Managing A Hen With Chicks

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Quinn
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I’ve written earlier about my efforts — both successful and unsuccessful — at hatching chicks under a broody hen. Some say they do a much better job of hatching and raising them than humans and an incubator, and this to me would be enough reason to do it. For one thing, they can teach them to forage from an early age and will defend them against intruders when they’re small. But truthfully, my main motivation for doing this was that I hate managing chicks in a brooder! They’re so messy, and it involves checking on them several times a day to keep their feeder and waterer cleaned out.

Well, guess what? It’s just as bad if not worse with a hen, at least in the makeshift broody pen I’ve created. That’s because when the hen starts scratching in the litter — which she does with reckless abandon, probably to instill the behavior in her chicks — she kicks far more litter into the feeder and waterer than the chicks could ever do!

Since I don’t really have the space or the time or skills to create a proper enclosure, I’ve devised a pen that can only be accessed from the top. That keeps the chicks in while they’re small, while still allowing the hen to come and go. Unfortunately, the space is rather small for a hen and ten or so chicks. However, at eight days old I found one of the chicks already out of the pen, so I set up a feeding platform at about the same height as the top of the pen.

Within a few hours all the rest had managed to fly out, so I’ve had no more need to check on them every few hours. Soon the hen and chicks were roaming all over the coop, scratching and pecking enthusiastically. The only problem now is having to carefully step around them while working inside the coop. But that’s manageable. And during the day I keep the coop shut up anyway on account of the raccoon that’s been coming around.

It’s important that the chicks don’t eat the grownups’ food, so I’ve raised the hens’ feeder just enough so my 7-week-old birds can’t reach it, while the hens can.

The 7-week-olds are allowed out on their own now, but getting them out of the coop can be a challenge. That’s because they have to get past the hen, who’s liable to peck at them if they get too close. And I have to keep the hen and chicks from going outside at the same time.  Since they’re still just little balls of fluff with wings, I feel it’s too risky for them to be outside, even with their mother. When necessary, though, I can corral them into a corner with scratch grain while the older birds make their escape. Meanwhile, I can see the hen and chicks are anxiously awaiting their turn!

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