Help! Broody hens pecking at fist chick!

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by lizgarf, Oct 14, 2013.

  1. lizgarf

    lizgarf Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hi,
    I have two broodies sitting on 6 eggs, due today. The first apparently hatched last night. I was hand-feeding the broodies in the nest, and it crawled out all adorable, but then the broodies started pecking at it until it crawled back under! Is this normal?? Do I need to be worried or intervene?

    I don't think any of the other eggs have hatched yet - and I have no idea how many of them will make it. I think the broodies may have been just protecting their scratch, but I thought they were supposed to teach the chicks to eat! Or maybe they were telling baby chick it wasn't ready yet?

    I think they're leaving it alone, now that it's back under them, but I don't know how involved I should try to be at this point. Advice is great! I'm hoping to let nature take it's course with them, but I want it to be a loving course!
     
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

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    You don't need to intervene OR hand feed the broodies.
    Broody hens come off the nest once a day to eat, drink, defecate and stretch. They've done so for centuries with no hand feeding. No intervention on your part are necessary.
    Let the mom raise the chicks.
     
  3. lizgarf

    lizgarf Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I had closed off their nest last night because I didn't want the other hens interfering with the chicks, and I didn't know the chick was hatched yet, so I was just trying to help them feel relaxed with a little treat. I'm not going to hand-feed them again - there is chick start in the nest with them now.
    But, what about the pecking? Is that weird?
    This is my first hatch and I'm very nervous - be gentle on me!
     
  4. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

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    Relax, have a cup of coffee and enjoy watching nature take its course.
    Pecking is natural, unless they're drawing blood. The less intervention the better.
    I'm not trying to be mean.
     
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  5. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    Quote: If she's pecking hard enough to make the chick squeal in pain, or drawing blood, intervene. Some mothers will very gently tap newly hatched chicks on the head if they venture out from underneath them, to warn them to stay under unless the mother decides to move. But, the vast majority of all my hens never, ever pecked one of their own, and most never pecked another hen's either.

    I have had some baby killers though, which I culled. I have never seen a violent mother get better with practice, though some say theirs have. Personally I wouldn't give a hen the second chance; once she's killed any, she's invalidated herself as a mother. But that's just my opinion.

    One thing to watch for is any peck to the head that elicits an extra-high-pitched cry from the chick. Another thing is the peck between the shoulders. This one often cripples and kills chicks. It won't bleed, but its spine will be broken, and it will die. Often it's cumulative damage. If she repeatedly pecks it between the shoulders, I would remove it. If she doesn't stop pecking them on the head after the first few hours I would remove it too, in fact I'd probably let her do it a couple of times and then remove it. But, again, this is just my opinion on it.
    Quote: A hen who is a capable mother will never 'protect' food from her babies. For them, yes, but not against them. A chick doesn't need to eat until it's two days old, though water is fine to make available. But in a shallow container so no drownings occur. I mainly do this to stop the mother getting off any hatching eggs since I breed mongrels so hatching times vary a lot.

    Is she "talking" to the chick at all? Are you able to observe them without causing the hen to behave defensively, i.e. making her think she needs to hide the chicks? If she's not communicating with it, chances are the bond is weak, but it's not a guarantee that she'll fail to mother.

    As you no doubt know, different family lines of chickens have had maternal/paternal instincts completely bred out, or partially; never take it for granted that any breed is a good parent, because even if it's promoted as such, it's only as true a trait as the breeder/s of the last few generations allowed it to be. If someone takes a good mothering breed and hatches all eggs for a few generations in an artificial incubator, and raises the chicks artificially, over a relatively short time they can lose all parenting instinct and the chicks can also lose all filial instinct, so they may fail to cooperate with/respond to a mother, even if you give them one. A good mother can also produce a daughter who doesn't mother at all, or is a bad/violent mother.

    Hens will often have varying degrees of maternal instinct, so don't trust her in all areas until you know she checks all the boxes, so to speak.

    For example: does she communicate with them? (A very good first indicator of bond, often). Does she protect them? Does she crouch and snuggle them when they're ranging about, and the chicks let her know they're cold and want to snuggle? Does she feed them? Does she bring them to water? Does she bring them to shade? Does she respond to their calls if any are left behind? Etc, etc...

    Obviously you won't have had opportunity to see that yet, but even if a mother's great on the nest, some fail once off it. Differing degrees of ability. I always watch all first time mothers to see if they're "ticking all the boxes". Some hens will abandon hatched eggs to sit on unhatched ones. Some will simply not understand to feed their babies. Some will respond to a needy chick's calls by attacking it. Some won't snuggle their babies, so in winter, obviously, this becomes an issue.

    People often think all hens (and animals in general) have the right instincts intact and active, but you should never take it for granted in any domestic or captive species. We've bred it out of many of them, to slight or complete degrees. Instinct is not infallible or unalterable, at all.

