Our Rhode Island Red hen sat dutifully on her eggs for a little over 21 days. Checking her and the eggs daily, we finally noticed one baby chick, popping her little head out from under the hen or her wing, as cute as she could be! The next day there was a second one, just as cute. Several days went by, though, and no more hatched. After Danny checked the remaining eggs and concluded they were not alive, we began to discuss how and where we could procure a few more baby chicks. Three days later, Danny brought 8 baby Rhode Island Reds home. I really had my heart set on something a little different, but that was all that was available. That night, Danny slipped the baby chicks under the hen, and the next morning she was the proud mama of 10! After discarding the un-hatched eggs, all was well in the chicken coop. Mama and babies were safely separated from the other hens and the rooster, of course, since they would kill the chicks.
When my neighbor asked if I wanted more chicks (more babies!), I went along for the ride to the feed store. As we arrived, a crowd was forming–the soon-to-arrive chicks were a hot commodity, I soon learned! While waiting, we had time to share a lot of chicken and chick talk! A 4-year-old was there to get 2 more chicks to join the 2 at home! Also among the crowd was a high school FFA student, a mom there for her daughter, and several other adults, all anxiously awaiting the special delivery. While we were trading stories and laughing about the diverse group of buyers, the pick-up truck pulled in, and the excitement exploded! Our numbers were now being called, and finally it was my turn. I excitedly made my selection–4 Buzzard Araucanas, 4 Black Australorps, and 2 Buffs or Goldens. I think we were all happy to hear that the Purina specialist would be there in 2 days to answer any “chicken questions,” as we all headed home with our new baby chicks.
Preparing the chicks a place to “hang out” without a mama hen was then foremost on our minds. To keep them warm, we prepared a large box with a heat lamp, food and water. The babies settled in and were quite content for day-old chicks!
Back at the feed store on Saturday, we gathered around .the chicken specialist, a very cute and nice young college graduate. When it was turn for my question, I wanted to know how to integrate my new baby chicks with the hen and her other 10 babies. “Simple!” she said, “just put vanilla on the neck of the baby chicks, the hen and her baby chicks.” That’s it? “Make sure you have time to watch the hen to be sure she is accepting them and not trying to kill them.” I asked about waiting until night and she replied, “No, do it during daylight.”
OK, I had a plan. On Sunday Danny and I would both be home to carry it out! I caught the baby chicks (did I mention they were living in my kitchen?), dutifully applied the vanilla on their necks, and put them in a basket to carry to their “introduction” to their new mama. Danny secured the hen and kept her out of sight, while I put vanilla on the necks of her 10 babies. Next step–put the “kitchen chicks” in with her chicks.
It was now time to introduce mama hen to her kitchen babies! As Danny brought her back into the coop with the babies, I applied her own “vanilla treatment.” As she walked around, she seemed to be counting the babies. (I had seen hens do this before, so wasn’t completely surprised). Reaching the number 10, with still more to count, she appeared to get a little agitated. Repeating the “count,” she became really agitated, and began to attack the new little black and brown chicks. And now, she began to flog me, as I was trying to catch the endangered ones! I had read that a mother hen will flog you if you get near her “dittlers”–a colloquialism indigenous to rural Appalachia–but believe me, it can happen in Spring, Texas too!
The battle royal abated after I finally caught the 4 black and 4 brown chicks. She seemed fine with the 2 little yellow chicks, so we decided it was safe to leave them in the coop with her. All continued to be well at each chick-check before bedtime, and the next morning we found her in the corner with most of her chicks happily nestled under her. Noticing one yellow chick on the other side of the pen, I entered. Alas! Mama hen left her brood and started running at this baby chick, who started running for her life and chirping wildly. Once again I braved the flogging of the hen as I frantically went to the chick’s rescue! (The flogging doesn’t really hurt, but it’s definitely more than just unnerving)! I was finally able to catch the chick and get her to safety.
Still at risk myself, I began to search for one more yellow baby chick that I realized was missing. I didn’t see her. It was looking pretty grim. I stepped over the boards to get out of the pen and saw a little chick huddled down between the boards. Afraid of the worst, I reached down and picked up her cold little body–and she chirped! She was cold, but still alive! Away from the heat lamp and the warm mama hen, the 5-day old chick’s body temperature had dropped.
Hurrying them both into the house to re-join the other 8 chicks in the box with the heat lamp, I was relieved to see that they soon warmed up, ate and drank, and were on their way to recovery. Unfortunately, one of the hen’s chicks was dead the next day. Not a mark on it, but I feel like the whole “vanilla experience” may have been just too much for this mama! Knowing that a hen can inflict a blow to the top of a chick’s head, killing it instantly, I believe that is probably what happened.
With the drama of the attempted introduction past, we were on our way with a new plan–to let well-enough alone!. The hen’s first 2 chicks are now 4 weeks old, and the other 7 chicks were 3 weeks old yesterday. The 10 chicks in the kitchen will be 4 weeks old tomorrow. In a few weeks the hen will lose interest in being a mama, and we will put all 19 chicks in a pen alone, to bond and become a flock.
What a learning experience!. I believe the mama hen might have accepted the new baby chicks if we had left the eggs in place and put 2-4 chicks under her each night. I can’t be sure, but I do know one thing I have learned well…”don’t put vanilla on the baby chicks!”
From the heart! ~Kathy Burden