Four-week-old chicks can man­age with­out mum

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QI have a Scots Grey hen who has hatched out 14 chicks. They are now four weeks old and have been in a house with an out­side run at­tached since day two. The run is ap­prox­i­mately 8ftx3ft and I move it onto fresh grass ev­ery two or three days, al­though be­cause of the re­cent dry weather the grass be­came rather burnt. The chicks seem to be do­ing well, but the prob­lem is the mother, who has al­ways been an in­de­pen­dent soul and is now go­ing a lit­tle ‘stir crazy’ while con­fined with her off­spring. Should I let her out to re­turn to the other free-range hens and keep the chicks in their run un­til they are older? Would they man­age with­out her? I can’t let the chicks out too as we have mag­pies around and I am wor­ried that they are vul­ner­a­ble. I have never had this prob­lem be­fore as pre­vi­ous mothers have been happy to stay with their young.

AMichelle Dunn says: Con­grat­u­la­tions on your very suc­cess­ful hatch­ing. Four­teen chicks is a won­der­ful achieve­ment. I think the prob­lem with your mother hen has been re­lated to the hot, dry sum­mer we had. You men­tion that al­though she is moved ev­ery few days, the grass is dry and un­ap­petis­ing — and there are no worms and very few in­sects to be had on the hard ground. Ba­si­cally, she is bored. To an­swer your ques­tion — yes, the chicks would be fine with­out her at four weeks. Hav­ing said that, chicks learn ev­ery­thing from their mother and it is al­ways best to leave the chicks with their mum un­til she makes the de­ci­sion to aban­don them nat­u­rally. The chicks will also be ac­cepted more quickly into the main flock if they are in­tro­duced with their mother, and she will teach them ‘flock rules’, such as where to roost and for­age. At this time of year mag­pies are not gen­er­ally too much of a prob­lem as they don’t have chicks of their own to feed. Four-week-old chick­ens should be too big to tempt a mag­pie (un­less your chicks are ban­tams, in which case they may still be vul­ner­a­ble). Scots Greys are usu­ally pro­tec­tive mothers, so I would con­sider let­ting your hen and her chicks join the flock and trust the mother hen to pro­tect her brood. Keep a close eye on them, how­ever, and if the mother im­me­di­ately aban­dons them the chicks may be at risk. I imag­ine, though, that once she has the free­dom to roam around, she will be even more mo­ti­vated to look af­ter them.

Al­though young chicks can man­age with­out their mother by four weeks, they will miss learn­ing from her

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