How long does mamma hen need to stay with her babies?

seuferer

Chirping
5 Years
May 15, 2015
11
8
69
Hello!

Short version question - after a mother hen has hatched baby chicks, how long do I keep her with the babies? Do I have to wait until the babies are large enough to integrate with the rest of the flock?

I have three sets of mother/babies in a small, enclosed coop and run that is starting to feel 'too small' as the babies get bigger. Each set is separated by roughly 1 week hatch date from the previous, which is not ideal but I only have one 'segregation coop'. The mother who hatched the first batch has four chicks who are fully feathered but still quite small (cat-food sized! :p), but she has resumed laying and is starting to pick on everyone else in the coop.

Do her chicks still need her for 'safety'? I do not want to integrate the chicks with the rest of the flock yet, as they are too small. I free-range my flock and have feral cats who do not bother the adult chickens, but would love to snack on these tasty morsels. Will the two other mothers pick on these larger chicks if their own mother isn't there anymore? I live in North Central Iowa, evening temperatures currently are getting to be in the upper 50's to lower 60's already.

Longer description of setup/explanation of what happened:

I have a small acreage - about 2.5 acres and a small, free-range flock of 12 hens and 1 roo. We have a very large, dirt-floor outbuilding - 30x60 feet - that I just put roosts and nesting boxes in, and that is where they are shut in at night when we're home, or plenty big enough for them to 'live' for short periods if they can't be let out. I have built one of the large 55-gallon waterers with horizontal chicken nipples that I found here from this group, and also a large trash-can-tub feeder with PVC elbow joints that holds two 50 pound bags of feed which are both inside this huge shed.

I also have a very small, store-purchased coop with an attached, home-made hardware cloth run that is 8ftx10 feet, which is attached directly to the outside of this huge shed. When I introduce new chickens to the flock, or have someone unwell, this coop and run is where I put the newbies for the 'look but don't touch' introduction phase.

We went on a short vacation (4 days) in which they were not let out and no one collected eggs. If we're gone for longer periods, my neighbor comes and gets the eggs and lets them in and out. When we returned, three of my hens were happily broody.

I decided to take a 'wait and see' approach, as I was hoping to have some chicks. I candled the eggs at 5 days, removed the ones I thought were 'duds', and then left them alone. Even in the dark, Mommas were *mean* and I was too 'chicken' to check more after that.

The first momma hatched four chicks. I moved her and the babies to the smaller coop described above. Provided starter-grower feed and a smaller, horizontal chicken nipple waterer, as well as a very shallow pan of water. By day 3, the chicks can drink out of the chicken nipples and I removed the little basin of water.

A week later, momma #2 hatched two chicks. I didn't know what to do. I was afraid of I moved this mom into the less spacious coop with Mom 1, there would be fighting and babies would be hurt. I decided to let her stay with the free-rangers. Things went very well for 3 days, and then a cat got one of the babies! I moved her and her remaining chick to the confinement, and things went very well, no fighting, all good.

Hen #3 is one of my favorite hens, and she was still sitting, and her nest was starting to give off a very unpleasant odor. She was *savage* when I try to move her to check on things, and so I went to our local hatchery and ordered baby chicks. They only allow purchase in quantities of 10. It took an additional week to obtain my order, during which time #3 has not stopped sitting. I was getting very worried by this point, as the smell was *atrocious* and I didn't want my favorite hen to get sick! We received the day-old chicks, I kept them inside and warm until it was very, very dark, make a new nesting box out of a kitty-litter box that is identical to what momma #3 is currently sitting in, and put this inside the confinement coop underneath the main building where the other 2 moms have taken up residence.

Hubby helped me and we took all the babies out, I wore *thick long sleeves* and leather gloves and I had to move Momma #3 out of the gross, icky box and her usual shed coop to the entirely new location with 10 day-old baby chicks. (There were partially hatched/partially formed eggs and chicks in the smelly nest - a disgusting mess - I removed the entire box from the building.)

