All the backyard chicken forum posts I read about introducing day old chicks to a broody hen provided suggestions for how to successfully get chicks to imprint on their mama and visa-versa. We did everything they suggested: putting the peeping chicks in the box next to the mama hen for a couple hours, sneaking them under her in the evening one-by-one, and removing the eggs she'd been sitting on. We made sure that their food, water, and heat lamp were ready and available and we tended to them each morning and evening. We were successful in April Fooling My Hen and watching the chicks has been one of the best parts of Springtime in the Tiny House.
Everything has gone exactly as the chicken forums described. Ella literally tucked her babies under her wings to keep them warm. It was fun to see them follow her around and jump on her back for a ride. She taught them to forage and she clucked to her the little fuzz balls to show them worms and bugs.
But none of the posts that told us how to introduce chicks to a hen said anything about it being common for a hen to reject her chicks at four to eight weeks old. Five weeks from the time we gave Ella her chicks she started laying eggs again. Two days later she started acting really agitated and pecking at her babies. I separated them while I did some research.
Here's a post I found:
"We had our top hen a Black Australorp go broody this spring... We finally decided to slip three 1 day old chicks under her at night. It was a success and Precious was an excellent mama! She protected them, taught them how to forage, and integrated them into the flock of 6 other 1 year old hens. Then when they turned 4 weeks almost to the day, she cut them loose. She started laying eggs and roosting with the flock. She didn't want anything to do with them and even chased and pecked them. Poor babies didn't know what was happening!"
It was a relief to know we weren't alone in experiencing this. But knowing it was normal for a mama hen to reject her chicks didn't make it any easier to see it happen. Ella didn't like being separated so we tried letting them be together part of the time, too. Unfortunately, Ella pecked two of them so brutally that I've separated them indefinitely. Two or three times a day I've been putting ointment on the babies that were pecked. They aren't healing as quickly as I'd like to see, but they seem to be doing fine. Ella seems to be fine in solitary confinement in her little makeshift chicken tractor, though I think she'll be happier once I figure out a next box situation for her. So far it seems to be working well, but it's a bit of a pain to tend to the hen and chicks separately. Hopefully when the chicks are big enough to fight back we can reintroduce them. Meanwhile I hope I can keep everyone healthy and happy. Wish us luck!