It’s Love, Not Blood, That Makes A Family


Mother hen and her genetically unrelated offspring

I posted a little over a month ago about one of my three hens, who had been so broody for so long that I worried about her health.  Unable to break her of this broodiness, I finally just gave in and got my friends Martha and Rick, who have roosters as well as hens, to give me some fertile eggs.  These seven eggs went very quickly from their nesting boxes to underneath the blazing butt of my hen about three weeks ago.

I've been thinking all week that it's time to lay in some chick supplies: fresh bedding for a clean coop, chick food, a smaller feeder and waterer.  I was about to head to Tractor Supply Wednesday evening when my car battery died at Skidmore College as I was picking up my youngest from camp.  A friend spotted us on our sweaty walk and gave us a ride home.

I went out to check on my hens…and heard a peep.  We had a chick!

So I called a taxi in a panic and got the driver to take me to Tractor Supply, wait for me to shop, and then let me load a giant bag of wood shavings in his trunk.  "I bet I'm the stupidest fare you've had all day," I said conversationally.

"Well, I had a stupider fare a few days ago," he said.  "A couple of guys called me to pick them up from a Saratoga bar at 3 am and take them to Clifton Park to a strip joint.  A $33 fare and they got there and the place was closed, naturally.  So another $33 to take them back."

He's right.  That stupid I'm not.

Yesterday, every time I looked into the chicken coop, there was another little life there.  Lovely and amazing.

The choice the gardener has to make in such a situation is whether to separate the chicks and their mother from the other adult hens…in my case, just two other hens…or not. 

That great font of country wisdom, the Internet, is divided. 

Some people say rival hens can be dangerous to chicks.

Some people say that a mother hen is well able to defend her brood. My friends Martha and Rick are in this camp.

My instant inclination was to trust Martha and Rick and Mother Nature here.  If I separate the babies and the adults for months, we'll face the same introduction issues Amy Stewart faced down the road.

Of course, when I say I trust Mother Nature, what I mean is, I trust the placid nature of my Buff Orpingtons, who have never shown any tendency towards violence, unlike other chicken breeds I've had.

So far, so good.  I was puzzled just a moment ago to see that my mother hen and her chicks had moved off the remaining eggs…until I noticed that the original mother hen was still on the eggs. 

Instead, another hen is behaving exactly like the mother hen, warming her half of the chicks by spreading herself over them and allowing them to occasionally peek out from beneath her.  Since she had fertility issues, she's apparently decided to adopt.


  1. Maternal instincts are strong. Wannabe mothers will adopt and even steal babies from real mothers. It happens in all sorts of animals, from the simplest to even us humans.

  2. I want CHICKS!!! I started with pullets, but next year, when I get a bigger coop, I want either eggs or chicks. Narrowing down what kind will be the problem. There are so many breeds to choose from. I want Wyandottes. My husband wants Polish. What kind did you get? Orpingtons are lovely birds.

  3. That makes my day that your broody hen is a momma now 🙂 I was wondering if you were going to just get her eggs to hatch, or continue working at coaxing her out.

    My Edwina gets broody. She likes to sit in the nesting box, on everyone else’s eggs, all day. But she comes out for treats and then forgets about the eggs, lucky for me. She’s a bit of a scrapper. She’s an orpington, too.

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