Learn from Mother Hen, says Julie Moore
Nine pages: Raising chicks in comfort; Getting real about hatching; Incredible incubators; WIN a £295 Incubation Starter Kit.
The incubator is humming away and the sound of peeping chicks is imminent. But how are you going to keep your new chicks warm?
It can be a daunting and stressful task to raise chicks safely in a brooder without the assistance of a Mother Hen. What heat source should be used? What temperature should the brooder be on any given day? When should the heat source be turned off permanently? These are all dilemmas that a chicken keeper is faced with.
Unlike newly hatched young of many bird species, day old chicks can walk, eat and drink on their own. But they cannot live without warmth — you must provide this in the absence of a broody hen. So how do you overcome these difficulties? By thinking like a Mother Hen! Understanding how a Mother Hen looks after
A broody hen knows how to keep her chicks warm.
her chicks is paramount as to how we raise chicks ourselves.
The virtues of a Mother Hen were recognised back in the first century AD by Roman historian and biographer, Plutarch who wrote in De amore parentis (Parental Love): “What of the hens who we observe each day at home, with what care and assiduity they govern and guard their chicks? Some let down their wings for the chicks to come under; others arch their backs for them to climb upon; there is no part of their bodies with which they do not wish to cherish their chicks if they can, nor do this without a joy and alacrity which they seem to exhibit by the sound of their voice.”
A broody hen knows how to
keep her chicks warm. Generally, a hen waits for warm weather before showing her maternal instincts, raising chicks in spring, summer and autumn. She nurtures her chicks, watching and listening to them. She instinctively knows that each chick has different needs and not all chicks need the same warmth at the same time. Safety is paramount — by pulling chicks with her beak beneath her body, she keeps her brood safe and warm.
A hen’s internal body temperature is between 40.6 and 41.7°C. When a hen changes from ‘egg layer’ to ‘egg hatcher’, her body temperature increases. In response, you’ll find that a broody plucks feathers from her breast, directly exposing the warmth and moisture from her skin to the eggs. She’ll keep her nest of eggs warm at a temperature between 37.2 and 37.8°C until they hatch.
As a newly hatched chick is unable to regulate its own body temperature, the broody will keep it underneath her until it is dry and fluffy. The broody will wait for all the chicks to hatch before she leaves her nest. Once the chicks are hatched and dry, the broody is available to her brood throughout the day, teaching them to find food, explore, dustbathe and providing warmth if they are cold. At night, she ensures that her chicks sleep beneath her in complete darkness. As the chicks grow, they spend less and less time underneath their walking feathered duvet.
LEFT: A broody hen knows how to keep her chicks warm. TOP RIGHT: Newly hatched chicks cannot live without warmth - you must provide this in the absence of a broody hen. BELOW LEFT: The incubator is humming away and the sound of peeping chicks is...
TOP: A radiant heat plate such as the EcoGlow Brooder from Brinsea is a safer alternative to a traditional heat lamp. ABOVE: Dehydration is a risk if the heat lamp is too close to the chicks. ABOVE RIGHT: A broody keeps her chicks safe and warm beneath...