With Michelle Dunn
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