mother hen behavior/2 week old chicks

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by dftkarin, Jun 21, 2009.

  1. dftkarin

    dftkarin Songster

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    update:

    This morning I let them all free range around the yard and the top hen made some wicked pecks to the momma hen's head (pulled out clumps of feathers and then ran around the yard with the feathers sticking out of her beak!) so I have 'jailed' the agressor/top hen in a 3'x5' chicken 'tractor' for the day and I plan to lock her in the dog crate within the coop at night - to see if it lowers her agressiveness towards the chicks. Since the chicks are small enough to slip through and out of the coop/run, I'm now leaving the pen open so the momma, chicks and two barred rock aunties can free range around the back yard (and around the agressor in the tractor). I'll let you all know how things work. Thanks for the suggestions and support!

    Original post:

    I have 4 hens and a 3"x5" coop and a large run. My friendliest hen became broody last month and a neighbor gave me fertilized eggs to let her hatch - she did and we now have 7 two-week old cuties following the momma around. At night they've been sleeping in a latchable dog carrier within the main coop and during the day they free range and/or spend time in a non-secure tractor-type pen.

    Momma hen has been willingly sleeping with her babies in a modified "nesting box" (a latch-able hard plastic dog carrier) to keep her and the babies protected from the aunties (3 other hens). This morning Elpheba/mamma layed her first post-broodiness egg and this evening she set herself up on the roost in the coop instead of heading into the crate/nesting box. The chicks saw her up there and eventually all flew up to her and nestled under her tummy, chest and wings. As soon as the head pecking-order sister came in and saw them there - she started viciously pecking the chicks (some of whom ran willy nilly out into the darkness and then peeped pitifully and were too scared to allow me to scoop them. Elpheba (momma hen) cowered on one end of the roost while Alenkushka (head hen) pushed her around and pecked at her head as she cowered!! Finally I rounded up all the chicks, pulled momma hen off the roost and stuffed them into the crate and latched it - so they'll be stuck in there but at least safe from attack. Tomorrow though, I need to find an alternate secure spot for the babies (with or without their momma - I guess if its without their mamma, it should be inside the house to keep warm enough). Since the momma layed an egg this morning and declined to sleep in the box with her chicks this eve - should I assume that her motherly instincts are waning? The chicks seem to need her very much though - unless I bring them inside to regulate their temps better. And what about the head chicken pecking at the momma hen? That never happened before. The mamma seems to me to be 2nd-from-the-top in the pecking order and she dominates the two barred rock hens that are also their coop-mates. I was taken aback by the voilence/viciousness of the pecks towards the chicks - like they could easily been mortally wounded by them. My long range plan was to keep two hens from this group of 7 chicks - and re-home the rest. I can't figure out who is a pullet or roo yet though. What should I do???? (sorry about the spelling!)
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2009
  2. I would put the aggressive hen in the dog house jail until the chicks are 4-6 weeks old. Let mom take care of them as long as she`s willing. You`re right, her broody instincts are waning and she is laying very early, but she may take care of them a little longer. They do need her a short time more. Good luck.....Pop
     
  3. dftkarin

    dftkarin Songster

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    I like the idea of jailing the agressive hen - but I'm not sure how I would do it - at night pull her off the roost and stuff her in the latchable box and then just let the mamma and chicks try to sleep on the roost (and I'm not sure how that will work since 7 two-week old chicks are too big to snuggle up right under the mamma, but to small to be on their own without the extra warmth)

    Can I "encourage" the mamma to continue to mother these chicks?
     
  4. Judy

    Judy Crowing

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    Nothing wrong with the chicks sleeping on the roost under mama. I agree, I'd jail the aggressive one. It should lower her in the pecking order when you let her back out, but keep her there a while.
     
  5. lauralou

    lauralou Songster

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    Putting the naughty head hen in the dog carrier is a great idea.

