Introducing chicks to surrogate (broody) hen

by Ken McClellan
(Del Mar, California)

Question

Introducing chicks to surrogate (broody) hen: I have a hen that is broody, but I don't want any chicks from her.

I am getting some day old chicks soon, and I would like to try to get the broody hen to adopt them (and hopefully not kill or eat them).

Answer
If what you mean by broody, is that this hen has been setting on some eggs for a week or more; you might be able to sneak the chicks under her while she is on the nest at night and remove the eggs at the same time.

The chicks will naturally be drawn to her warmth and stick close to her, if she stays in the nest. (I don’t know if you have been letting her keep some eggs under her & if she’s been on a nest at night.)

Some hens will adopt any chicks, some only ones they think they have hatched. They don’t have a good sense of smell, like mammals, that recognize their babies by scent.

If this hen has not been setting on eggs, there is little reason to believe she would suddenly think hers hatched.

But I’ve known of hens so desperate to be mothers that they will adopt chicks not theirs in broad day light.

You would just have to watch, day or night, and see that the introduction has been a success and the chicks not left in the cold or harmed by her.

Hens seem to go by the sound of chicks more than anything. Hens can hear the chicks peeping inside the eggs close to hatching, and I’m sure the chicks can hear her as well.

I believe there is some bonding through the vocalizations of hen and chicks. This bonding might take place through the night, if your surrogate sets tight and doesn’t leave them.

If she’s not been on a nest at night, I wouldn’t consider her in a full brood cycle.


I have swapped chicks for eggs under a broody hen at night with no problems. I have introduced a couple of day old chicks to a newly hatched clutch and mom, only to have the hen hunt the impostures down and let me know they didn’t belong.

They were the same breed and age, looking identical to her chicks. (I ended up putting all the chicks in a brooder.) I wish you success!

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by: Anonymous

There's broody and broody. I've seen hens that would happily steal other hen's chicks and tend them. They literally wanted to be covered in chicks. And I've seen hens hate their own chicks. There's no real consistency, it's just different for all of them. However, if a hen thinks you are trying to take a chick away from her and she fights you for it, then she's generally going to accept it, to spite you if for no other reason.

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