Four-week-old chicks can manage without mum
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