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Chicks in cold weather - Finding some extra warmth from a cuddly Cochin broody.

There are some amazing kindnesses that chickens perform, without seemingly any profit to themselves, other than perhaps to fulfil a need and maybe not even then.

Cochin hen covering her adopted brood
Sometimes people comment in surprise that hens will raise anything but their own eggs but that isn't even half the story. Not only will they raise other species from eggs but some hens will even take on and adopt chicks and other baby birds. In my experience though, as with anything to do with poultry, there are no written rules and it is very much up to the individual hen as to what she will and won't do.

Cochin broody hen and her adopted chicks

Snow Kitten and 3 of her adopted chicks

If you have been following my blog you will know that this year, I have had several hatches of very late chicks, including some frizzles and fine feathered Sebright crosses. In an attempt to keep everyone in the best possible environment I decided to try to get one of my young Cochin hens (Snow Kitten), who had recently gone broody to adopt some of the chicks. These were to include all but one of the blue feathered chicks, who seemed particularly vulnerable to our recent spell of horrid cold and wet weather. 

Cochin broody and her 2 month old adopted chick
A very full and sleepy (note the messy beak) happy chick

My light blue/porcelain chicks (two plain and one mottled with grey) seem to have come to me through two very fine and sybaritic ancestors, a Barbu de Watermael called Gabrielle, who was definitely a house hen and Aramis a beautiful Blue Polish, again a lover of creature comforts, who unlike my other robust and fearless Polish shunned cold weather. These three blue chicks, in many senses of the word, were my core group in need of warmth, although as the weather deteriorated, we gathered a few more along the way. I must also tell you that the chick above is two months old but has still been adopted by my Cochin. The object of this exercise was also to allow the other more hardy chicks to free-range as much as possible, whereas the three babies would be able to rejoin their original groups when the weather permitted. That was my hope anyway and to do so without causing stress to Snow Kitten.

Broody Cochin eating with her adopted chicks
Cochin broody hen and her adopted chicksSomething I had not reckoned on was that my mother hens, who came from my tree roosting group would attempt to return to roost in the bay tree before their chicks were capable of climbing. Therefore Snow Kitten was on demand as a sort of Night Nurse as well as a Day Mother. One thing that absolutely amazed me was that after doing this for just one night she would ever afterwards come down the garden to the bay tree in the evening just to see if she was needed to supply this function! One particularly wet evening one of the older chicks, the sibling of one of the blue chicks in my group of three, actually slipped down to a lower branch, so he had to be scooped up and added to Snow Kitten's charges. As this chick is so large and cuckoo coloured and thus completely different to the rest, I thought my Cochin might protest but after a couple of light pecks, which just got him into place at the front of the nest box and with her chin resting on him, everything settled down.

I did have a plan on one particularly horrible day to put six more chicks with her in the run with the 3 blues and to which I had also added a light coloured buff frizzle but with the exception of the latter, this didn't work, I think it was just too much.

Cochin broody helps mother hen with chicks
Snow Kitten gets a time-share in 3 of Cuckoodora's 12 chicks

I also followed through with my plan of letting the chicks with Snow Kitten out of the run to rejoin their original mothers and free-range and forage. I later found that Snow Kitten was following one of the mothers around and actually sitting down and covering a couple of her adopted chicks whilst the other mother carried on scratching for food. I would say that the other mother, Cuckoodora, tolerated Snow Kitten rather than saw her as an asset, which she certainly was to me.

Cochin adopts chicks

In conclusion I could not believe my luck that this has worked out so well and again I stress that every hen is an individual and may react in a different way but if she trusts you, I believe she thus has confidence in what you are asking her to do. Today the three blue chicks and the buff frizzle are out free-ranging with Snow Kitten, who ideally despite their differing ages, regards them all as new babies and in need of covering-on-demand. There is seemingly no limit to the kindness of Cochins and other hen mothers-in-waiting.

Cochin broody and her adopted chicks
Thanks for dropping by and if you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also may be about joining this blog. Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

All the very best,
Sue



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©  Sue Cross 2015

8 comments:

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    1. Aaww thanks Steph! They are all still with her, even though they meet up with their biological mothers now and again as they forage around the garden. She of course thinks they are much younger than they actually are, so she is constantly aware of keeping them warm and finding food for them - they are so spoiled!!! All the very best and thanks again for your lovely comment, Sue

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  2. Ten weeks ago I commented on your YouTube post on late summer hatches with a question, which you answered so beautifully, and I just wanted to give you an update. I live in southern U.S. Georgia so I was worrying about Lucy my second time mom Cochin being able to keep nine chicks warm. Though she abandoned her Easter clutch of four roos and two hens at only six weeks she has behaved completely differently with this group! I feel sure it is due to your recommendation of the run in which I was able to observe her and she was able to remains with her peers and still mother. It also allowed her to forage with them which she adores. She took them all up to roost at six weeks to a perch I had wired off for her right beside all of her friends. At nine weeks, they are all out free ranging together but at night she gathers her nine babies and takes them all up to bed with her, still holding her wings over the four who are lucky enough to be right next to her! So pleased I am, and wish to thank you again for your help. :) Natalie

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    1. Hi Natalie, How nice to hear back from you! Cochins do make brilliant mothers but as you have so well described, each hen is an individual and therefore has specific ideas and alliances. These can change however and observation is key to know exactly how well a mother is coping or otherwise. I am really happy this worked out so well, kudos to you for planning the perch in such a way that Lucy could be with her friends when she took her chicks to roost. It is understanding like this which makes it so much easier to avoid any problems, which can occur and can become so much more important in cold weather. The way a mother hen trains her chicks to perch is a lovely thing to observe. The rain and gales have stopped and we have had a week of sunshine here, our chicks are having a great time foraging too! All the very best and thanks again for letting me know, really appreciate it, Sue

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  3. Hey, Sue, I really need to talk to you. I messaged you on Google+, but anyway decided to "knock" on this door too. Would you please e-mail me to dace.vanaga@gmail.com? I am having some pretty serious trouble with an adopted ("rescued" would be more appropriate term) flock of 50 quail and 4 chickens and honestly can`t imagine a better person to ask for advice than you..

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    1. Hi Dace, I have replied via google+ and I've sent you an email so hope these messages get through to you. Sounds like you have a big job on there! Thanks for your kind comment, it's appreciated and you are welcome to any ideas I have. All the very best, Sue

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  4. Replies
    1. Hi, you should be able to sign in under the section 'FOLLOWERS' in the right hand column of every blog post or further down from this in the box 'Follow by e-mail'. However, I recently did a check on my blog's links and it reports there are broken ones so please get back to me if you have any problems. I just tried and it seems to be working. All the very best and thanks, Sue

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