After sitting on her eggs for around 21 days until they hatch, a chicken will typically stay with her chicks for 6 to 8 weeks. When her chicks are old enough to fend for themselves, the mother hen will go back to her flock and return to ‘normal life.
The extract time span will vary from hen to hen. Don’t be surprised it takes a few weeks longer than 8 weeks. Although, any sooner than 6 weeks are there is a chance the chicks are not ready to fend for themselves.
Likewise, chicks develop at different rates. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the chicks after the hen leaves to make sure they’re warm enough, safe, and provide a good starter feed.
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Do Hens Look After Their Chicks?
A mother hen will look after her chicks for 6 to 8 weeks after they’ve hatched. It’s really one of nature’s miracles, and a fascinating process to watch.
Most chicks will have a proper coat of feathers by the time they’re six weeks of age. This varies slightly depending on the breed, but you’ll see the difference between chick ‘fluff’ and their first proper plumage.
You also have to take into account what the weather is like, where the chicks are, and so on. Hens are obviously intuitive and caring mothers, but sometimes you may need to help out a little.
Also, keep in mind that hens are not mammals, so they do not produce milk. They feed their chicks by finding bits of food and sharing with them.
You’ll need to provide a starter feed after mother hen leaves them to fend for themselves. They’ll eat this up until about 18-20 weeks of age before moving on to a lower protein layer feed.
Related - Do hens produce milk for their chicks?
When Can You Take a Baby Chick Away From Its Mother?
If you’ve allowed a hen to incubate her eggs and they’ve successfully hatched into chicks, unless there is a very good reason you should let the mother hen decide when it’s time to leave them.
If you have to separate a mother from chicks for their own well-being, ideally you’ll move them into a brooder and monitor the temperature with a heat lamp until they’re at least 6 weeks old.
This is about the same age that a mother hen will typically leave her chicks as this is when they’re able to survive moderate temperatures and fend for themselves.
If a mother is rearing her own chicks, let nature take its course. They will leave them when they are sure they’re ready to be left. Which, as discussed, is usually around 6 to 8 weeks of age.
Related - What temperature is too cold for baby chicks?
When Should You Separate Chicks From Hens?
There are certain signs that you need to separate chicks from their mother for their own safety, the most common signs are:
- When mother hen is visibly agitated and not caring for the chicks properly.
- When there is a serious risk of predators attacking the chicks.
- When the mother is unwell and struggling to look after the chicks.
- When the weather conditions are too harsh and the chicks are at risk.
If you’re concerned about any of the above being a health risk to the chicks, you should move them into a brooder where you can monitor them.
Do Hens Get Sad When You Take Their Chicks?
The answer to this isn’t straightforward. There are two parts to how this is answered, the first is that it depends on the hen.
Some hens will barely notice if you take their chicks and will simply go back to flock life. While others will look and act distraught, will search for their young, and clearly be distressed about it.
The second part is whether or not you think chickens are capable of feeling sad. Whether or not animals get sad or depressed has been debated and studied for a number of years.
Scientifically, we do know that animals can show the symptoms or signs of being depressed. Most notably this is observed with zoo animals that are clearly not able to be themselves kept in captivity.
So, if a chicken is visibly distraught about her chicks being taken away, I think it’s fair to say that they’re sad about it.
Although it may not be sadness in the way we feel sad and it’s not due to conscious thought, it’s causing them to be distressed.
Related - Do chickens cry when they’re sad?
Will a Rooster Kill Chicks?
Unfortunately, roosters attacking and killing chicks is all too common an occurrence. You should always take steps to make sure roosters do not have access to unsupervised chicks.
A mother hen will always do her best to protect her chicks when she’s present, and that’s usually enough to keep roosters at bay.
The risk is something you need to be aware of, however. Try to give your hen a nice quiet space away from the flock and where your rooster patrols to raise her chicks.
If you’re witnessing a hen hatch and care for her chicks for the first time, it’s one of the most magical - and stressful - experiences.
It’s not often someone needs to step in. Chickens are very adept at surviving and raising their young, and instinctively know when it’s time to leave their chicks to fend for themselves.
You will see them start to - or suddenly - leave their chicks around 6-8 weeks of age. At this point, you’ll see they have feathers, are eating starter feed and foraging, and learning about the world around them.
It’s a truly wonderful experience!
Image credits - Photo by Esperanza Doronila on Unsplash