Beware the hens who have too much maternal instinct
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