We have two hens who are mothers to chicks (two more are still brooding, as are two muscovite ducks). For the first few days they moved around freely until we moved them together with their nestboxes into the electric-fence perimeter. We have inspired, educated and entertained watching them and their chicks. Our hens did not go broody so both hens are on loan from our neighbors. Both are mothers to a small number of chicks due to an egg fertility problem we had.
Xena is a relatively thin, dark colored and featherless-necked hen. She is fiercely protective of her 3 chicks.
Tereza is a puffier, tan & white colored, full feathered hen. She is a more soft, rounded mother. In the first few days we chicks sitting on her and later she was the one we saw with just the head of a chick sticking out between her feathers.
Xena was the first to leave the barn with her chicks. She would find a quiet spot and just sit outside with her chicks rather then sitting inside the barn. One time she chose a location that is on a “path” that leads away from the house. The dogs were alerted to something and darted on that path. We saw trouble coming but couldn’t respond fast enough. Indy jumped over them, Loui tried to do the same but he is a smaller dog. It was amazing to see the relatively small bodied Xena attack him and push him away from her chicks and back towards the house. Loui was very confused and we were very proud … both of Xena and her protective instincs and of Loui who submitted to her (we had to train him to not attack or attempt to eat members of our flock).
Xena and Tereza stay fairly close together though Xena gives Tereze trouble. If Tereza ventures too close to Xena, Xena will lash out at her, give her a good bite and then chase her for quite a while … even after Tereza has backed off and tried to open distance between them.
Xena keeps her chicks busy throughout most of the day. Tereza can be found sitting peacefully with her chicks around or under her.
Once, when we closed them for the night, chicks got mixed up … 5 ended up with Tereza and 2 with Xena … all chicks were warmly embraced … yet in the morning one of the chicks with Tereza lept out and joined Xena. Apparently the chicks do know and prefer to be with their mothers
Both mothers are exceptional at feeding. They constantly scratch and point out food to their chicks who follow and eat diligently. Sometimes we wonder if and what the mothers eat? When we gave them corn they didn’t touch it … they don’t approach anything that is not suitable feed for the chicks (the corn is way too large for the chicks).
The chicks gradually expand their circle of security … that is how far and how long they can be from their mother on their own. Their confidence grows every day.
Both mothers and chicks have already explored the mobile shelter. When it rains they find shelter in it, when it stops they resume their travels. The chicks look healthy and vital, they’ve discovered their wings and we can see them jumping longer distanced in growing arches
The chicks eat very little feed (we usually make available to them in the morning and in the evening). They get most of what they need directly from the (currently poor) pasture. We have already witnessed both mothers and chicks ignore feed, preferring to explore what the pasture has to offer.
We have some predatorial birds who take an interest in the chicks. Both mothers are extremely protective. They get very loud when a bird is anywhere near them … even if sitting on a high power line). They get very aggressive when a bird makes an attempt at the chicks. However the most impressive behavior we have witnessed has been a collaborative effort. Tereza, the puffy hen, took all the chicks in under her while Xena went on the offense. Each mother went to her forte and the predators didn’t stand a chance.
This morning we left the mothers and chicks closed in their nestboxes because it is a fairly damp and cool morning and we don’t want to risk the chicks catching cold (they are very vulnerable when they are young). We heard Xena and Tereza shuffling around wanting to get out but decided to wait and see how the day evolves. Well, they didn’t want to wait and in what we can only assume was a collaborative effort mananged to topple the front cover that blocks the entry to their adjoining nest-boxes. They are now freely ranging in the moist day. We are confident the chicks will find all the warmth they need with their mothers
Here in Romania, most chicks (and chickens) are kept in some form of captivity. Even if they have some free ranging space it is usually not very green (usually over grazed for years) and there are too many of them on it. Most require (expensive and labor intensive) feeding all year long. Chicks particulalry, are kept for many weeks in confined and sheltered spaces with their mothers and live entirely off supplied feed. Yet our chickens and chicks, who require very little feed from spring to fall, are healthy and, as others have pointed out, larger then typical chickens. We have been asked numerous times for eggs for other broody hens because “our chickens are larger”. Our explanations that the chickens are larger because off lifestyle rather then genetic have fallen on mostly deaf ears … and … ironically our eggs were not very fertile (due to too many males residing over too few hens).