Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We’ve always hatched our own eggs on our homestead. It has been an exciting adventure for us to watch, especially for my son, these past few years. We’ve also hatched out ducklings and chicks with a broody duck. It was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, we never really got to see them grow up, however, because they were sold quickly after hatching.
But almost 2 weeks ago, one of our beautiful Delaware mama hens hatched out two of the most adorable chicks you’ve ever seen. She had gone broody quite some time ago, and I sat her on five of our own eggs. Unfortunately, I failed as a homesteader and didn’t realize her nest was to shallow. Therefore, since she was nesting in a nesting box, the eggs were eventually crushed from sitting on the hard bottom without enough straw.
I quickly added two new eggs under her after we spruced the nest up. In the meantime, I started up the incubator with chicken eggs that were gifted to us from a fellow homesteader, and some of our own quail eggs, just in case she gave up from being on the nest so long.
She didn’t give up. In fact, she was a pro! Just like clockwork, her babies hatched right on time.
At first I was terrified that the other chickens would peck at the chicks. But because she nested in the coop the entire time, and because the flock went through the entire experience with her, they accepted the babies in no time. For the first 24 hours or so, she kept them in the coop with little exposure to the rest of the flock. But by day 2, she was quickly trying to integrate them. We had a few pecks here and there, but nothing brutal.
By day 3, the chicks were now roaming with mama hen without fear of rebuttal from the other chickens. And by day 4, they were completely part of our flock. In fact, now, a week later, we have another hen that helps babysit while mama hen is dust bathing or foraging and the babies don’t want to tag along.
Keeping Chicks Warm
My next observation came as no surprise to me. When we had ducks hatch out ducklings, the ducklings rarely stayed under mama duck. In fact, they were drenched in a rain storm once and they didn’t even care. Of course, I can never suggest you drench your ducklings and not give them heat. But it was an incredible learning experience.
The same happened with mama hen. Her brand new babies are never under her for warmth except in the evenings when time to roost. But even then, with these hot summer Virginia nights, they’ve been sleeping beside her rather than beneath her.
At the same time, we have an outdoor brooder for the chicks and quail we incubated at the same time she was setting on her eggs. We haven’t had to keep them under a heat lamp either. As I’ve been watching mama hen, I’ve been mimicking her natural instinct with the chicks I incubated. We do keep a 60 watt bulb in the insulated outdoor brooder for them, but they have not yet needed a heat lamp to survive while outside.
I say this now, but I urge you to use wisdom. When the temps go below 80 degrees, your chicks need a heat lamp until they have become accustomed to the temperatures, whether indoors or outdoors. Please keep in mind that chicks need a heat source to one side of their brooder until they are 6 weeks old or fully feathered. But I think we all know this!
The next thing I observed is how incredible they are at foraging, even at such a young age. When I keep chicks in a brooder, I try to allow them to forage some. But the reality is that I just can’t stay outside with them to make sure they don’t get attack by a lurking predator, therefore they go back into the safe brooder. Mama hen takes care of that with her own babies, and she is teaching them well. At just two days old, these babies were eating bugs and grass. What an amazing testament to nature!
Not only are they great foragers, but they are great at being aware of their surroundings. When mama hen makes her call, they go running. But even more so, they’ve learned to scan the skies themselves.
At The End of the Day…
When it comes down to it, I couldn’t ask for a better teacher than nature itself. Because we believe in all natural living on our homestead, this mama hen experience has been one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced along this journey.
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