We keep chickens here at LTI. We grow feed for them in the fields, feed them kitchen scraps, eat the eggs, and butcher extra cockerels (young males) for our meat so we don’t need to buy it.
Last year, under the advice of Holin over at the Victorian Technology Institute, we put bought-in day-old chicks under our broody hen, Dolores. Dolores came to us from the Wagner Farm in Illinois, where she and her siblings had been dropped off in a grocery sack a month after Easter. People think it is cute to get chicks for the holiday, not considering that these little cuties grow up into ugly teenagers as they fledge. So they were abandoned, and my mother-in-law offered them to us. This is also where we got our beautiful barred rock rooster, Sid.
Two of the hens, Dolores and Billie, have been going broody each spring. This means they sit on a clutch of eggs to keep them warm enough to hatch out. This instinct has been bred out of many production chicken breeds. Normally the girls aren’t consistent enough in their sitting to get the eggs to hatch. So last year we got the aforementioned day-old chicks and popped them under Dolores at night. She instantly fluffed up and sheltered the little fuzzballs.
This was such a fun process to watch, as we’ve raised chicks by hand before, and it is so time consuming to turn the eggs three times a day on the brooder and then monitor the cardboard box full of peeping chicks for six weeks. Letting the hen raise the chicks was not only better for us: the chicks didn’t peep incessantly, like they do in a box in our house. Apparently they were just calling out for “mom” the whole time.
This year, we ordered some barred rock and Wyandotte chicks from our local shop. Just Wednesday, I popped them under Dolores in the pen. She took to it like, well (forgive me), a duck to water. The chicks spent a few nights in their new space with their erzatz mama. And then this morning, when I opened the main coop, I found this.
I am reminded of my favorite documentary movie, Jurassic Park, when Jeff Goldblum’s character says, “life finds a way.” I called Holin to tell her my surprising news, and she immediately quipped, “It’s called biology, honey!”
We are surprised and excited to have had completely home-grown chicks hatch without any intrusion on our part. Coming from a white egg, these new chicks must be a cross between our leghorn hen and either the Barred Rock rooster, Sid, or our extra rooster, a southern rambler left over from last year’s purchased day-olds (I thought he was a hen, and thus he missed his appointment with the knife). He’ll be culled with this year’s young males.
We quickly moved Billie, her hatched chick, and yet-to-hatch eggs into the isolated kindergarten with Dolores and her remaining ten chicks (one died the first night). After a short amount of fluffing up, posturing, and clucking, they settled down, with Billie remaining on her eggs and Dolores mothering the chicks running around. Fingers crossed that this season’s success rate is high. Let us know if you’re nearby and would like to buy a hen later in the year.