Be­ware the hens who have too much ma­ter­nal in­stinct

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Chicken nap­per alert

Broody, clucky, mother hen - chick­ens are well known to be very se­ri­ous about the busi­ness of rais­ing their young. Any­one who has ever tried to stop a de­ter­mined hen go­ing broody will know how hard it is to change her mind. A friend of mine once had a hen go broody for 12 weeks. He’d re­moved all the eggs, de­stroyed her nest and moved her to a light, cool area, but still she sat there, brood­ing on her own feet, for three months. This was an ad­mit­tedly ex­cep­tional case, but there are plenty of ex­am­ples of ob­ses­sive be­hav­iour in mother hens.

Take my friend Si­mon, for example. Three of his hens went broody at the same time. One hatched out four chicks, one hatched out six chicks and one hatched out seven chicks. Three days later he heard a rum­pus out­side and dis­cov­ered that a theft had taken place. One of the hens now had 11 chicks, one hen had 6 chicks and one hen had no chicks at all. After a cer­tain amount of con­fu­sion, he man­aged to re­unite each hen with the cor­rect num­ber of chicks, and peace re­turned. Two days later he found one of the hens ag­gres­sively de­fend­ing the door of the pot­ting shed, while two dis­tressed hens ran up and down out­side. There were only two chicks out­side the shed. The ag­gres­sive hen had stolen the re­main­ing 15 chicks and stashed them in the shed where she could pre­vent the other hens get­ting at them.

The chicks were now sev­eral days old, and by this point they could iden­tify and had bonded with their orig­i­nal mother hen. The stolen chicks kept run­ning out of the shed to find their real mother. Ev­ery time the ag­gres­sive hen herded one chick back into the shed, an­other one would run over her feet and dash, cheep­ing, back out­side. It was chaos. Even the cock­erels, usu­ally very good at keep­ing peace among the hens, were not go­ing any­where near a group of cross mother hens.

Even­tu­ally, Si­mon got all the chicks and the ag­gres­sive hen away from the shed which gave the chicks space to find their cor­rect mother hen. Peace was re­stored for a few hours, un­til the ag­gres­sive hen got up to her old tricks again... It wasn’t un­til the chicks reached two weeks old that the chick-nap­ping in­ci­dents stopped com­pletely.

ABOVE: Some hens will de­lib­er­ately steal an­other hen’s chicks INSET: Young chicks can iden­tify their moth­ers

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