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Kristina Smith

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Today I’m going to talk about hens adopting chicks. But not just about broody hens, though that will be brought up too. I’ll also discuss when there’s a broody hen that hatched chicks and another hen decides to co-parent with that hen.

Will Broody Hens Adopt Chicks that are Not Their Own?

The first question we’re going to try to answer is Will broody hens adopt chicks that are not their own? Technically speaking, none of the eggs a setting hen is on are really her own eggs. Not long ago I covered the topic of broody hens. But, when the eggs hatch, the broody hen then becomes the new generation’s mother, in effect.

However, some people have tried fooling a broody hen by placing chicks from elsewhere under her. And they’ve succeeded in getting the hen to adopt the chicks. I can also verify that it works.

Broody hen with chick
This is Davis with her chick that survived the snake attack.

2019 was our first year we had success with broody-hen chicks hatching. But only a couple of days later a chicken snake got one of the chicks. And it devastated Davis, our broody hen. She was scared, and her remaining chick was lonely without its sibling.

So, we went to the feed store and found one that looked the most like the chick we lost. We weren’t sure what Davis would do. We reasoned that it would be a 50/50 shot either way. She would love it or hate it.

We brought it straight out to her, in daylight, prepared to rescue it at any moment if she rejected it. Davis sniffed the store bought chick and walked away. She knew it wasn’t her baby. But at least she didn’t kill it. Her remaining chick, on the other hand, immediately gravitated toward the bigger, store bought chick. They became inseparable. And over time Davis started treating the imposter chick like her own.

It is best to make sure your hen is broody before attempting to fool her. And it’s recommended to introduce a chick or chicks to the broody hen at night in the coop. Although, we didn’t and it still turned out ok. However, the hen we tried to fool is one of the sweetest hens we have. I doubt I would try this during the day on a hen that doesn’t have as nice a disposition. Read this for more information on introducing chicks to a broody hen, if you’re interested.

2 hens, 1 broody, 1 non-broody with chicks
Davis with her adopted spotted chick, and the hen in front of her is the co-parent, Soundwave.

Will a Non Broody Hen Adopt Chicks?

So what about non-broody hens adopting chicks? Strictly speaking, no, they don’t. Though, some people believe that you can encourage a hen to go broody. But whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. My birds do not have problems going broody. In any case, the hen would no longer be non-broody if you made conditions favorable to broodiness. And the result was that she turned broody.

co-parenting hens w/chicks
Our newest broody hen, standing on the right, with Plo, the co-parent, and their chick is on top of Plo.

Co-parenting

What do I even mean by the word co-parenting? Well, the dictionary basically describes co-parenting as the sharing of parental responsibility. This is actually in reference to human children. However, it can certainly apply to chickens as well. Because, when there’s a co-parenting hen, that is exactly what she does. She helps the hen, who did the work of incubating and hatching the eggs, raise and take care of the chicks.

But I bring up co-parenting in a blog about hens adopting chicks, since that is essentially what the co-parent is doing. The co-parenting hen adopts the chicks as her own. She did not labor for them and yet she treats them as her own.

The first time I saw this behavior, it was in Soundwave, Megatron’s hatchery-mate. When she first came to us, she was the tiniest hen we had. Although, she was one of the meanest hens and took every opportunity she could to abuse the hen on the bottom of the pecking order. So, naturally I was surprised when this mean hen started displaying maternal instincts.

At first I thought, maybe she’s going to kill the chicks that Davis hatched. However, over the course of a few days, she’d cuddle with Davis and allow the chicks to sleep with her. And soon Soundwave was spending her days with Davis and the chicks, trying to teach the babies how to forage for food.

I’d never heard of chickens doing this before: Assisting broody hens raise chicks. My mother-in-law, who’s had chickens for at least twice as long as me, has never had a hen co-parent. She never heard of it either until I brought it up to her 2 years ago.

hen w/ chick and 1 adopted chick
Davis and her two chicks. Her adopted chick is on the right.

Since our first experience with co-parenting hens, we’ve witnessed it happen two more times. And one hen is a repeat co-parent. She helped raise a chick last year. And this year she assisted one of our Easter Eggers with a clutch of 3 chicks.

Plo, the hen who’s co-parented twice, actually starts out broody first, before she co-parents. And throughout her co-parenting, she acts broody, though she isn’t mean like the hen who did all of the work. But when Soundwave co-parented, she never acted broody at all. She was just slowly drawn toward the chicks and Davis, until she was helping Davis out.

There isn’t a lot of information out there about this phenomenon. But I think it’s amazing that these birds, which normally aren’t close like this, would raise chicks together.

If you have backyard birds, have you ever witnessed this behavior yourself? I would love to hear your stories!

2 comments on “Hens Adopting Chicks

  1. Steve Servant says:

    Love it. You know your chickens!

    1. KS says:

      Yes, I do! They’re fun to watch!

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