Our second batch of chicks arrived early last week, and in preparation, my husband built a cozy little nursery pen inside the coop. We set things up anticipating having to use the heat lamp, but I was still hoping that one of my broody hens would step up to the plate and make that unnecessary.
Shortly after the chicks arrived, we took two peeps out to the coop to see what the hens’ reactions would be (we had 5 broodies at the time). Most of them either growled at us to go away, or showed no interest in the chicks at all. Our darling Reepicheep (a Blue Laced Red Wyandotte), however, was intrigued – she even tolerated having them snuggle under her for a minute. We tried moving her into the nursery pen, but she was indignant and desperate to get back on her nest, so we decided to wait until nightfall.
Under the cover of darkness, we snuck into the coop and moved Reep into her new pen. Thankfully, she was more than happy to hunker down onto her new nest (why are chickens so dopey after dark?). Hardly daring to breathe, my daughter and I carried out the box of noisy babies, fully expecting it to throw the coop residents into a frenzy, and started slipping them, one by one, under their new mom. To our delight, she took to it like a pro, clucking happily, and fluffling herself out to accommodate everyone. In the end, she fell asleep with 20 peeping fuzzballs tucked blissfully within her warm feathers. I went in to check on them every two hours throughout the night, just to be sure, but there was no need – our girl had adapted beautifully to becoming a mother literally overnight.
It’s interesting watching Reepicheep raise her babies. She’s been teaching them how to dust bathe and scratch for treats, and they’ve even started responding to chicken language (she makes the sound for “oh look, I found something yummy!”, which I’ve only ever heard the rooster make until now, and they all come running).
Her brood seems to love her so much that it’s hard to imagine raising chicks with a heat lamp for a mother. They even seem to love horsey rides the way she did as a chick.
The only downside that I can see so far is that this batch of babies is so bonded with their adopted mom that they have no interest in us humans. Every time I go in to check on them, they run away in terror. I’m hoping they’ll get over that if I ply them with enough treats.
But really, how can I even dream of competing with this: