Chickens Who Foster, Chickens Who Adopt
Tales of Coparenting, Adoption, and Motherly Love
Reading Time: 4 minutes
It is not uncommon to set a broody hen with fertilized eggs from several different hens, but have you ever given a hen a turkey poult? Here I have gathered several stories about hens raising chicks that were not their own, co-parenting hens, and even a depressed hen that just wanted a family.
The story of Chickarita actually begins with a different hen randomly walking up to Jessica’s mailbox and following her boyfriend to the house in their subdivision. When no one claimed the hen, she was dubbed Henrietta and given a home in the backyard. Knowing that chickens are social creatures, Jessica bought a small Turken to keep her company. This Turken was given the name of Chickarita. While Chickarita was docile and friendly, Henrietta was not interested in having a companion and often picked on Chickarita. Poor Chickarita wanted a friend, but Henrietta would pull out her neck feathers then peck at the exposed skin, even though Chickarita was the larger bird. Eventually, Chickarita began hoarding eggs and acting broody on her nest. With no rooster, those eggs were never going to hatch. Jessica consistently took Chickarita off the nest, and she seemed to come out of the broodiness, at least for a time. Soon, she was as broody as ever, giving Jessica very betrayed looks whenever her eggs were gathered. At this point, whenever Jessica would take Chickarita off the nest, she would just plop down and stay where she had been set. She stopped eating and began molting feathers at an alarming rate. This continued for weeks as she stopped laying eggs and only sat on an empty nest.
Someone suggested just giving Chickarita some chicks to raise since she was very depressed and not improving. It was worth a shot, so Jessica found some newly hatched chicks at a local farm and purchased four. Jessica made a new nest in a wire cage to protect the chicks from Henrietta’s bullying and placed Chickarita inside with the chicks beneath her. Chickarita stood up, stared at the chicks for a minute, then immediately began clucking at them and gathering them back under her wings. She immediately began improving her health. The first time they went out of the cage into the yard, Chickarita fiercely guarded her chicks against Henrietta; the first time she had ever stood up against the bully. Adopting those chicks saved Chickarita from depression and loneliness.
Jerk is a Lavender Ameraucana hen who has raised many chicks. Seeming to always be broody whenever Missy needed a mother hen, Jerk first raised eight hatchery chicks. She then went on to raise two batches of meat chickens, keeping up to 25 at a time in her brood. When Missy wanted turkeys, she was worried about how fragile poults can be. However, Jerk was well up to the challenge and raised six. While most of those turkeys went into the freezer, two had captured Missy’s heart. When one of them, Salome, became broody the next year, she ended up losing quite a bit of weight. There was no male with which to breed her, and nowhere nearby to acquire fertilized turkey eggs. A turkey is too heavy to sit on chicken eggs without breaking them, but Missy was able to acquire ten duck eggs. One egg hatched, and the little duck was named Turducken. Salome tenderly raised Turducken to adulthood. The instinct to mother and nurture young can be so strong that animals willingly adopt babies from other species. Those with such strong mothering instincts are incredibly valuable in a flock.
Cindy had two sets of co-parenting chickens this year, even though her chickens usually do not work together so well. The first set of “parents” happened by accident. She had one broody white chicken who kept sitting on the nests of other birds that would then chase her off. Finally, Cindy gave her some eggs that were close to hatching, and the white chicken managed to hatch one before leaving the nest. Another hen stole the nest and hatched a second chick. A third hen also stole the nest and hatched a third chick before wandering off. All the hens and chicks were still in the coop milling about. As the chickens came out to the run, the first two hens acted very confused about which chick was theirs while the third hen honestly didn’t care about the chicks at all. Finally, the two mothers went off together with the three chicks (none of which originally came from either of them) and have been parenting together ever since.
Cindy’s second set of co-parenting chickens have been best buddies since Cindy acquired them, often sharing a nest box. While one became broody this year, the other didn’t. However, since they were both sitting the nest, they ended up hatching the chicks together. Because this pair of hens is inseparable, they have both been acting as mothers to the little brood of chicks.
Whether your chickens are raising their chicks together or singlehandedly raising turkeys, it is remarkable what the instinct to mother can do. It can bring a chicken out of depression or help chickens work together when they haven’t previously. Have you experienced chickens raising another type of bird or fostering another hen’s chicks?
Originally published in the February/March 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.