My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?

A very protective mother hen


DSC_0177 I am currently sitting outside as I write this post, supervising. I have been very brave (hopefully not stupid) and I have let the 6 week old chicks and their mama out to free range while the two Barnevleders (Hilda and Helen Hen) are also out and about. I have let mama hen and her chicks out three times now while the big girls have been locked in their run. The big girls have been able to free range alongside the chicks run ever since the chicks were a few days old so neither is a surprise to each other. Mama (Hannah Hen) is a feisty partridge wyandotte bantam who has lived in the wild for a few years before I “rescued” her (even though she didn’t need rescuing). Then I got two Barnevelder pullets to keep her company. Hannah Hen has always been number one in the pecking order but she hasn’t needed to be a bully as the two Barnevelders were young and instantly knew their place with this matronly old bantam. As I mentioned previously, Helen did try a pecking order challenge on Hannah while Hannah was sitting, so Helen is the one that I am worried about. I am worried that she might “go for” Hannah or one of the chicks and cause a ruckus that might frighten the chicks and they might panic. So what happened? They were all good for a while. Helen had a bit of an attitude and followed Hannah and the chicks round but Hannah showed her that she was still boss. One look from Hannah and Helen would look the other way and causally saunter off. That is until Helen saw an opportunity …. DSC_0221Helen Hen saw Hannah Hen and the chicks under some bushes so Helen (on the left) decided to use surprise as her attack. Poor innocent Hilda Hen is looking on, having no idea what was going on. She doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body. That is her on the right with the big fluffy bottom. DSC_0223I think it was Helen Hen that got the biggest surprise when Hannah Hen flew at her from under the bushes. This counter attack lasted seconds and Helen got up and scurried away with only her pride hurt. But what did poor dear innocent Hilda Hen do just after this? She  just wanted to scratch and peck under the same bush as mama and the chicks. So she did. She poked her head under the bush and started to peck at the seeds on the ground beside the chicks. Hannah Hen did not appreciate this and didn’t seem to notice (or care) that Hilda Hen was non threatening. Hannah Hen grabbed her by the back of the neck and she pecked and pecked and squawked and scratched and pecked some more at poor Hilda’s neck. I went over to see if I could get Hannah off as she looked as though she was not going to stop until there was blood or worse. But then I hesitated. Not a good idea to put my hand in there. I have already been on the receiving end of Hannah’s chick protection antics. After 30 seconds or so (which seemed like forever), Hannah stopped. Poor Hilda got up and stepped back with a look of disbelief and bewilderment. I grabbed the treat tin and put Hilda and Helen in their coop to protect my poor dear innocent heavy Hilda Hen. I checked her over and there was no blood, thank goodness. Later I put Hannah and the chicks back into their coop and let the Barnies out again. I went out a bit later to check on Hilda and there she was sitting as close to Hannah as she could get with only the wire of the run between them, both preening themselves as though nothing had happened. I am new to chicks and protective mama hens and I have no idea whether this is normal or whether Hannah was being particularly protective / aggressive. I’ll have to have a serious think about whether I let them out again together for a while. Maybe once the chicks are a bit older, mama won’t be so protective?

16 thoughts on “A very protective mother hen

  1. I wish I knew the answer – I guess their dynamics are as unpredictable as ours?

  2. Wow….that must have been scary to watch. Poor Hilda! But obviously she isn’t holding a grudge so I guess no harm done. Those are lucky chicks to have such a protective mum. Patti

  3. So glad you supervised, good job! Keep VERY close watch until all the birds are the same size. Mamma will try to protect her babies, and that’s going to be helpful to you… but trust nobody when your back is turned. I love the fluffy bottom!

  4. Poor, sweet Hilda! I think you did all that you could – and, truly, you won’t know how they will react to each other until you’re in the thick of it. Next time you let them all out together, they could be completely fine!

  5. I, of course have no real knowledge, but I do have opinions. If there was no blood, I’m guessing Hannah didn’t really want to hurt Hilda, just make sure she understood. They are flock animals, they do peck, they do hang out anyway. I don’t really get what goes on in their little minds but they seem to accept aggression from the head chook as their due with no hard feelings. Funny creatures.

    It sounds like you are introducing and integrating the flock as well as anyone could – in the end I imagine there will be fights but as long as they short and everyone is friends in the end, you’ve got a happy flock on your hands.

    (BTW, love the fluffy bottom!)

  6. Oh…it is amazing to me how mean they can be to each other. Poor Hilda…

    I guess it’s just the chicken way…

  7. Thanks for the support everyone.
    Laura, I think you may be right. I let them out today with the big girls locked away but I am tempted to let them all out together later today for a short time. I will give it some more thought.

  8. I love your narration!

  9. What a nice blog you have, and such lovely chickens. When we integrated chicks in with our older hens at 4 weeks old, we started by putting them in the same coop with a stapled screen keeping them apart. The hens were pretty much only in there at night when they are calmest and they got used to each other for 9 days before the chicks pushed through the screen to get at the layer mash. From there they went right on down the ramp and integrated themselves into the flock. There was a bit of pecking mostly by the hen who was previously last in the pecking order (and she was a leghorn so not inclined to be nice anyway), but they quickly learned the pecking order and would skeddadle out of the way. The head hen never had to do much to assert her authority. I imagine with a mama hen to protect them there would be less pecking than what we had.

    • Thank you LuckyRobin for your lovely comment and for sharing your integrating experience. It is a real learning curve having chickens for the first time but I am loving it.
      My coops are not big enough to have them all in together with a separated screen but the big girls free range around the chicks coop and have done ever since they were a few days old so they are very uses to seeing each other.
      I guess I need to think that my chicks are very lucky to have such a protective mama. 🙂

  10. Great blog! Are you buying fertile eggs, or do you have a rooster?

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