...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


the broody hen adopting baby chicks experiment

I talked to Commie, our Buff Orpington hen, about a month ago 
and let her know that baby chicks were going to be on their way...  
I told her that if she wanted to be a mamma so badly, 
she could time it just right and go broody.  

Lo and behold, I think she heeded my words 
because she went broody like clockwork, 
and she sat on her little clutch of carefully turned golf balls and infertile eggs 
with just the right amount of time 
to "hatch" her babies that were on their way to her in the mail.  

We had read about other folks who had done this experiment.
We got ready with our in-house brooder for when the chicks first arrived,
and as a back-up in case our adoption experiment failed.

All you really need for a brooder is a safe container
a heat lamp
a chick feeder and waterer
and some bedding (pine shavings or sand work well).

When we got our first chicks 3 years ago,
we hobbled this one together with an old storage tote.

Our big girl Clara got ready, too.  
She's a Great Pyrenees, a breed long recognized for their abilities as livestock guardians.   
Here is she "guarding" the brooder!

The chicks arrived this past Tuesday around 6:30pm from My Pet Chicken! 
Our friendly local post office lady told us we could come after hours 
and ring a bell to get the girls 
so they didn't have to spend the night in the mail sorting area. 
 I peeked in at the little peepers, 
and all four were alive (last time we had one DOA), 
but one of them was clearly not as vital as the others.  

We dipped each of their beaks into water so they'd start drinking after their big trip.

Taking a 1-2 day journey through the mail system is viable 
because they have "hatch nutrition" 
(i.e. just before hatching they absorbed all of the nutrition of their yolk which can keep them going until the rest of their sibling eggs hatch while mamma keeps on sitting..)

The hatch nutrition is all used up after their journey, 
so it's important to get them food and water (and warmth!) straight away.

After watching the other 3 rambunctious girls
chirping away and eating and drinking up a storm,
it became clear that our fourth girl, the little Easter Egger, was rapidly declining
despite hand-feeding and giving her electrolyte water with a dropper. 
She couldn't move the her right side of her body, 
had a strange slimy mucous, and got weaker and weaker.
It seemed very doubtful that she would survive with any quality of life, 
and in flocks there is always the concern of a highly contagious virus 
wiping out the whole flock...

So, we took a deep breath 
and euthanized her in the most humane way we found.
If you're interested in knowing what we did and how we did it,
write to me and I'll let you know.

After all of that, with nary a moment 
to grieve the poor little girl we had to let go,
it was time to try to introduce 
the remaining 3 chicks to their soon-to-be adoptive mama.

Well into the night, after the rest of the flock had been relaxed and roosting for hours,
we took the 3 babies out to the coop, and one by one we placed them gently underneath Commie.
And we made sure to take out any golf balls or eggs she had
because we didn't want her to stay in sitting-mode... 

All went smoothly, but we were nervous little Nellies.

We slept with the chicken camera on all night, 
to stay alert to any sounds of ruckus or distress.

It was quiet all night!  
Just the usual coos from the big girls.

Operation adoption was successful!

The next day, we closed up the coop 
so they could have some quiet bonding time together
without interruptions and any bothering from the rest of the flock.

Then we constructed a makeshift safety area for when the big girls came in at night
We had to move Commie and her babies, anyway, because she was not in a very good location 
(parked right in front of the main access chicken door).

She liked it over in her new special brood spot.

The rest of the flock has left Commie and the babies alone for the most part.
For the most part meaning, except for their natural nosiness.
Chickens are curious creatures.  
They like to get in on the scoop and see what's going on.
This time around, the collective attitude seems to be:
"Oh, Commie's at it again...  whatever...  She was never quite right in the head..."
"Why don't Commie's babies ever look like her?"
"At least these babies don't waddle and quack and dive into puddles..."

There's little Wynonna
the silver-laced Wyandotte
peeking out from under wing

For the other girls, we haven't figure out their names yet...
but we're tossing around

 Roberta for the Barred Rock
so we can call her Bertie or Birdy for short...

Koko or Camille for the Cuckoo Marans
(she should lay a dark chocolate brown looking egg, 
so Koko the Cuckoo might be appropriate...)
Or if we give up our quest for alliteration paired to their breed names,
we could just call her Mabel or Henrietta,
thoroughly excellent names for hens.

We shall see.

After just one day in the coop,
Commie decided to take her little troop of girl scouts
and go out foraging 
so they can start earning their badges of experience and accomplishment.
(Look out, before you know it, they'll be trying to sell you cookies!) 

She's teaching them the lay of the land,
what's good to eat, what's not...
all the ins and outs of chickenhood.

Their vocalizations are amazing --
there's a sound Commie makes that lets her babies know she found something good to eat
they zip over to her and look at what she found.

She gives a warning cluck and puffs herself up big like a turkey
if any of the other hens get too close...

And the chicks have little distress calls that they peep out
if they've gotten separated or can't find her (she's never very far)
They stick right around her 
and they've learned not to  get too close to mamma's feet.

Then when the girls are tired and need a little quick nap,
Commie instinctively knows they need to get warm and huddle up under her,
so she gets ready to settle in with them.
She lifts her chest and her wings and the go under.
She rests with them until they're ready to go on another adventure..


To be continued!

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