Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: Beautiful Pacific Northwest
• Horses: 0
Sorry about the massacre. That's always a big bummer.
It's hard to refer to Dead Rabbit as Dead Rabbit, because he looks nothing like the dead rabbits around here...
But as Dead Rabbit says, breed counts. Some breeds (RIR) have been bred for egg production, so they've had their mothering abilities bred out. Heritage breeds have been allowed to keep their natural mothering traits a little more.
After my Cochin sat on rotten, infertile eggs for 3 weeks, I took mercy on her and looked into the chick-thing. The owner of my favorite feed-store says she regularly gives hens chicks up to 2 weeks old without problems. I've read that they need to be no more than 3 days to bond properly. I got a 1-day-old, 3, and 4-day-old, and they all did great.
Make sure you have a good mothering-breed.
Make sure she's been on the eggs 1-2 weeks. Many birds will sit on eggs for a week or so, then decide it's more fun to scratch and peck, and give up. If she's been sitting for a good while, she might be a good mother.
Get the freshest chicks you can.
Don't get more chicks than she can fit under her to keep warm. A nice, big Cochin or Jersey giant can take up to a dozen - max. A smaller hen, or first-time mom, should have far less. Any hen can easily take at least 4. It doesn't matter that the number of chicks doesn't match the egg-count. They can't count.
I've heard that you need to let the chicks be near the hen for a couple of hours, so she can hear them peep. Apparently, that switches her hormones from aggressive to protective. I tried this, and she tried to peck them to death when I finally gave them to her anyway. I then waited until dark, put them under, and by morning all was well.
No sane chicken is going to mess with a broody hen or a new mom. However, if you can give them their own little house or area for a while, everyone will be more relaxed and happy.
Last edited by freia; 10-18-2012 at 08:46 PM.