    Anyway, I hope this helps, and please don't worry; your stress can rub off on them and cause them to react negatively, not to mention that it's no good for you; also, if I were you I would keep a close and regular check on them, spending time observing unobtrusively until I knew for sure whether all is well or not, but don't be too quick to intervene unless obvious damage is being done.

    Best wishes.
     
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  6. lizgarf

    lizgarf Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you so much for the helpful responses.
    The chick reacted to the pecking, but it didn't seem to be damaging - more directing it to get back under. I bugged them one more time to get another look and a cuddle, but I'll try to leave them alone for awhile now. There are two hens sitting on the eggs - they have always been like a couple, and have both been enormously broody from the start, so I'm hoping they can handle it, but it is uncertain.
    I haven't seen signs that the other eggs are hatching yet, so this one may be on her own for awhile. The broodies seem pretty intent on setting on the eggs and her. This is the morning of Day 21 - I put the eggs under them on a Monday night - so there could still be awhile for any of the other eggs. I think some of them might not be viable anymore, but I have hopes for a couple siblings for this first little chicky!!

    And, because pictures are fun,
    Here's the broody team, from yesterday:
    [​IMG]

    And here's chicky #1:
    [​IMG]
     
  7. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

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    I had 7 pullets go broody at once in a community nest. Out of about 25 eggs, only 1 hatched. I'm sure it was from stealing eggs from each other. Then they all wanted to mother the survivor.

    They are cute and I'm still not being mean but a human stealing and handling a broody hen's chick isn't natural.
     
  8. lizgarf

    lizgarf Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Actually, you are being mean. There are nicer ways to make your points, which I am very open to listening too.
     
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  9. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

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    I'm outa here!!!
     
  10. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    Quote: That is a common issue with co-mothering. Cooperative mothers are great when they make it work, but most tend to kill the eggs through rolling them too many times as they steal them back and forth. It can kill eggs of any age, and is particularly fatal to hatching eggs. And then you have the issue of hens all bonding to the one or few chicks, and abandoning hatching or unhatched ones to mother the hatched one.

    I've also had that problem with hens who couldn't see the chick which was in another stall, but could hear it; they'd respond to it and leave their nests when it did, but of course the real mother was mightily offended at their intrusion into her personal space and fights ensued. Sometimes you need to make sure the chicks are out of earshot of other hens, but not all hens are like that. Most aren't.
    Quote: Very cute. When co-mothering works, it's great. Hope it does, in this case. If you had have posted a pic of that frizzle-ish hen asking what gender she was, I would have had a hard time with it. She almost looks like she has male feathering on the tail, lol!

    I had two hens who co-mothered quite well for a few seasons, then one realized she could leave her lot with the other and start a new clutch, leaving the other hen to complete raising them. So one poor hen ended up with clutches of two or three week old chicks numbering up to 20. She took offense at that and they stopped co-mothering after that. It does exhaust a hen to try to hunt enough insects for so many babies, and shepherd them, and try to snuggle them all, and protect them all; a good mother is very aware of whether or not they're thriving and meeting their needs for feed, heat, and so forth, and it distresses her to be unable to provide for them. The same is true of roosters with too many hens, unless they lack the instincts to feed and protect.
    Quote: The problem with that belief is that domestic animals, by definition, are not "natural" and an animal steward/ keeper/ husband (whatever you want to call the person, male or female, who tends animals) has a duty of care, which involves taming the animals to the point where they can be handled to be treated and for their own good. This is often best done when they're young to begin with. I too am a believer in preserving positive natural characteristics and traits, but as they are domesticated stock, and kept for our benefit, the line must be drawn somewhere that benefits both human and animal.

    I think it's kinder to tame them than not, so they don't suffer fear and stress when you must handle them later on. The chick learning to be calm in your hands, and partially imprinting onto your voice and appearance, often pays dividends later on in its ability as an adult to be calm and trusting when being transported, treated, or whatever.

    Some people say they don't believe in handling birds because they might have heart attacks, and they prefer non-tamed birds because then you can easily spot the sick or hurt ones --- because they don't run from you or fight you --- but in my experience, this is usually symptomatic of it being too late to help them overcome the injury or illness. When a terrified animal doesn't flee, it's often too far gone. And further treatment once it's reached that stage, with an untamed bird, is stressful and usually futile.

    People have handled poultry for thousands of years. By now, taming them is child's play. No great knowledge is needed and handling them is now actually pretty "natural" for the domestic breeds, as it's something the vast majority of all their ancestors have experienced for the last few thousands of years.
    Quote: There's nothing wrong with that. Of course, your responsibility and rights as an animal owner means you can intervene when nature is taking a course that is set to lead to deaths. After all when humans tampered with nature by domesticating animals we took on a duty of care to them, as most are now dependent on us.

    All the best. Enjoy your new chicken family.
     
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