Hatch­ing Spe­cial

Learn from Mother Hen, says Julie Moore

Your Chickens - - Contents -

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...

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