Chicks Hens raising happy, healthy chickens

Hens Adopting Chicks

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.


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!

Hens raising happy, healthy chickens

What Are The Signs of a Broody Hen?

Perhaps you’ve seen a broody hen or had one in your yard. If you’re a new chicken owner or currently only have chicks, then this post will help explain the signs of a broody hen.

What does it mean if you have a few hens that stop laying eggs simultaneously? Does it mean they’re sick? Or are they all broody? Either is possible. But having multiple hens that aren’t laying eggs is pretty excessive. Unless they are sick, stressed, or molting. However, there are other reasons hens won’t lay eggs.

In another post I covered various illnesses and problems that, if afflicting the backyard flock, could cause hens to stop laying eggs. Although, in this article, I’m going to go over signs of a broody hen or hens.

broody hen
Our most recent broody hen.

The Broody Hen

What is a broody hen? The dictionary describes ‘broody’ (as in this case) as disposed to sit on eggs to hatch them. This is a really great definition, because that is exactly what a broody hen does. She sits on eggs, usually none of which are her own, all in order to have babies.

Her metaphorical, biological clock is ticking. And that hen wants some chicks. So instinctually she no longer will lay any eggs herself. Instead she will lay on any and all eggs. Typically there are one or two favorite nesting boxes in the coop. And the broody hen will remain on the eggs faithfully, waiting until a chick will hatch.

Throughout the day or days, the other hens will lay their eggs, which will greatly upset this mother-to-be when she gets uprooted. However, nature calls, so it can’t be avoided. But it increases her chances of having more chicks. Because she will even steal other eggs from nearby nests if she can.

How do You Know if You have a Broody Hen

  • The first indication that you have a broody hen is she’s always on the eggs:

Morning, noon, and night. She doesn’t leave the coop, that’s rule number one. She will barely eat and drink, she’s that dedicated to her task of having some chicks.

  • The second sign of a broody hen is more of a guideline than a rule:

She’s nasty if you check on her. I mention that as more of a guideline, because some hens are just mean when they’re laying their eggs. It doesn’t necessarily indicate they’re broody.

  • Most broody hens will also make screeching noises and fluff themselves out to twice their size if you try to touch them or their eggs.

But again, I have hens that have never been broody display this behavior. However, if you have a hen fluffing herself out and staying on the eggs all day, chances are high that she’s broody.

black broody hen w/chicks

Other Things to Consider

Most hens get maternal in the spring or summer. Though, that doesn’t mean a hen can’t go broody at some other time. All of our hens have gone broody spring or summer, like clockwork. Also, when the hen is preparing her nest, she pulls out feathers from her chest. And if you put an egg in front of her, she will immediately take it and put it under her.

Some breeds are more prone to broodiness than others. Silkies and Cochins are two of the best egg-setter breeds around. Go here for a more detailed list. But since broody hens don’t produce as many eggs as non-broody hens, most hatcheries breed the broodiness out of their chickens, for the most part.

2 of our broody hens last year were incubated and raised by us, while 1 hen was hatched and raised by one of our broody hens from the year before; and only 1 broody hen was from a hatchery. This year we’ve had 2 hens go broody so far.

broody Easter Egger hen with chicks

What to do with a Broody Hen

If you have a rooster and want more chickens, then having a broody hen is the easiest way I know of to accomplish that. Hens are better suited, most of them anyway, for doing the work of incubating chicken eggs. They also make sure the chicks are taken care of properly, unless you want a lot of chicks.

It’s generally not a good idea to put a lot of eggs under a broody hen if they aren’t going to hatch the same day. Because, once the chicks start moving around, the mother will leave behind the eggs. And the rest of her brood will die. For the most part I have put only 2-3 eggs under each of my broody hens.

How to Care for a Broody Hen

If you have a broody hen and want the chicks, then put her in a place by herself, or at least closed off, from the rest of the flock. This is so that they can’t steal anyone’s eggs. In this way you will know her eggs from everyone else’s. Although, you will have to make special bathroom breaks for her and set aside food and fresh, clean water daily, especially for her in this spot.

A word of caution: If you completely remove your broody hen from the flock, it is possible you will break her broodiness. We have observed this from trial and error first-hand with several broody hens. They don’t like to leave the flock. And they would rather keep their place in the pecking order than have chicks.

We tried doing this twice, removing the broody hens. The first time we separated the hen from the flock, we ended up accidentally breaking her brood. It was sad, because the chicks were so close to being hatched.

Ameraucana hen with 2 chicks

The only hen we had who managed to go broody and raise chicks until they were old enough to be on their own was Davis, one of our Ameraucana hens. She wasn’t mean when we’d go check on her, and once her 2 chicks hatched, she even let us pick them up. She was my favorite hen.

But when Davis went broody, we decided to leave her in the coop after several attempts to move her, all unsuccessfully. She left her eggs when she needed food, water, and to use the bathroom. And we solved the problem of whose eggs were whose by dating hers with a Sharpie. No one crushed her eggs, and in three weeks, her chicks hatched.

My husband finally ended up making something to enclose the setting hens inside the coop, so that none of the other birds would disturb them. It took some experimentation, but we finally have something that works for our broody hens. However, I can honestly say that I was relieved when they stopped wanting to have babies last year, because it was a lot of work.

two broody hens w/chicks

Can You get Multiple Broody Hens

Now all of that is fine, however is it possible to have multiple broody hens? Absolutely, let me tell you! Since Davis, we have had several hens go broody, annually. All at the same time, many get baby fever. And one or two will go broody a second time shortly after raising their chicks. I couldn’t understand it. Why were they all going broody at the same time? And how could I stop it?

Well, I learned that sometimes being broody is contagious Some hens will copy this behavior and yet, not really want chicks. And still others will end up going through the process and wind up new mommas. We’ve had hens that wanted babies before. But never like it’s been since Davis. I believe the increase in broody hens is likely due to it being bred into their genes. For example, Davis had been broody; maybe only once, but still. We incubated some of her eggs. Now they’re mixed in the gene pool.

How to Break Broodiness

There are several suggestions out there about how to break broodiness. Although the one proven and effective method that most people agree on is what is called the broody box. There are several ideas on how to make it. However it doesn’t need to be special. The main thing is to separate the hen from the rest of the flock. For instance, if you have a pet carrier or a pet crate, with adequate space, that will work. Again, separating the hen from the rest of the flock will fully motivate her to give up the idea of wanting to have chicks.

When we separated our broody hens from the flock, we just put them in a big Rubbermaid box. (This was at different times.) And then placed the box in the garage. They had straw for bedding, food, and water. In fact, we weren’t trying to break their broodiness. Though, it happened anyway. Because the birds have their pecking order established. And the hen who leaves doesn’t want to have to start all over again at the bottom.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have anything to say, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Thank you!