Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to get a broody hen to take mail order chicks

Our old flock of chickens is nearing five years old and many of the old girls have stopped laying on a daily basis.  This last spring I went and bought a mixed bag of pullets (female only chicks) from our local feed store to  start on replacing them.  Now I will say I have generally been disappointed in feed store chicks.  Our first chick ordering experience was with one of the best hatcheries in the country, Murray McMurray Hatchery, which if you get their catalogue or look online you will see why instantly. 


The Chicken Really Bad Hair Day
Not only have I found their chicks to be of superior quality, but as they grow up they have been beautiful, vigorous, and excellent egg layers, often laying every day for years.  Our chickens from McMurry took Best In Show at the fair for our Black Australorps .  I love the Australorp breed.  They are a gorgeous all black chickens with feathers that flash iridescent green in the sun and black instead of the orange eyes most chickens have.  They are gentle and very good egg layers.


That experience pretty much set a high standard for us.  You may wonder why I went with feed store chicks as apposed to ordering from a hatchery I love.  The reason was simple.  We lived in town at the time and McMurry only does orders of 15 at the lowest and I only needed 10 max for our small yard.

mama hen being broody
Our feed store chicks are laying now and doing well, but now that we live out on 15 acres and next to a country highway I would love to sell eggs as a way to make enough money to pay for feed and supplies.

Two of our very old hens chose to go broody this fall just as I was contemplating their trip to the freezer.  I let them set eggs from other hens and thought about ordering day old chicks from McMurray and seeing if one of the hens would take them if the delivery was at hatching time. In the end I ordered their egg laying assortment because that was the only chicks available close to hatching time.  These are an assortment of the best of the best of their egg layers.

So here is how people recommend you get a broody hen to take other chicks.

The chicks must be just hatched or very close to only a few days old.  Not only does this make the hen more likely to take them, but the chicks if too old wont bond as easily with the hen and stay close to her protective body.

If you are ordering chicks for this purpose it is best to get a delivery date as close to your hen's eggs hatching date as possible.  This is entirely doable with McMurray as they have the ability to ship chicks all the time from spring through fall.

our tophat setting her eggs
Slip the chicks one at a time under the hen at night when she is unlikely to get up and leave.  If she starts getting too upset stop for awhile and leave her be.  Then try putting the rest under.

Check on the mom and chicks as frequently as possible without upsetting the hen too much for the first few days.  You need to watch for rejected chicks.  They will be often hiding in a corner so the hen wont peck them.  If she rejects some or all of the chicks you will have to take them out and rear them yourself.

mama with a mail order chick
When I did this it was in the morning (not recommended) and the hen did fine.  She took the chicks and has been a wonderful mother to them.  Our other hen hatched out her chicks before I could get an order shipped.  She only hatched out two eggs, the rest turned out to be infertile.  I do notice a pronounced difference in the chicks.  The day old chicks do not stay as close to mamma (a possible lack of bonding?) and wander away much more than the mamma with her own hatched out chicks which she sat on for 21 days .  So far we have only lost two chicks. They are free range in the garden and only shut up at night so predation is a possibility.  

Pure white mail order chick
It has been SO much easier letting a hen raise these chicks than raising the chicks myself with a heat lamp, plus the chicks will be much more likely to go broody and make good mothers themselves since they were raised by a mom and not a heat lamp.  This can be a plus or minus depending on your needs.  I WANT more chickens for meat.  Any roosters or surplus hens will go to the freezer.  But if you only want eggs a broody hen is an annoyance since she will not lay eggs.  To us good broody hens are gold, and these old ladies got a reprieve from the pot because of their mothering instinct.

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