Open Wings & Open Heart
A heartwarming tale of Chick Adoption...yes, that is right, a hen adopting chicks!
There are two main ways homesteaders raise chicks. The first is allowing a hen to sit on her eggs for 21 days so the chicks will hatch and then she raises them to maturity. Interestingly, hens are very generous with their motherly instincts and are more than happy to hatch their coop-mates’ eggs in addition to their own. The second method of raising chicks is to purchase fertilized eggs or day-old chicks and hand raise them in a protected, indoor area with heat lamps. The heat lamps act as a substitute for a mother hen’s heat, an essential element for the survival of the young chicks.
We have been successful with both methods but our preferred approach is to work with Mother Nature and allow the hen to hatch & raise her own chicks.
There is something very magical about watching a wise mother hen teach her little chicks the ways of being a chicken.
The alternative method of hand raising chicks can be very messy when keeping them in your home and quite time consuming, not to mention the stress of trying to keep curious dogs & cats away from the young family.
This year, we decided to adopt a hybrid model because we wanted to expand our flock with new breeds but did not want to hand raise them in our house. My hope was to try and convince one of our hens to raise day-old chicks that she did not lay or hatch herself, not unlike adoption. So I scoured the Internet to see if hen adoption could be done and to my delight, I found success stories to learn from!
The first step in the adoption process was choosing the lucky hen. This choice was an easy one. Celine Dion, our proven Mama, was already broody, meaning she was stubbornly sitting in her nesting box, determined to hatch chicks and was therefore the perfect “henidate”. The second step was to quietly & ever so carefully move her inside to our chick pen in the evenings so as not to disturb her broodiness. From there, we headed off to pick up the adorable itty-bitty fluff balls from a reputable chicken breeder (yes, that is a thing), specializing in heritage breeds. All of these steps were relatively easy but it was the final step that made us nervous…
From our research, we had learned that the sound of chirping chicks would inspire a broody hen to invite the chick under her wing, making her believe that her chicks had hatched.
When we arrived home with the chicks and started placing them in front of Celine, we were concerned to discover that the introduction did not go as smoothly as we had imagined. Celine was not initially convinced by our attempt to persuade her that the chicks were hers and she started pecking at the little ones. Luckily, we were prepared for this turn of events and had set-up a heat lamp in the pen in the event of rejection. We let a few gather under the heat and persevered with Celine.
Thankfully, after a few more attempts at introduction by gently pushing them under her, she gave into her maternal instincts and accepted her new brood with open wings.
After four weeks of hosting Celine and her chicks inside our house, we were able to move the little family outside into our Baby Coop. Celine spent three months proudly raising her chicks. We watched her teach the chicks how to forage for bugs by calling them to her side when she spotted a tasty bug spot, demonstrating how to scratch & dig and then encouraging them to try. We watched her run safety drills where she would show the chicks how to run and hide for cover to avoid threats when they heard her scream her alarm call. And, we watched her show them how to position themselves on the roost for sleep (a ladder with rungs that the chickens sleep on above the ground) when they became too big to cuddle under her wings.
Now, the itty-bitty chicks are teenagers and fully integrated with the rest of the flock. Watching Celine embrace her role as a Mama to her adopted chicks fills me with a sense of wonder and hope…if this little hen can love and care for chicks that are not hers, we as humans can surely find more compassion for one another.