Spring brings hens that get broody. In the case of this year’s list of broodiness the star players are two chickens and two turkeys which form a mother daughter combination. With the chickens I experimented this year to see how well a chicken hen could take care of a turkey chick.
The two chickens that I picked out were both Cuckoo Morans which are a large chicken that has black feathers and white dot highlight feathers. They are known to be broody and good mothers therefore I placed two turkey eggs under one of the hens. It did not last long. She go up and moved around to a nest that had more eggs in it and a game hen cross took over. If you are not familiar with a game hen cross they do not have big fluffy feathers like most chickens. Game hen crosses have big breasts and long legs. They are also medium sized when it comes to chickens coming in at about 5 pounds live weight. With two turkey eggs under this chicken it looked like she was high centered and had breast augmentation. It was a sight to see. Thinking that this will not do and took both eggs from her and put them under a mix that I got from a neighbor when the fox decimated my stock. This mix, has no name as of yet, is fluffy and could take both eggs. So I left them with her for the 28 days that it takes to hatch a turkey.
Two days later I am looking at the broody girls, at this time there were five of them, and I noticed that the game hen cross had another turkey egg under her and this time she was not going to let me take it. So I left it with her. At first it was funny and a bit serious at the same time. There was no certainty that the two hens would hatch out the chicks or if the eggs were fertile. So to continue the experiment I marked the observation date on the calendar and the anticipated 28 day hatch estimation and checked on the girls every day.
About three weeks into the process I looked at my turkey hens and scolded them for not laying on their own eggs. There were also a hefty threat of eating them that came along with that if they did not sit on eggs and hatch out turkey chicks. It took two days of this and three turkey hens broke off and started siting on eggs. At that point it was a lot of “good girls” and sit well and thoughts to Thor for protection of the girls since they were outside of the run at night and thanks for Frey fertile eggs and strong chicks when they hatched.
Then came the day that I walked out to the coop and checked the girls and a turkey chick was staring at me from under the fluff chicken. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “No shit a baby turkey under a chicken”, I was channeling my inner Captain Obvious. At that point I started to look for the second egg that was underneath her and found that the second chick hatched, but was dead from being pecked. The next step was to take the new mother and her chick and put her in the nursery with food and water. The hen and chick took right to the food and then the water.
Now anticipating chicks the next day during my rounds I was anticipating another chick that the game hen was sitting on. It took two days before her chick was out of the shell and staring at me from underneath her. Before the hen could see what was coming I scooped her and the chick up and placed them both into the nursery with the other hen and chick. Both new mothers took to each other’s company and started raising the little ones in a tandem fashion. One week later all four were out and about in the run fully integrated into the flock. (Video of both hens and chicks)
There are many advantages of having a broody sit and then raise the chicks. The chicks are more emotionally sound over chicks that were incubated. This is gauged by social action with other chicks and the rest of the flock to include roosters and toms. The social signs that I am looking for are that the chicks are not cowering or running into a corner. Running about and under the adult birds is exactly what I want to see because this shows that they are a member of the flock.
The chicks are healthier and have a higher survivability rate, upper 90% versus mid 80%, during the critical first 11 weeks. Now this is based on keeping a close eye on how the hens act. The prize turkey hen named the Rogue Momma liked to take her chicks on death walks all over the property which killed a lot of her chicks during that 11 week period. It was her moving around away from the flock that brought in hawks and falcons that would swoop down and scatter the chicks. The chicks would have a tendency to get lost because they were disoriented. Once they became disoriented no matter how much they called in distress it was a matter of time that they would be snatched up or die of exposure.
Following the course of action of herding the hens into the nursery helps calm the hens and gives them a reference point so when they do take the chicks out the nursery they will take them back again and not leave the run until about seven to ten days. Then there is the protection of the flock with the roosters scanning the sky for air threats and the turkeys scanning the ground for terrestrial threats.
But as it was once said, ” That is a story for another day.”