Give a Chicken What She Wants

posted Dec 9, 2016, 11:57 AM by Heather Stovall

I creep under cover of darkness, clutching a cardboard box in front of me. To keep my hands free, I am wearing a headlamp to light my way. I am about to confront the most terrifying creature that dwells on Once Upon a Farm: the broody hen. If you approach her, her feathers stand on end, she screeches like a velociraptor from Jurassic Park, and she will peck you. Hard. But at night she will be half asleep and maybe I can come out of this unscathed. It was an experiment I was hoping would work.

I’m attempting to get this particular hen to adopt some

Doesn't she look mean?

ducklings and goslings. This way I don’t have to use a heat lamp to keep them warm, and the hen can teach them what to eat. These Buff Orpingtons really want to be mothers. She will run back and sit in the nest after I’ve removed her and taken all her eggs. She will sit on other hens’ eggs. She will sit on golf balls or even an empty nest, so I’ll give her what she wants.

I open the back of her nest box and slide my hand under the hen, quickly removing the golf balls I had placed there earlier. The golf balls were used to trick her into believing she is sitting on some eggs. I open the lid of the cardboard

box and pull out a duckling which I slide under the chicken mama’s wing. Next, I take out a gosling and slip it under her other wing. Oh, oh - She’s starting to shift around and wake up. The waterfowl babies are being noisy and cheeping. I slip a couple more under her. I feel like I’m running out of room under her, so I start just putting them in the nest box next to her, trusting them to burrow beneath her. BIG MISTAKE! She has woken up and sees these strange animals. Are they trying to steal her babies? She pecks at them and they run out of the nest box into the 4’ x 8’ shelter. It’s nighttime and the temperature is pretty cold. They try approaching her again, wanting to crawl under all those fluffy warm feathers. Are you our mommy? She pecks at them whenever they get close and they tumble away. The poor two day old orphans! All they want is a mommy. I decide to turn off my light and let her get sleepy again. After 15 minutes, I crawl through the two foot high opening in the shelter and gather the lost babies, one by one. I can barely see, since I have left my light off to avoid waking the broody hen. I can just make out shapes by the scant moonlight that shines through the windows. I slide each of the baby waterfowl under her. She pecks me a of couple times, but not hard enough to draw blood. She can’t see well in the dark, so her aim is bad. The babies are smart and stay where it’s warm and the hen doesn’t kick them out. Everything seems fine.

I had a heat lamp ready to be set up as a backup plan, but after half an hour when I check on them, they all seem to be nestled contentedly under her and there is no loud peeping, a sign that someone is distressed or cold.

In the morning, everything was peachy. Mama hen had woken up fully believing her golf balls had hatched into 4 goslings and 6 ducklings. They climb on top of her and burrow under her and she clucks softly to them, ready to show them the ways of the world. The episode was a bit stressful for all, but I learned how to successfully introduce some baby poultry to an adoptive chicken mama.