With Michelle Dunn

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Like thou­sands of peo­ple across the land, ev­ery year I re­mem­ber Mother’s Day and Fa­ther’s Day at the last pos­si­ble mo­ment and have to dash out to get a card in or­der to make sure my name isn’t burned off the fam­ily tree. In that re­spect, life is a lot sim­pler for chickens. A chick has no con­tact with its fa­ther at all, and it grows up as part of an ex­tended fam­ily with all the chicks in its brood. These chicks may have come from the same mother or, more usu­ally, from sev­eral dif­fer­ent moth­ers.

The hen who hatched the chicks will care for their ev­ery need un­til they reach a cer­tain age, at which point she briskly aban­dons them and has noth­ing more to do with them. This usu­ally comes as a bit of a shock to the young birds who will con­tinue to try to fol­low her around, but she will ac­tively drive them away un­til they get the mes­sage.


Life isn’t lonely for these par­ent­less chicks, though. The bonds they form with their hatch-mates are strong, and of­ten last for the rest of their lives. There are a few tech­ni­cal is­sues when they all hit sex­ual ma­tu­rity, par­tic­u­larly if there are cock­erels in the brood, but even then they will of­ten re­main in the same group. The hens, in par­tic­u­lar, will always stay to­gether. When the hens are old enough they may be al­lowed to join the main flock with the boss hens, but even then the young hens will stay close to their hatch-mates.

Like all fam­i­lies, there is com­pe­ti­tion and ri­valry. I once had a pair of hens who took their sib­ling ri­valry ridicu­lously se­ri­ously. They hatched out on the same day, grew up to­gether, went broody on the same day, in the same nest, and when their re­spec­tive eggs hatched they spent the next week try­ing to steal one an­other’s chicks. The con­fused chicks put up with this for a week or so and then they sim­ply made their own de­ci­sion, picked a hen and fol­lowed that one. Each hen had some of her own chicks and some of her sis­ter’s chicks, but as they both had about the same num­ber no-one seemed to mind too much.

Fam­i­lies even in the chicken world - aren’t as sim­ple as they seem

ABOVE: Ri­val sis­ters and their chicks

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