Giving a day-old-chick to a broody hen
About a year into having my chickens, one of them went broody…Oh no!
For those of you who may not know, a broody hen means that a hen is sitting on a nest of eggs trying to hatch them. And it will eventually happen in every flock.
The problem with a broody hen when you don’t have a rooster is that none of the eggs she is sitting on are fertilized, meaning they will never hatch no matter how long she incubates them. She also stops laying eggs while she is nesting and mothering.
The first time I had a broody hen, I scoured the internet for information about what to do. Most people recommended trying to break the brood, or stop the hen from sitting on the nest. I tried several things and nothing seemed to work…she was determined to hatch those (unfertilized) eggs.
“Could this really work?” I wondered.
If it did, that would mean I would have a newer younger bird to eventually replace my older layers. It also would mean I would be able to expand my flock without having to buy a heating lamp and other special equipment for raising chicks. And the mama hen would break her brood and do all the chick-raising work for me!
That sounded like a win-win to me. I was willing to give it a shot.
All of the hatcheries I checked online either didn’t ship in the fall and/or required a minimum number of birds to be shipped, anywhere from 15 to 50. Yikes! I only wanted one chick to try out my idea…
So I called our local stores that sell chicks in the spring and low-and-behold, one of them would be getting a shipment of baby chicks in a couple of weeks. I marked the date on the calendar and prayed that she would stay broody for that long.
Hens normally sit on eggs for 21 days. Mine had already been sitting for 15 or so days. Could her brood last until the chicks arrived?
I waited anxiously and checked her frequently. Still broody, still broody.
When the day finally arrived, I went to the store and was told that the chicks had arrived a few days earlier in the week. Which meant that they were hatched 1-2 days before that. What???
From everything I had read, it was VERY important to get a chick that is as young as possible. Often times, a mother hen won’t accept a chick if it is too old, or the chick won’t imprint on the mother…or both.
Although I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t work, I decided to give it a shot anyway. I bought one chick, some chick starter feed, and a chick waterer that can attach to a mason jar and off we went.
I kept the chick in a box in the house with some water and food all afternoon and evening. From what I had read, the best time to make the switch was at night because chickens don’t see well in the dark. The mama won’t be able to see the baby, and by morning they will have bonded and everything will be fine and dandy.
(As a side note, I once tried to give a chick to a broody hen before the sun went down because I couldn’t stand waiting any longer and she tried to peck the poor thing to death. I took the chick out, waited until the sun went down, gave the same chick back to the same broody hen and she accepted it…definitely wait until the sun goes down!)
Once it got fully dark, I slipped out to the coop after it had been dark for awhile with the chick. I spent a few minutes letting the chick peep while still outside of the coop to let the mama hear the baby and start the process of mothering (sort of mimicking a chick hatching from an egg with the mom listening to the peeps while it hatches).
I scooped the chick up and held it in my hand, lifted the lid to the nest box with my other hand, and slipped the baby under the hen’s feathers from behind. The hen looked a bit confused but she wasn’t pecking at the chick or acting strange. She fluffed up her feathers a bit and started clucking and cooing.
I checked a few more times over the next hour and once more before I went to bed…all seemed to be going well.
In the morning, this is what I found.
My best tips for giving a chick to broody hen:
- Be sure that the hen has been broody for a good long while. Some hens are half interested in brooding while others are strongly broody. You want to be sure she is determined to sit on the nest and can’t be convinced otherwise.
- Wait until she has been broody for at least a week. Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch, but here’s the secret…chicken’s can’t do math. They are not marking off 21 days on a mental calendar. They will begin to mother when the chick “hatches” regardless of if it’s been the full 21 days or not. But by giving her at least a week, it will ensure that the broodiness is strong and she’s prepared to transition to motherhood.
- Try to create an environment where the hen is isolated from the rest of the flock if possible. At least for a few days after the chick “hatches.” This will allow them to bond and provide protection from the rest of the flock.
- Provide food and water for the mama while she is on the nest. I know it may seem like she doesn’t leave the nest, but she does occasionally for short bits of time.
- Get a chick that is as close to a day old as possible. As I mentioned above, when I went to get my chick, it was a couple of days old and it worked, but it was risky. The younger, the better!! I’ve heard that some hens are wonderful mothers will accept chicks at any age at any time, but most will reject them if the chick is too old.
- ALWAYS introduce the chick when it is fully dark. Chickens have terrible night vision so she won’t be able to see what is happening. I tried introducing a chick before it was fully dark and the hen tried to peck it to death. I introduced the same chick on the exact same day once it was fully dark and she totally accepted it. Make sure it is dark before introducing the chick.
- Let mama hear the chick peeping for a bit before slipping it under her feathers. You will probably hear her transition to cooing and clucking. After letting her listen to the peeping for a few minutes, gently slide the chick under her feathers. If she is sitting on any eggs, remove them while your hand is under her. Don’t leave any eggs, including fake eggs, under her once you transition her to chicks.
- Check on her frequently for the first hour to make sure she is accepting the chicks. Check frequently the following day too to make sure things are going well. Be prepared to raise the chick(s) in a brooder if anything goes wrong.
- Provide chick starter feed at ground level. The mama hen will probably eat this food too (and other flock members might as well) which is just fine. As long as the baby has access to chick starter that is in a feeder low to the ground for the first couple of weeks they should be fine. I usually provide chick starter for 4-6 weeks or whenever my bag runs out.
- Once you’re sure the mama and the chick are doing well and they are well bonded, you can introduce them to the rest of the flock. The hen will introduce the chick to the other flock members, help integrate the chick into the flock, and will protect the chick as needed.
- My absolute favorite way of raising chicks is by giving them to a broody hen! It’s seriously the best. The mama hen does all the work and I don’t have to clean out a separate brooder or maintain temperatures or any of that.
- Be prepared for some of the cutest oohs and aahs moments you’ve ever seen. The chicks poking out from under mama’s feathers, her clucking at them and teaching them all sorts of things, the chicks running under mama for a few minutes to get warm and then running back out to play. Adorable!!! It’s the sweetest thing to witness!
Well, those are my best tips and tricks. I hope this has been helpful.
If you have questions, please leave a comment below.
And if you try giving a day old chick to a broody hen, please tell us about it in the comments section. We’d love to hear how it goes for you!
Happy easiest chick raising ever!