Solve a Murder Mystery for Newbie


In the Brooder
Mar 20, 2018
Hi all,
We've got 2 hens in a small flock that went broody within a couple of days of each other, one buff colored and one mostly-black cochin bantam(s). They shared the same nest for the entire 21 days. On day 22 the first chick (from 15 eggs) started to hatch and we moved them down to nest boxes on the floor, separated. 1 or 2 chicks have hatched each day for 5 days, and there are another 7 or 8 left to go (if viable). This evening 6 live chicks were with the ladies, four buff colored and two gray colored. Two hours later, the two grays were dead from head wounds.

It's tough to see because we've never seen it before. My first thought was that the buff one killed them because I'd seen her pecking at them. Online it says that the other chicks probably did it. All the live chicks except one have been with the black hen (evidently the favored mother). I tried removing the buff hen but she so desperately wanted back in that I let her back in and put an egg under her.

Should I remove all the chicks, give them something to do, and watch them for this behavior? If I have bullies in my older chicks, what are the odds they'll kill the yet-to-be-hatched ones that are due in the coming days? Thanks in advance.


Crossing the Road
6 Years
Apr 9, 2016
California's Redwood Coast
Hi,welcome to BYC! :frow

Boy you've got a bit of a mess on your hands... but it if you saw head wounds, it was NOT the other chicks that did it. This young there are no bullies. Just strong chicks and weak chicks. Don't believe everything you read online. ;)

But the real issue is staggered hatch. What you should do is either remove all chicks while the other eggs finish hatching and then tuck the chicks back in at night and hope it goes smoothly. Or remove all the other eggs. A hen NEEDS to be able to take her chicks off the nest by 3 days to eat or they die. Anybody who hatches late gets left behind in the wild. Or vice versa whoever hatches early will die while mom stays to keep eggs warm.

Or give the live chicks to the black mom and all the eggs under buff. It's a hard call, really.

So it could have been one of you moms that pecked the chicks (sometimes they get frantic trying to protect them or just think that's not theirs), another bird in your flock, or rats (not likely since it's a head wound). I have seen moms peck the chicks back under them when they weren't ready to bring them out yet. While they are still learning each others voices to make sure no one gets lost.

For this time it's too late. But in the future you will wanna mark your eggs and collect fresh deposits every day so only the intended ones develop and you won't have staggered hatches.

Some people have successful co broody's. I find it confusing for the chicks and more chance of crushed eggs and jostling so I try to prevent it at least at the same exact time by breaking one or the other, if not both.

I was gonna say that also some chicks don't make it even though they hatch. But a head wound is pretty telling.

Have you provided chick feed and water nearby?

Will older chicks kill fresh hatched ones... you bet! Trampling happens so easily. It's unreal the difference I see in chicks that hatch JUST a couple hours apart.

Good luck with whichever route you try! :fl

Hope you will post pics of your little beauties when ya get it worked out. :)

Lady of McCamley

Free Ranging
11 Years
Mar 19, 2011
NW Oregon
x2 with Eggsighted4Life

You have the horrors of a staggered hatch AND co-brooding, with a staggered hatch.

One of the hens killed the 2 grey chicks...notice it was the dark colored chicks, not the buff colored chicks. Some hens have color favorites.

You also have a stress situation where the hen doesn't know to sit or to take care of chicks, and she may be panicking at the activity of hatched chicks running around while she has chicks hatching underneath her. A chick can be seen as a threat.

I would set the eggs under the buff and let the 4 buff chicks remain with the black hen...and I'd separate the hens.

Isolation is your friend for brooding and early hatching. Chicks can integrate with mom the first week, but those lock down days and first hatch days are very vulnerable.

I'm sorry you've had such a situation. Always mark eggs and set all eggs at the same time. Most hens don't brood well together unless raised together or normally nest together, and then they still can get competitive.



In the Brooder
Mar 20, 2018
To my saviors LofMc and EggSighted4Life-If it weren't for your timely and multi-dimensional advice, I may have lost more. Your collective wisdom and responsiveness has changed our situation and our chicken future. I got your responses after the snow started falling (in VA) last night and work was called off, and I spent the night restless as to the plan of attack (as it were). Here's what we did: at first light we set up a brooder we'd used a few years ago from TSC, a couple of heat lamps, water, and crushed up starter and moved the remaining chicks to it. They immediately started feeding and drinking and moving about, which they hadn't done much of (even though we had food/water with them before), and I know at least a couple were older than a couple of days, so it was a real concern. So in order to mitigate any issues with being thirsty or hungry, we seemed to have success in the first couple of hours because they are active and engaged, which is GREAT to see. Then I ran out to TSC and bought a 'bator, a nice one, and after it was set up, slowly moved all but two eggs into it. It has a candler, so all of them appeared to be viable. I left one egg under each hen, but not long after, both eggs were under the black hen (setting) and the buff hen was up and about. Soooooo, she's now back with the flock, and seems fine so far. She was very hungry and so is getting nourished now.

The plan going forward is to either take the remaining two eggs away if they haven't hatched by this evening, and return a couple of the older, stronger chicks to her, so that everyone can get up and be a family. If she does hatch one or both, I'm going to take them out and put them in the brooder until they are stronger. Point is, slowly take the eggs away, and slowly return strong chicks to her, with little overlap so she kicks in to mother-mode, and so that weaker chicks can be looked after by people, get strong, and not be ignored or trampled. I see this carrying a risk that the stronger chicks and the weaker chicks might butt heads, but I'll hope to ensure that all the chicks are strong enough to defend themselves when reuniting with the family...trying for lemonade out of the lemons.

The reason I couldn't separate the two hens with their own clutch is because I had nowhere to put her. I built this house last year, and I built a shed/coop combo out back, with a gated separation so that I could keep more than one group (mean rooster/new hens/baby chicks), and in the covered partition of this setup I built a roost room, insulated, and with a window and actual tree branches for roosts. It's this area that we kept the broodies and in which the family is growing. So either I had to stay the course with the risks, or put her back with the Mr. and the two other hens, which is what we've done.

In the future, I'm thinking that if this hatch is successful the flock will grow by at least 4 or 5 hens, and since they are bantams and likely to be broody, I'll simply mark the eggs on the first couple of days, but save the eggs from the non-broody girls that were laid on those same days, and ultimately do the hatching in the incubator with the broody girl on fake eggs. Soon as they hatch (same couple of days) I'll return them to the hen. Thank you again. So grateful.

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