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Hens Rejecting Chicks Based on Color

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by serinat, Oct 10, 2010.

  1. serinat

    serinat Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I had two broody Buff Orpingtons hatch out a handful of Buff Orpington babies in August. We also ordered 25 mixed heavy breed male day-olds from a hatchery, to raise for meat. Most of the hen-hatched babies were only a day or two old when the hatchery babies arrived, so we successfully snuck all the hatchery chicks underneath the two broody moms. They kept them warm, fed them, looked after them, clucked at them, showed them how to eat, etc. for around eight hours. Suddenly, I noticed Mama A pecking at the non-buff colored babies in her care! I thought it was just me seeing things, or perhaps it was just one chick she didn't like. Three dark chicks later, I realized I had a problem...

    So. I did some switching around, and gave the dark color babies to Mama B, and all the Buffs/Whites/Golds to Mama A. Mama A did well with this switch, adopted all the chicks in her care, and never pecked at another baby. She had 16 chicks and is still doing a great job today, over six weeks later, with her mostly-buff brood.

    Mama B did great for about an hour, when I (unbelievably) noticed her beginning to peck at the dark babies, too! Again, I watched for a while to make sure I wasn't seeing things, and she was, indeed, chasing around and pecking at the darker babies. So I sighed, let her keep her two original buff babies, and placed all the remaining babies in a brooder. They've been doing fine and are getting big.

    Question 1: Is this normal? Do all hens attack different colored babies? Or is this because my hens had only hatched buffs before, and the new (dark) babies were unfamiliar? Why did they do well for most of the day (eight hours!) without pecking at the babies - are they just slow?

    Question 2: Can I have a roo of a different breed, or will they attack their own mixed-breed babies next year? We are thinking of picking a roo from our meat birds to replace our current roo, just to mix up the bloodlines a bit and go for some hybrid vigor. We have some nice dual purpose varieties to choose from. But I'm afraid the same mamas will go broody next year and hatch out dark babies that they will just try to kill. I kind of hate hand-rearing chicks, so I really want the hens to do it.

    Thanks for any help, if you've made it this far. I'm really puzzled by this whole ordeal.
     
  2. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I think you missed the imprinting window. Imprinting starts at about hatch, maybe just a litle before, and continues till 24 to 48 hours later. Imprinting is a three way street in chickens; chicks to mom, mom to chicks, and chick to chick. Imprinting based more on voice than appearance although latter might play a minor. Hen may not be able to sort out bitties until she gets up of them and they separate out a little. Chicks she is rejecting may not only be seen as a odd by her but the chicks may be acting in manner that makes it easier to sort. Again this is mostly based on sound.

    Most chicks you will be getting from a hatchery will be at least 48 hours old. They were likely deposited in mail when > 24 hours old, since day old birds might be anything less than actually 48 hours post hatch. Then add 24 hours for shipping.

    Some hens more tolerant and imprinting can happen later with some groups but may not be as complete as when chicks hatched by hen.
     
  3. txcarl1258

    txcarl1258 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Pleasanton
    I have only had one hen do this in my experience. She was a mix and had a bunch of mixed color chicks. One of them was a rusty read color and when I wasn't paying attention she killed it. I have been told that chickens are color blind, but I am not a 100% sure. Maybe since the chicks were dark she realized they were not hers. I would think that if she hatched mixed color chicks from her own eggs she would not kill them, but some hens are different from others. If they continue to do this with their own eggs I would think of culling them or not let them brood anymore.
     
  4. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    Question 1: Is this normal? AS YOU DESCRIBE YES. Do all hens attack different colored babies? NO. Or is this because my hens had only hatched buffs before, and the new (dark) babies were unfamiliar? WITH SOME WILD ANIMALS YES, CHICKENS NO. Why did they do well for most of the day (eight hours!) without pecking at the babies - are they just slow? CHICKS UNDER HEN WHERE SHE COULD NOT SCRUTENIZE.

    Question 2: Can I have a roo of a different breed, or will they attack their own mixed-breed babies next year? NO. We are thinking of picking a roo from our meat birds to replace our current roo, just to mix up the bloodlines a bit and go for some hybrid vigor. We have some nice dual purpose varieties to choose from. But I'm afraid the same mamas will go broody next year and hatch out dark babies that they will just try to kill. I kind of hate hand-rearing chicks, so I really want the hens to do it.

    Thanks for any help, if you've made it this far. I'm really puzzled by this whole ordeal.

    OVERALL, PROBLEM IS AN IMPRINTING ISSUE NOT LIKELY TO BE REPEATED IF HEN HATCHES CHICKS. YOU CAN HATCH TURKEYS, GUINEE FOWL, PEAFOWL, RINGNECK PHEASANT AND PROBABLY EVEN RED-TAILED HAWKS UNDER A HEN AND HAVE PROPER IMPRINTING. I BET LAST EXAMPLE HAS BEEN DONE BY SOME BIOLOGIST IN PAST.
     
  5. kano

    kano Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quote:. When I put chicks under a broody, first of all , I place them (the chicks) in a little carton box (like shoe boxes) near the nest box where the broody is, so she can hear the piips of the little chicks, for some time.( 1/2 hour or so) and later on I put them under the hen (by nigth).
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2010
  6. serinat

    serinat Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jan 12, 2009
    Michigan
    Thanks for all of your helpful feedback. I do agree that imprinting is probably the key factor, though it is odd to me that both hens accepted all the chicks for 8-9 hours before attacking. The chicks were not underneath her for most of this time; they were in and out, running around, coming back to get warm, etc. Very active.

    Quote:I did this. I left them in their hatchery boxes for 1/2 hour or so before sliding them underneath her.

    Again, thanks. If I find a good roo replacement candidate from among my meat birds, I will probably give it a go and hope next year's babies will get hatched and reared just fine, regardless of color. If not, we'll go back to a buff roo. Our goal is 100% hen-raised chicks around here. I'm lazy, and the hens do a much better job than I ever could.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2010
  7. madgeroonie

    madgeroonie Just Hatched

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    I have just had the same problem with my hen! She definitely was picking on the 2 dark ones out of the 6 chicks she had! She hatched 2 herself that were yellow and light brown then I added 2 more yellow and light brown which she accepted and 2 that were dark brown and black and she pecked them and chased them off even thought they were behaving in the same way and were introduced at the same time as the others. I managed to get them through the day yesterday and put home under her again at night. This morning when she came out to scratch and show them food I put the 2 dark ones near her and kept nudging their heads towards her to teach them what her noises meant. Amazingly it worked! They pecked from her beak and at the food she was showing them and she accepted them! Phew! I did have to keep doing it though - every time she moved to another area they didn't follow and I had to put them in front of her and nudge their heads towards the food she was showing. Now they are happily hanging out with her and the rest of the clutch. Hopefully it'll stay like that!
     

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