On the day the chicks turned 10 weeks old, mother hen finally decided it was time to let her baby chicks fend for themselves.
I knew she would leave them soon. I know most mother hens abandon their chicks long before this but Hannah Hen is a bantam and they are known to make excellent mums.
So how did this excellent and very protective mum leave her chicks. These chicks, their mum and the other two Barnevelders have been all free ranging together for a week or so now. How does a chicken mum leave her chicks to fend for themselves when they are free ranging together and the chicks can just follow mum around forever?
This is how it was done.
Two days before mother hen left the chicks, she was leaving them on their own for periods of time during the day. She would wander away and the chicks would stay put, waiting for her to return. Sometimes they would wander around together close to where she left them and scratch and peck and sometimes they would all huddle up under a bush and have a wee sleep until she came back. And she always did come back.
The day before she left her chicks, mama would leave them for much longer periods of time and would be out of sight from the chicks. They seemed quite happy going about their chick business and not really bothering too much where she was. Later that afternoon, the chicks got too close to mama when she had decided they shouldn’t be and she gave one of them a peck and made her angry “go away” noise. The same angry noise she makes when she is letting the Barnevelders know that they shouldn’t be eating out of the treat tin at the same time as she is.
While they have all been free ranging together, mother hen has determined the chicks bedtime by putting herself and the chicks to bed when she was ready. This was usually about 20 minutes before the Barnevelders went to bed. The Barnie’s coop and the coop where she is bringing up her chicks are near each other but there was never any questions as to who belonged in which coop.
This night however, mother hen seemed to be in a bit of a quandary. She stayed up until after the Barnies were in bed and seemed quite unsettled. It was starting to get dark and the chicks were also unsettled, standing alert wondering what was going on. Then mother hen decided to go into the big girl’s house (which was of course where she was living before we moved her and the chick’s into the new coop). Much to Helen’s disgust, Hannah hen (aka mother hen) went straight to where Helen was settled for the night (unfortunately they sleep in the nest boxes) and kicked her out of the box and settled herself in. Helen indignantly ran outside and ran about in circles a bit and then ran back in and settled herself at the opposite end of the house in one of the many spare nesting boxes.
Meanwhile the chicks were watching all of this drama unfold in front of them as it was starting to move from dusk to dark. The chicks not daring to go into the big girls house, were outside where they could hear their mum settling herself down for the night, peeping their little hearts out.
Next thing mama hen came back outside, called the chicks and off they all went into their own house where they all settled and went to sleep.
The next day was the day mama abandoned her chicks. When she got up in the morning, she walked away and left them. If they came near throughout the day she would peck at them. The chicks seemed happy with this and they spent most of the day doing their own thing, exploring on their own and being quite grown up while keeping a watchful eye out for that Helen who still chases them.
Mid morning, Hannah Hen went running into the big henhouse and laid her first little green egg since going broody.
That night without any fuss, the three big girls went into the big girl’s house to sleep and the chicks went into their house to sleep.
So now, I seem to have two separate free ranging broods, one made up of the three big girls and the other made up of the chicks. Here they are having some rest time.