Need advice: is my foster mama accepting chicks? (see pic)

tangerino

In the Brooder
11 Years
Jul 5, 2008
26
0
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(I hope I'm posting in the right place)

I have a broody buff orp and bought 4 baby chicks from the feed store for her to foster. I am looking for some reassurance that everything is going as it should, since I have absolutely no experience with hens hatching or raising their own chicks. I've always raised them inside, in a dog crate, with a lamp, food and water. This next part is how we introduced mama to the 4 chicks. The second part, below that, is what happened afterwards...and my questions about "normal" mama hen behavior.

Introducing chicks to mama:

After dark, we put mama in the dog crate (with straw, food, water) with the babies. At first the chicks were frightened, ran to the back corner. Mama was half asleep. Mind you, this was outside where it was quite cold.

SO being worried that it was too cold for the chicks, we put a lamp on. Naturally, this woke up mama. She saw the chicks... she made this funny noise (my husband said she was coo-ing. I thought it sounded like "I see a big beetle, I'm gonna eat it!"). She pecked twice at the chicks, then stopped. But the chicks were now really scared, and cold. Nature can be harsh, I thought to myself.

So (duh) after that happened, we turned off the light. Mama settled down. We tucked the chicks underneath her and we took the crate into the house (double duh) where it's warm -- went to bed and waited for morning.

At 6:15, we saw no chicks, so figured they were still tucked under mama. But were they alive, or pecked to death? My hubbie was impatient and moved her to the side a bit (she pecked him - alot) and discovered all four chicks were warm and cozy.

Afterwards....
We turned on the lamp, thinking the heat would encourage the chicks to move around, and three of them did. They ate and drank, and walked right in front of mama. If she wanted to peck them, she could, but didn't. In fact chicks were pecking her. In her eye. Mama accepted this. Chick #4 still hasn't emerged.

Mama isn't moving much. Every now and then she seems to shift slightly, which makes sense. She is paying no attention to the chicks or anything else. This is how she has been behaving, constantly on the nest day and night for weeks, which led me to think she is broody. I call this the "stone hen" look.

So my questions:
Is mama acting like a mama?
Has she accepted the chicks, or just tolerating them or oblivious to them ("stone hen")?
What is normal behavior for a mama of new chicks?
Should I be concerned about chick#4?
Is nature not so harsh?

Thanks
 
Last edited:

sumi

Rest in Peace 1980-2020
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Jun 28, 2011
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Is she clucking? Talking to them and so on? What does she do when you put food down in front of her? She doesn't seem to mind the chicks, which is good, but she sounds more dopey than broody to me.
 

PtitePouleRouge

In the Brooder
7 Years
Apr 13, 2012
12
2
23
Northern Wisconsin
That all sounds like very normal behavior to me. Buff orps make good mothers. I've had broodies hatch out their own eggs and also have had them foster hatchery chicks and I think your broody sounds like she is doing just fine! I've also observed the eye-pecking phenomenon with every clutch we've had, and it is amazing how the mother hen takes it so patiently--even when there is a chick dangling from her eyelid and another couple using her back as a slip n' slide and one pecking at her nostril and wattles...

I have one suggestion for some future date when you might try this fostering again. It sounds like you put the chicks in the crate and then added mama-- I'd recommend doing it the other way around. When you first put the chicks in with the broody, first of all get her settled and comfy on a nest, then go ahead and put the chicks directly in front of her breast, shielding them from her pecks if you must with your hand. In my experience if they are close enough to her to sense the warmth they will immediately burrow under her. If they don't then just put them under manually. All you have to do is put them in a situation where their insticts can take over. If you think about where they would start out in a natural state, they would first emerge from the egg underneath her. The instincts only tell them to return to the place of warmth and comfort, not how to find it the first time-- so to say it doesn't surprise me that from the other side of the crate they couldn't figure out how to get to the warmth. And once she feels them moving around down there she should quit pecking and settle down to the work of being a mother.

So to answer your specific questions:

Is mama acting like a mama? Yes, she is doing just what she should.

Has she accepted the chicks, or just tolerating them or oblivious to them ("stone hen")? She has definitely accepted them. If she hadn't, she certainly would not allow them to go under her and would probably peck them to the point of injury or death. If she was oblivious to them she'd stand up and walk away, leaving them to die. That "stone hen" look is not apathy but the patient, inward look of motherhood.

What is normal behavior for a mama of new chicks? Those first several days are very quiet days, mostly she just needs to provide a warm place for them to sleep. They will soon become more active and adventuresome, and then she will get up and move around a bit more. I suppose if it is very cold in the brooder they may be reluctant to go out in search of food, but I have not experienced that situation.

