Question about hen weaning/leaving her chicks


In the Brooder
Apr 13, 2017
Sorry in advance for the length, just wanted to give the background info up front:

So we had donated fertile eggs that one of our 6 hens hatched right at 5 weeks ago. I know it's about time for the wean. Here's where my questions come in. So we had her sit on her eggs in a nesting box in the regular coop, just put some hardware cloth around her area so she wouldn't scoop any other eggs under her and the others would leave her alone.

She hatched her chicks and they lived there about a week. At that point we had a mama and 8 babies ready for a bit more space. So we moved them into an "apartment" underneath the coop, but still in the secured run. We sectioned off about 4 feet by 8 feet by 3 feet tall. We gave them food, water, a roost, and a pet carrier as a safe place to sleep at night. This worked for a couple more weeks and then gave them access to a larger run, but still separated from the other 5 hens as far as interacting, but not as far as seeing, smelling, hearing, etc.

About a week ago we started letting them out to free range with the others for supervised afternoon outings, for maybe 3 days. At this point the mother, who was not head hen before, went out and put a few hens in their places who I guess she saw as a threat. No one tried anything with the chicks, but she was almost saying "don't mess with my babies". Over the next few days we watched as she would lead them out showing them more and more yard each day (our back yard is fenced and probably about 1.5 acres), the other hens have not bothered the babies one bit. Every night she would still take them back into the pet carrier for bedtime and they would all be there. Last night my husband locked all the doors and apparently didn't look to see who was where like I always do (one night I heard a baby calling out and found a chick up in the big girl coop, I think she followed the wrong buff in so I relocated her and everyone was happy again) this morning when I let them out all 6 adult hens were in the big run from the coop and only the babies were in the "apartment" down below. I asked him and he didn't check last night.

So tonight when we went out the babies were all in the pet carrier in the apartment and the 6 originals were upstairs in the coop on the roost. From my readings it said when the mother weans she shows her chicks where to sleep and roost, is this only if they are completely in the coop from the start? Or is she maybe not ready to let them sleep up there? When I checked on them during the day today the other 5 hens were under one bush in one part of the yard, a regular hang out place, and the babies were under some brush around a tree a lot further back and the mom was about 40 feet from them, almost supervising, but very removed from the others. So I was surprised to see she left them at night tonight. So, we ended up bringing the carrier up to the regular coop, but then we were worried one of the other hens could hurt them in the morning and we locked them in and will plan to be out there at day break to supervise and let them out.

Were we mistaken about how she would wean them? Is she just not ready for them to come into the coop? Are they maybe heading inside before she is and therefore she's not directing them upstairs? Did we do the right thing by taking them up (but protected)? Help!? What do we do next? Do we take them out of the carrier and leave them in the corner? With the first batch we did actual coop training where we locked them in, thats obviously not feasible now with 6 two year olds and 7 five week olds (we had to put one down bc of a large tumor). Thank you for any and all information!
Mine don't actually wean them. She helps them integrate into the flock.
I would put them in the coop with all the adults. Trust mama to do her job and protect them. They have been ranging without issue and I am confident they will be fine.
Remove the apartment in a few days and they should be heading to bed in the proper place.
Keep checking to make sure they are all in the big house.
It would appear your broody hen has washed her feathers of her five-week olds. It's about time, give or take. Some hens care for their chicks longer, some wrap up the job very early. Just as human mothers vary in talent and parental skills so do hens.

Try to relax your worries about these chicks. They've been integrated into the flock by their broody, and she's laid down the law to the rest that the chicks are not to be harmed. Don't worry, they won't forget.

You did the wise thing to transfer the chicks to the main coop. Leave the carrier for a few nights while they adapt to the new surroundings, then remove it. Chicks have a strong instinct to want to perch on high places, so chances are they'll soon find their way up onto the roosting perches.

Keep checking to make sure none get stranded outside when night comes. It may take a few nights for them to learn to go in on their own. You may need to show them how to go inside by gently directing them through the door. They'll eventually get it.
So last night I went out at dusk to observe where everyone went. One of the chicks was half way up the ladder to the coop and the other 6 were outside the door to the apartment which we had purposely left closed. I tried to round them up and gently nudge them the other way to the ladder but they acted like irrational teenagers as expected and wouldn't go. So I waited, then the one on the ladder found a way into the apartment and starting chirping to the others fearing they not get in.

Meanwhile, the 6 grown hens went into the coop and some fought it out on the roost for the best spot, I think mama hen of these babies was wanting a spot someone else has been occupying....

So I put the carrier back down in the apartment and let the other 6 babies get in, when all 7 were in I closed the carrier door and brought it back out to the coop and put them one by one into the big coop by way of the normal entryway door they should be using. Of course they were freaking out and one of them grabbed my forearm in her beak to let me know how angry she was. Once they were all in they tried to find a comfy place to rest.

