Using a Broody Hen as a Surrogate Mother for Chicks

August 8, 2017

So, maybe you're thinking about adding some chicks to your flock this spring. Well, there are a few ways you can do it. You can buy day-old chicks at the feed store or online from a hatchery or breeder. 

You can hatch some fertile eggs under a broody hen. You can hatch eggs in an incubator. Or you can combine all these methods for the best baby chick hack EVER!
I love using a broody hen as a surrogate mom for baby chicks. You get the best of both worlds. You get the exact chicks that you want, but you get your hen to do all the work! 
There are pros and cons to hatching eggs. Whether you use an incubator or broody hen, when you hatch eggs you can't choose the sex of the chicks. That's a big drawback for many people, especially if you're absolutely not allowed roosters where you live. When you hatch eggs in an incubator, the chicks will need to be kept in a brooder under a heat lamp in the house for the first few weeks which can be a pain. 

But when a mother hen raises the chicks, you avoid having to set up a brooder box in your house. You can ditch the heat lamp, dust and all the rest that goes along with that.
When you give baby chicks that you've bought as day-olds to a broody hen, she will keep the chicks warm, protect them and introduce them to the rest of the flock. She'll teach them how to look for bugs  and other things to eat in the yard - far earlier than "broody babies" can get outside. 

This is also a great way to snap a hen out of being broody. Once she has chicks, she's accomplished what she set out to do and she'll happily raise them. 

Simple Steps to Using a Broody Hen as a Surrogate


So here's how you do it:
1. Wait until one of your hens goes broody. You can't really force a hen to sit, but you can try and encourage her. (Be sure her nest is in a place that will be safe for baby chicks, i.e., not up too high. You might consider trying to move the nest at this point to a lower level, or even into a dog crate or cage on the floor of the coop.)
2. Give her about a week, leaving eggs under her (they don't have to be fertile, in fact they don't even really need to be eggs! Golf balls or smooth stones will work!), to be sure she's really dedicated and serious about being a mom.
3. Go buy your baby chicks. You can also hatch chicks in an incubator and then move them under the hen once they're completely dry and starting to get active.
4. With the broody hen on her nest, pick up the chicks one at a time and show them to her. Let her see each chick and hear it peeping. 
5. Tuck the chicks, one at a time, gently under the hen. You will know right away if she is going to take to them. She will cluck excitedly, and use her beak to push the chick further underneath. She'll spread her wings out and flatten her body to accommodate the chicks.
6. As you tuck each chick underneath, take away an egg.
7. Once all the chicks are underneath her and the eggs have been removed, stick around for awhile and watch to be sure that she really has accepted all the chicks and that they understand that it's warm and safe under her wings. I like to keep a close eye on the chicks for the first few hours, just in case. 

Tips for Success:

-This works best with the day-or-two-old chicks. The younger the better. You really don't want to be putting older chicks under a hen. 
-You don't need to wait the three weeks (a normal incubation period for the eggs) after the hen goes broody. The peeping of baby chicks is what "cures" a hen of her broodiness, so even if she's only been sitting for a week or so, she'll know to get off the nest and start mothering her chicks. It really is a wonderful way to handle a broody that just won't quit sitting!
-You never want to add the chicks at night. If the mother hen for whatever reason decides to reject a chick, or the chick tumbles out of the nest and can't get back in, you could find a chilled, dead chick in the morning. 

Or a chick could tumble out of the nest and be stepped on or killed by another flock member. You want to add the chicks say first thing on a Saturday morning when you'll be around to monitor the situation. 
-Have a brooder with a heat lamp set up...just in case as a backup. I have snuck chicks under hens many times over the years and never had one refused a chick, but there's always a first time.

-I like to get the broody and her nest into a dog crate on the floor of the coop (preferably before the chicks arrive) for the first few days at least. 

Although she should protect the chicks from the other flock members, and the transition integrating the chicks into the flock should be seamless and far easier than adding chicks you've raised in a brooder, since the chicks have basically been 'born' into the flock, I still like the give them a safe place where they can rest and the mother hen can concentrate on keeping them warm and fed and not worry about the other chickens. 

After the first few days, I'll leave the crate where it is, but start leaving the door open so the little family can come and go as they please.
Letting a broody hen raise your store bought chicks really is such a fun little trick! You'll be amazed at how easy it is. Plus, it will make your broody hen SO happy! 

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