I had *no idea* if it would work. I wasn't slipping babies in under her while she was sleeping - I was completely moving her, and it wasn't one or two babies, it was ten! I also didn't want to risk rousing mom more by trying to wash/clean/do anything about her gross feathers - would the muck under her make the new babies sick? I'd spent over $50 on new chicks. I didn't really have time to devote to tending new chicks - I really needed mom to accept them.

To my great surprise and relief, it WORKED! At first, when I placed her in the nest with the babies, she hopped right out - but didn't go far - and paced around, looking about. It was 90-some degrees outside, so I figured they would be warm enough without her for a little while; we just watched.

Smart mom took a dust bath, right there a few feet away from the babies! This coop is also just dirt/grass, but the other two moms had already dug a large dust basin in the grass, and mom #3 availed herself of it. We watched her for a little while, put her back in the nest when she seemed done 'bathing', and went into the house. I came back 15 minutes later to check on her, and she'd fallen asleep just outside the nest, but with her face resting on the lip of the nest, facing inside it. Now that she was asleep, I put her back in with the babies - who immediately crawled right up into and under her feathers and wings - and she stayed. I checked on her every 20 minutes or so until we went to bed, and she stayed.

Three weeks later, all 10 chicks are alive and well and momma is proud as punch. But these babies are a full three weeks younger than the first four who were born. Right now, three mommas and 15 babies are all in this very small coop.

But, as I said in my short-version question, momma 1 is laying again now and has been for about 5 days. Earlier this week, she did not let her babies join her in her nest, they slept entirely outside. She is getting moody and annoyed and starting to pick on anyone who gets too close. I am assuming, rather like cats or other mammals who do a 'weaning phase', that she is quite 'done' being a mum and wants her own space. :p However, I do not want to remove the babies from this little coop, as they're still small enough to be easy pickings for the feral cats and such.

Tonight, when everyone's sleeping, can I just move her back 'home' to the big shed with her main flock? Will her babies do all right without her?
 

PirateGirl

Chicken Lover, Duck Therapist
Mar 11, 2017
7,203
18,537
632
South Park, Colorado, USA
I guess I'm not fully understanding. If it was me, I'd move the mom and babies together back with the main flock or I'd keep the mom and the babies separate from the flock until the babies are big enough to fend for themselves and join the main flock also. I wouldn't separate the mom from the babies. She is their teacher, their warmth, and their protector.
 

Robert G

Songster
Jan 23, 2018
420
626
197
South Texas
I usually let the mom leave them. If she has started to lay again, its time to let her go back to her roo. She will continue to pick on her chicks. Time varies though. My old english bantams usually stay with them about a month, but my cochins seem to stay with them longer almost 2 months.
 

slordaz

hatchaholic
5 Years
Apr 15, 2015
3,456
6,394
602
Idaho
leave em with momma hen and the flock is best, she will integrate them and make live easier on everyone
When she is done raising them they won't have issues, babies can stay as little as 1 month and I have had hens that stay with there for 3 months but average is 4-6 weeks
 

ValerieJ

Straw parade on snow day
Premium Feather Member
5 Years
Jul 24, 2016
10,552
63,504
1,287
Washington State
When my mama hen weaned her chicks I was able to integrate them all without any trouble at all. I think they will be fine. Is there any way to add some space to the little coop and run?
 

slordaz

hatchaholic
5 Years
Apr 15, 2015
3,456
6,394
602
Idaho
When my mama hen weaned her chicks I was able to integrate them all without any trouble at all. I think they will be fine. Is there any way to add some space to the little coop and run?
if you let them see them, it didn't take but momma hen kicking the crap outta the rooster but once as he was a bit to curious for her liking he was not trying to attack them, and everyone settled in fine right away and she integrated them herself without me meddling with it
 

ValerieJ

Straw parade on snow day
Premium Feather Member
5 Years
Jul 24, 2016
10,552
63,504
1,287
Washington State
I should add that my mama hen raised her babies in a separate but adjacent run so everyone was familiar with each other before integration.
 

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