Purchasing a few chicks online or from local feed stores is to add to your flock is easy, but trying to introduce them to your existing flock is a completely different story. You can try to sneak them in late at night while they are all sleeping, but what happens when your old grumpy hens wake up to total strangers sleeping on their roost and eating their food? Your poor little babies get pecked and beat up. What a great start in life. They get shipped the day they are born, raised away from any chickens that will teach them how to be chickens, and then when they are introduced to some others, they are just attacked. There is a great solution to solve all of these terrible problems. Why don’t you just get a hen to adopt them? Can’t be too hard, right?
I will begin by telling you that with some preparation, this is the best and easiest way for raising chicks. To start, you will need to find a hen that seems to be a good mother or has good traits of a mother hen. This hen may be very broody or she could be an assertive hen who can be trusted by the rest of the flock. This can make it easier later when you try to introduce them back into the flock. If she is a very curious and active, you should probably choose a different hen because she may not be willing to be penned up for long enough to raise your new baby chicks. If you have a hen that has raised chicks before, she would probably be a good mother of adopted chicks to. I have found that hens with experience make the best mothers.
After you chose your hen, plan on brining her in to the chick’s brooding box at least three days before you plan on your chick’s arrive. Place about as many eggs as there are chicks under her. The brooding area should have shavings covered by paper towels (to discourage the chicks from eating shavings), water, chick starter feed and a heat lamp is recommended. Also, before your chicks arrive, make sure that there is another box or crate ready for the hen in case she starts to be dangerous to the chicks. This should include food, water and bedding.
Introducing the Chicks
The night that you get your new chicks, swap the eggs under the hen with the chicks while she is sleeping. Make sure to observe them closely for a little while to make sure that the hen accepts her new chicks and is not becoming dangerous do them. She should be clucking quietly to them and encouraging them to stay near or under her. Check back frequently until you are sure that they have all bonded. If there are any chicks who won’t bond with your hen, or your hen has abandoned them, make sure that they have a heat lamp and some protection from her if necessary. Continue to monitor the mother and chicks for about two or three days before moving them outside, still separate from the rest of the flock. Do not bring them outside if any of them seem weak of too small. If any of the chicks are abandoned, bring them back inside or provide them with a heat lamp for them to huddle under until they are accepted or old enough to join the flock. I suggest waiting at least four weeks before introducing them to the flock. When the chicks are introduced with one of the older hens by their side, the flock will be more likely to accept them while putting up less of a fight.
Tips for Success
1.) Make sure to only feed chick starter feed to both the mother hen and the chicks. Adult chickens can eat starter feed, but regular adult feed is too rich in protein for a young chick.
2.) Be prepared to raise some or all chicks in a brooder. Sometimes, hens will not accept chicks, so it is always good to have a plan B.
3.) If the chicks are not accepted at first, don’t give up yet. You an try to leave them together as long as the chicks are not harmed. Just be sure to keep a heat lamp so they don’t get too cold.
4.) You may want to start small. Just try introducing one chick and if she accepts that one, you can try adding more.
5.) Monitor the group at least a couple times a day. If the hen seems overwhelmed or can’t handle that many chicks, take some away to brood in a chick brooder.
Having a hen adopt your hatchery chicks is a great way to lift some weight off your shoulders, and it also gives the chicks a better start in life. I suggest trying to use this method over any other because it will be less stressful for the chicks, and for you.