In this installment on how to raise baby chicks, I will answer questions we frequently receive. Do chicks need mother hens? Can chicks survive without a mama hen?
It’s an amazing thing that you can purchase these little chicks online and have them shipped to you. When you receive them, you’ll probably notice the mama hen is not included in the package. Thus, many people email us with worry that the chicks won’t be okay, or they’ll get separation anxiety. Let me delve into this further for some perspective.
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Baby Chicks Are Born With A Natural Instinct
Whether a broody hen is hatching eggs or you incubate the eggs in an incubator, the end result is the same. Chicks simply don’t need their mothers like many animals. Unlike mammals, baby chicks instinctively know what to do when they’re hatched. They aren’t fed worms by a mother hen like that of wild birds and they don’t nurse milk from their mothers like a baby bunny.
While it is true that a mother hen can and does help with training and protection, baby chicks just have what it takes to do just fine in a brooder box with warmth and the necessities of life (food and water).
They have a natural instinct that kicks in and they automatically understand how to find food. Well, at least as much as a baby chick can. In addition to that, chicks know how to seek out water. Therefore, all the needs of basic self-sufficiency are met a lot faster than for mammals.
Chicks also mature much more quickly. You may have noticed this on your own farm or maybe when you were a kid and your teacher hosted them at your school. One week they were cute and fluffy. One month later, they had grown considerably. In fact, chicks reach their maturity levels around 16 weeks. Due to this, their mothers aren’t needed as much.
Chicks Are Self-Sufficient
Baby chicks can stay with their mothers if you allow it. When this happens, the hens do contribute to the growth and survival of their young by being an example of finding food and water, keeping them warm under their wings, and protecting them. Yet, while they provide basic needs, hens don’t do as much as mammal mothers.
Right before they hatch, the baby chicks absorb the egg’s yolk sac. This provides them with enough nutrition for the first 72 hours of life. If you’ve ever heard that chicks don’t need food and water for the first 72 hours, it’s true. They will be ok.
Nevertheless, when we are hatching chicks we put them in the brooder as day-old chicks and feed them chick starter feed. We also provide water for them right away. Human caretakers providing this momma hen type guidance does give them a headstart.
Separation Better Ensures Survival
Separation from the hens not only promotes the chicks’ autonomy, it also helps protect them from the predators found around farms. For instance, we have skunks, opossums, and coyotes. Predators don’t have any qualms about taking chicks. On top of this, other chickens or roosters might bother them.
To add an extra level of protection, as mentioned above you can show the chicks where the water and food are. At our farm, we pick them up and gently dip their beaks into the water, so they get that first taste. Then we do the same thing with the food.
If it looks like they don’t quite understand, we sit there and finger-scratch the food and water. They tend to grasp the concept after that.
Chicks Already Understand How To Socialize
With these survival skills also comes a set of good habits in the form of social skills. Granted, these won’t stop them from being bullied by other chickens when they are introduced to the rest of the flock, but it does allow them to interact with each other and other chickens around them.
Chicks start establishing pecking order from very early on. It’s something you can watch happen with your own eyes.
This is not the case with mammals, like horses. Though they seem to come out ready to walk, they don’t have the necessary social skills to go out on their own. The mothers need to instill these traits in them, so they act properly around other horses and humans.
Caring For Your Growing Chicks
- Provide chick starter feed for young chicks and a high-quality layer feed when they are mature.
- Remember you need to provide warmth to keep their body temperatures safe until they are fully feathered.
- Treat your growing feathered friends with high-protein snacks (they will be healthier and friendlier).
- Allow your chicks to free range as soon as it is safe for them. It makes a happy and healthy hen.
- As your chicks become mature be sure they have extra calcium like oyster shells for premium egg laying.
- Provide a good place for dust bathing once they are out of the brooder.
Take some backyard chicken keeper advice and don’t worry about your chicks once they arrive at your doorstep. They will be just fine if you provide the right setup with warmth and food and water for them to find.
If you still feel uncomfortable when you first get the chicks, introduce them to the food and water stations by picking them up and softly dipping their beaks into the dishes. The chicks should be smart enough to understand the next time.
Overall, enjoy their independence. Before you know it, they’ll be mature and ready to be among the other hens in your coop and in your yard.
- Chicks don’t need mother hens because they instinctively know how to find food and water.
- Hens provide some protection, but not very much. They can’t stop a predator from eating their chicks.
- We usually separate chicks from mother hens on our farm to provide better protection.
- Chicks instinctively know social behaviors (unlike other species), so their mothers don’t need to teach them.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.