Helping a broody hen raise a clutch of chicks provides fascinating entertainment and a great example of superior parenting skills! Here are some simple steps assure success:
First, get 6 to 12 fertile eggs from someone who has a rooster. Make the broody her own nest box, line it with dry straw or sawdust, and put the nest outside the coop, but inside a secure place.
After dark remove the hen from her nest inside the coop and gently put her on the fertile eggs in the new location away from other hens. She may want to return to her normal nest and it may be necessary to put something in front of the nest box the first night so she can’t escape. She will soon settle into incubating the new eggs. During incubation she will only leave the nest for a short time each day to eat, drink and defecate.A small bowl of water and feed is all she needs near the nest box.
On the 21st day expect chicks and a very protective mother hen. She’ll keep her babies warm, and offer an opportunity to observe her parenting. It is important to keep baby chicks away from mature birds, which sometimes will kill them if they get the chance.
Feeding baby chicks who are hatched by mom is also important. You need to make sure that you are only offering chick starter to the entire group. Young birds cannot eat layer feed because the elevated levels of calcium can harm their internal organs, so feeding chick starter (even to the hen and any other older birds that have access to the feed) is a must.
Mom has a diverse vocabulary of clucks. She almost constantly gives a low cluck to re-assure the chicks. When she scratches in leaves or dirt, revealing food, she’ll give a special higher pitched cluck that means, “Come here and eat, kids.” If she feels threatened or thinks her chicks are in danger or are getting too far away, the tenor and speed of the cluck increases. Initially the chicks scamper to her. As they get more confident, they roam further away and the intrepid chick that does not adhere to the call “Chicks, come home,” gets scolded by the mother hen when it does return.
Being a good mother hen is hard work, and after her chicks are eight or ten weeks old and putting on weight she’ll decide it’s time to quit parenting and rejoin the flock. After a couple of weeks she’ll likely start laying again.