The day after Hannah Hen’s chicks were hatched, she brought them outside to start teaching them to scratch and peck. After a few false starts and a Harriet Hen-Chick drama, all chicks were safely outside in the run watching and learning from mama hen.
(The blocks of wood at the back of the run are to plug any gaps where a curious chick could get out as per the Harriet Hen-Chick drama above).
The sun was shining and the chicks were cosy and warm and happy outside with their mama.They had learnt to come down the ramp and they had learnt to eat chick crumble and drink water. (This photo was taken just before I put the feeder and waterer in the run.) Mama hen would call them now and again to take a nap under her wings, which they happily did, although I am not sure if she realised some of them were peeping out from behind and pulling at grass when they were meant to be napping.
This peace and happiness continued until it was time for mama to take her chicks to bed.
Mama went up the ramp in the early evening, making her “follow me” clucking sounds as she went. The little chicks all went running after her as fast as their little spindly legs would carry them. Until they got to the ramp. They stopped at the bottom and peeped their little hearts out and looked up at mama. So she came back down the ramp and turned and walked back up, clucking slightly louder each time. Some of the chicks managed to get a little way up the ramp before they either ran off the edge or slipped back down. One or two even managed to get up the ramp and into the coop but each time she came out to get the others, the ones inside came back out and got stuck again at the bottom.
This went on for about ten trips up and down the ramp by mama hen before she realised that the chicks were not going to follow. So she came back out and settled herself on the grass and called all of her chicks under. Oh dear, what were we to do. She can’t sit outside all night with the chicks. (Well maybe she can but I would prefer them not to do that.)
So she sat there for about fifteen minutes or so and then she decided that she would try another tactic. She got up, calling her chicks as she went up the ramp and into the house and then stayed in there calling to them. They tried and failed the ramp and then they all ran into a corner of the run peeping loudly and running over each other and the bits of wood. Hannah Hen remained in the coop, clucking loudly. I think this is what you call tough love.
So Haitch and I quickly shut the pop hole door with Hannah Hen on the inside of the coop and the five baby chicks outside. Haitch crawled into the run and grabbed each chick, one at a time, and handed them to me. I opened the nesting box lid and popped each loudly peeping chick inside and they ran over to mama. She was extremely upset and each time I put my hand in the coop to deliver one of her chicks, she made a rush at me all puffed out and squawking with her best angry voice.
After all five chicks were delivered inside to mama and they were all quietly settled for the night, I went straight inside and onto TradeMe (New Zealand’s equivalent to Ebay) and looked desperately for a coop without a ramp that we could move them into.
This is what I found and had delivered the next evening (but not before we had to go through this trying ordeal one more time).
So the lesson here is, do not expect your baby chicks to navigate a ramp. No matter how small the ramp is, they just don’t understand the concept. So when your hen goes broody, think ahead and move her to suitable accommodation that has the right nesting area and is suitable for chicks once they have hatched, ie without a ramp. You could always put a broody box in your run. I had planned to do that but hadn’t found the right height broody box for the run and neither Haitch nor I are any good with hammer and nails. (If you are going to be moving your broody and you haven’t done it before, check the internet for information on how and when, as there is a risk that she will abandon the new nest.)
Rosemary, Lavender and Thyme has also written a post on chicks and ramps.