Should I be concerned about chick#4? Unless you notice it does not eat or drink, it is probably fine just a bit delayed in development for whatever reason. And if it isn't eating and drinking, beyond placing it right in front of the food and water so that it knows where they are and perhaps gently dipping its beak just barely into the water so it gets a taste I don't think there is much you can do. It is mama hen's job to demonstrate important life skills such as eating and drinking. If you give her some food, she will probably break it up into bits and call the babies over to it.

Is nature not so harsh? I think it is. It is only that we (first-world) humans are for the most part shielded from the harsher realities of life. Until we raise a batch of chicks and that one egg that only hatched halfway and then gave up is abandoned because mama hen has other living, healthy chicks to raise.
 

tangerino

In the Brooder
11 Years
Jul 5, 2008
26
0
22
First of all, thank you for your replies! Sumi, I noticed her clucking softly while one of the chicks was running around her, chirping loudly. The other 3 were under her, so the 4th was either scared (feels alone?) or cold. So I put on a glove (getting smarter) and very gently nudged the scared chick under mama's breast feathers. To my surprise, mama did NOT peck me, but lifted up a little and the chick went "inside". That just warmed my heart!

I have a small feeder with chick feed in there, and a small water "tower". I can put some sunflower seeds and chick feed directly in front of mama and see what she does.

I have a question: Right now they are "locked in" a dog crate, inside. It's about 68 degrees in that room. My original plan was to setup the crate outside in a protected area (separated from the other hens) where they could leave it and wander around in the grass. What should I expect? When do you think she will be ready for this? Also, what about her need to poop, etc...? Will she be okay in the crate, inside the house? The crate is about 2.5 ft wide and about 3 ft long and high. The heat from the lamp is warm enough for chicks, but is it too much for mama? Should I turn off the lamp and let mama provide the heat?

thanks again... I really appreciate your help.
 

tangerino

In the Brooder
11 Years
Jul 5, 2008
26
0
22
Quote:

I put some sunflower seeds, edamame (raw soy beans), spinach and carrot bits in front of her. She devoured the first two foods, and so far hasn't tried to break it apart into smaller pieces for the chicks. The chicks are pecking the food too, but it's too big for them to eat.

Mama hen appears to be mouth-breathing. In case this means she is hot, I turned off the lamp and also put a small bowl of water in front of her also. She doesn't seem interested in the water, so maybe the mouth breathing means she doesn't like me watching her...?

Oh -- Chick #4 is out and about.

Thanks...
 

sumi

Rest in Peace 1980-2020
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Jun 28, 2011
39,154
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I think she may be getting too hot. Her body heat is sufficient to keep the chicks warm. I've had hens with 12 chicks and no problems. It sounds like she's a bit confused by the chicks, but accepting them o.k. Her mothering instinct should kick in very soon. Then she'll call them to the food. And get more aggressive... (So far her behaviour didn't sound much like my broody's.)
See if you can move the crate, with her and the babies in it, to their outside area. Then she can get up and move around when she feels ready and you won't have to worry about anything. She'll probably poop in the crate (good thing you got gloves
smile.png
), but I warn you, that smell is beyond believe!
 

tangerino

In the Brooder
11 Years
Jul 5, 2008
26
0
22
Quote: Thanks, Sumi. Do you think I should wait a bit? One of the chicks (see the pic) might not be accepting the idea that mama is mama. Now that the lamp is off, she will be its source of warmth, so maybe they all could use some time. Like the rest of the day maybe.

If I put the crate outside, with the crate door open, will she leave the chicks (to get up and move around)?

Quote:
I hope you are right!

thanks.
 

sumi

Rest in Peace 1980-2020
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Jun 28, 2011
39,154
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You can wait 'till tomorrow if you want. Or 'till she decides to get up and go outside. They will probably follow her. You said your crate is quite big. Can you can hang the lamp away from mom, so it doesn't warm her? But the baby can sit under it if she wants?
I asked about her talking to them, because they rely on cues from mom to know what to do etc. I watched my hens with their chicks and they have different sounds for danger, food etc. And the babies knew exactly what mom said. So clever!
 

tangerino

In the Brooder
11 Years
Jul 5, 2008
26
0
22
I don't think the crate is big enough to create a warm zone without overheating mama. Oh well.
Later today or perhaps tomorrow, I'll move the crate outside. This is so cool.

Quote: I can't wait to watch this!
 

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