For some reason one of my RIRs was in a nesting box and a few of them tried to pile up with her, I watched very curious as I know they are not as sweet natured as the buffs. She did nothing to the chicks, but she did exit the box and get on the roost like she was supposed to anyway. The chicks then split between 2 nesting boxes and the grown hens were on the roosts. So, last night we took down the netting making the apartment a separate space and the run is now back to what it was prebabies. I placed the carrier down below in case of a similar incident tonight so that I can gather them easily without crawling around under the coop to scoop them up. I guess I'll just keep transferring until they figure it out.

The ladder to our coop is very steep as our coop is on a small berm/hill (our property used to be part of a tobacco farm) and the small secure run goes down that way to exit at the bottom. This steep ladder is actually why we made the apartment in the first place for mama to have a safe place with her babies outside the coop, if they had fallen off at the beginning I don't think they would have survived. They should be able to get up and down it now, I know for a fact 3 of them have gotten up and into the coop no problem.

There is another hatch door on the side of that run which is what gives access to our extended run and how we had them access it from their apartment which is the door they all gathered outside of last night.

I wonder if I should open it for access for them and remove the carrier all together and see if they go up? Or maybe just have them enter and exit the "normal" way with all the other hens? They are clearly exiting with them just fine when we let them out in the morning.

Thanks for your insight and help! Rearing chicks using the mama hen method has been much easier!! Although with a few of these hiccups along the way just trying to figure out the next necessary step.
If they handed out awards for human beings willing to adapt to the fickle needs of baby chickens, you would get one for sure. Your actions are above and beyond the requirements.

Yes, the chicks will eventually figure it out. Usually there's one smart one in the bunch who figures things out and the others follow. Just like in the human species. Give them as many options as possible and that ought to help reduce the level of pandemonium.
Ha! Of course, leave it to me to cater to those sweet feathered babies. I am a softy with every species I think...

I just don't want them to not make it because of something simple I could have or should have done for them.

So do you think its better to leave the carrier downstairs for them or remove it all together? I guess I was thinking that way it's a simple way to scoop them up and force them upstairs. And when they were sleeping down there we wanting them to not be visible to any passing predators in the night to cause attention to them. I just don't know how forceful to be with getting them up into the coop. We raised it the 3 feet recommended when we built it to keep them safe.

We know we have skunks, raccoons, opossum, fox, and coyote in our area so we are not immune just were lucky for the month they lived down there. Although we followed all recommendations when building it doesn't mean something may not figure out a way into the run.
Whenever you can find something to use as a transition device to ease the learning curve for your chickens, it's always a good thing, so don't have second thoughts about leaving the crate for them to use.

If you have enclosed the lower pen with hardware cloth either buried below the soil level or angled outward so as to deny entry to digging predators, they should be safe.
Whenever you can find something to use as a transition device to ease the learning curve for your chickens, it's always a good thing, so don't have second thoughts about leaving the crate for them to use.

If you have enclosed the lower pen with hardware cloth either buried below the soil level or angled outward so as to deny entry to digging predators, they should be safe.

Okay yes, the secured lower run does have hardware cloth angled out. I'll just leave all doors and access points open during the day for a little while longer and transfer from the crate to the coop as needed until they get the point. Thanks for your advice and guidance!
We had an attack in the yard today, Something got 3 babies and injured the mom. I put everyone in the run, we have a secure and not quite as secure, but pretty decent. I spoke with a few people in the area and the opinion was they would probably be okay in the insecure area as long as I went out to secure them. We had an errand to run this evening and when I came home the 6 adults were on the roost and only 2 babies were in nesting boxes, I Checked the carrier below the coop and it was empty. So missing two more. We are down to 2, but they both made it in the coop tonight. Now to regroup in the morning, or hope that those 2 find their way home, but I don't have high hopes as I found a small tuft of gray feathers (color of one of the missing). I found the 3 babies bodies earlier in the afternoon, I have a super high powered flashlight and looked and looked but nothing on the two currently missing. I'll have to see what the morning light brings. Sad chicken day at our house....I guess I wasn't such a good/protective chicken mom after all. Live and learn I suppose.
Oh no! That's tragic! It happens to a lot of us, though, so don't blame yourself. Chickens are prey and lots of predators look for any opportunity to take them away from us.

Feathers do not necessarily indicate a dead chick. Recently I witnessed a sudden hawk attack out of the corner of my eye, squawking, screeching, and feathers exploding like a bomb went off. I ran out and saw the huge amount of feathers and just knew I had lost at least one, maybe two chickens.

It turned out the victim who lost the huge pile of feathers had not a scratch on her but was perfectly bald on the back but very much alive. Another hen had disappeared and I thought she was dead and gone, and she came strolling back two hours later.

Last year, I thought I'd lost a chick to a hawk attack, and I finally discovered her hiding in between some straw bales several hours later, so don't give up hunting for survivors. There's a chance you may still find one or two.

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