    As far as encouraging the momma to care for her chicks longer than she wants to, I can't imagine how you would do that. Once they start laying again, well, the mothering is almost over. That's been my experience anyway.

    Another thing, broody raised chicks are much more hardy than house raised chicks. They can handle lower temps than chicks that you brood in the house. Again, this is just my experience, but I imagine that they will be fine in the coop. Two weeks is young, to be sure, and I admit that I've never had a broody hen leave her chicks that young, but I wouldn't worry overmuch about them. They can snuggle together for warmth, and as long as they are inside a shelter, it is summertime, and the temps can't be that low. I don't think.... How cold is it at night where you are?

    Does anybody totally disagree with that? I know that I live in a hot and steamy place, but I've seen early spring hatches with tiny babies running around in weather so cold I could see my breath, and they have always been just fine.
     
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

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    It would really help to know where dftkarin is located and the temperatures, especially night time temperatures. I know it is a minor, petty pet peeve of mine, and it is my problem, not yours, but I wish more people would modify their profiles to show their general area.

    Two weeks is pretty young but maybe they would be OK if the temperatures are warm enough. I'd also not want them to get wet as they could easily chill regardless of the temperature. Since the hen is laying, her mothering days are pretty much over. She might let them snuggle up to her at night for a while yet, but sometimes chickens that are not the mothers will allow that. Hard to predict.

    I'm assuming when Mama and the chicks were free-ranging, it was with the other hens? If she has been separated from the flock, she has lost her position in the pecking order and it must be reestablished. That may be what was going on with the alpha hen.

    I agree with locking up the alpha hen until the chicks are bigger. Sounds like she is a threat to them.

    I just get the feeling that pecking order issues are going on. With the chicks on the roost with their mother, they may have been too high in the roost for their station in life.

    Lauralou, I can't argue about the chicks being hardier, but in the cold, see-your-breath type weather, they had Mama to warm them up. I think brooder raised chicks are hardier than we give them credit for but I'm not taking a chance with mine. If they were 4 weeks old instead of 2, I'd probably fully agree with you as long as the tmeperatures were not ridiculous.
     
  7. dftkarin

    dftkarin Songster

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    uodate:
    aggressive head hen spend day in tractor while chicks and momma had run of the coop and yard, this evening they were all out together briefly and head hen tried to peck a stray chick that wandered near her but was distracted when I threw her some treats. Aggressive hen is locked in dog crate (with food and water) inside coop and chicks are snuggled under their mamma on the roost. Do you think that after a day or two of this confinement, that the aggressor will becomes less agressive towards the chicks and momma?

    I live in Western Mass and I think the temps at night are maybe in the high 50s.

    I had had the momma hen and chicks free-ranging when I had the other hens in the pen (although one submissive BR is constantly escaping - so they interacted with one other hen quite a bit). Now I'm letting mamma, chicks and the 2 BRs free range together most of the day.

    So you think that agressive hen pecking the head of mamma hen is the attempt to re-establish the pecking order? The momma hen cowers and crouches submissively when the aggressive hen comes close but the momma pecks and chases the two barred rocks even they evev look at her it seems.

    Before we had these chicks - I never saw any one pecking anyone ever - no obvious signs of pecking order that I ever picked up on.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2009
  8. dftkarin

    dftkarin Songster

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    another update:

    for the past two days the aggressive head hen has spend big parts of the day confined to a chicken tractor while the momma, chicks and other 2 hens free range all around the yard and in and out if the coop and run. At night I wait until the momma and chicks go to bed on the roost and then when the head hen comes in and attacks a check (and she still always does), I stuff her into the big dog crate inside the coop. A part of me wonders if this treatment might make her meaner instead of less aggressive. A social experiment I guess. At least the chicks are relatively safe for most of the day and night.
     
  9. Judy

    Judy Crowing

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    I would keep the aggressive one in the crate for at least 2 or 3 days, no letting her out. She needs to be dropped lower in the pecking order. You probably were not seeing pecking because her place was secure.
     

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