencing this. But knowing it was normal for a mama hen to reject her chicks didn’t make it any easier to see it happen. Ella didn’t like being separated so we tried letting them be together part of the time, too. Unfortunately, Ella pecked two of them so brutally that I’ve separated them indefinitely. Two or three times a day I’ve been putting ointment on the babies that were pecked. They aren’t healing as quickly as I’d like to see, but they seem to be doing fine. Ella seems to be fine in solitary confinement in her little makeshift chicken tractor, though I think she’ll be happier once I figure out a next box situation for her. So far it seems to be working well, but it’s a bit of a pain to tend to the hen and chicks separately. Hopefully when the chicks are big enough to fight back we can reintroduce them. Meanwhile I hope I can keep everyone healthy and happy. Wish us luck!

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10 Responses to Henpecked

  1. Kellukos says:

    Aww, those poor chicks! I hope they get better! :)

    • Little Life says:

      Thanks Kellukos! They are doing much better. The one who was pecked on the head has even gotten some feathers in. Phew! I was nervous there, but they’re doing great. Do you have chickens, too?

  2. Marion says:

    My broody hen hatched two eggs, (not hers) but the other four we put under her did not hatch. I tucked three day olds under her wings at night and she seemed fine with them, but the next day I noticed she pecked at them whenever they came out from under her. I called the breeder who said she would not let them under her if she was rejecting them and that I had nothing to worry about. I had to take her out so they could get food and water, but she seemed fine whenever they were under her, and fine with the original two chicks. Next day she seemed a little better but still pecked at them quite alot when they came out. Today she has been much better with them, allowing them out for long periods of time. But when I checked on them later, one has quite a nasty peck on the head and she was pecking at him whenever he came out. Its such a worry to know what to do for the best. My friend said it seems like she thinks they are younger than the others and so should be under her more, but Im worried now that they will get hurt with pecking like that. Going to have to see how they are tommorrow I dont really want to hand rear them as they will be much better raised by mama.

    • Little Life says:

      Marion, thanks for sharing your experience. What’s the update?

      • Marion says:

        I put a heat lamp in with them, so even if they were not under her they could stay warm. This seemed to relax her immediately. She still pecks at them now and again but each day it got better. Now it is an occasional half hearted peck. I don’t think she will ever feel as close to them as the others, but they are thriving well and most of the time there is harmony!

        • Little Life says:

          Glad to hear the chicks are doing well! It sounds like you and your hen are both taking good care of the little ones.

          • Marion says:

            Glad to report that my hen is now treating all the chicks the same, she loves them to bits and they all follow her round. They are four weeks old now and looking great.

  3. laura carter says:

    My mama hen is pecking at her 3-4week old chick and she is pulling
    on his wings till they are very short and it’s bald on it’s side.
    Should I remove the chick?

    • Little Life says:

      Hi Laura,

      Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that. Your chick seems awfully young to be rejected like that, but I think it is probably best to remove it so mama doesn’t do any more damage. Is she picking on all the chicks or just the one? Do you have a way to keep the injured chick safe and warm?

      All our henpecked chicks did survive and their feathers grew back in, but we removed them and started adding ointment to their wounds so they wouldn’t get infected.

      Lina

    • Little Life says:

      Laura,

      How are your hen and chicks doing?

      Lina

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