At times chickens can present many challenges. Like most animals we can’t ask them what wrong we can only intuit based on our previous experiences.
I find that sick and injured chickens are probably the most challenging of situations followed by rescuing late season baby chicks, with their momma.
Two of the Cochin/Phoenix rooster babies pecking at a snack on the log.
I fell into raising five, 2-week-old rescued Cochin/Phoenix chicks with the momma when my husband’s co-worker needed to find a home for them. We had just finished building our new coop and run and thought when we were invited to come and pick up some chicks, we thought were getting 8 to 9 month old spring born chicks. But that turned out to not be the case. When we got to his friend’s house he had a Cochin momma hen and her five, two week old Cochin/Phoenix chicks already in a box ready to go home with us. Opps!
I have raised day old chicks in a brooder previously so I initially though, just how much harder could raising these chicks be?
Momma Clover and all five of her babies play around my legs.
I found out it was a bit more taxing than I had bargained for. In my Internet search I had some trouble finding information on raising late season chicks. There seems to be a lot of information about picking out a brooder, what temperature to keep babies at, what to feed them and so on but I found nothing about raising fall born chicks with their mother. And LATE fall chicks to boot. I soon realized that I was going to need some help.
Two babies having a conversation in the sunshine.
STEP 01: How to Help Acclimate Chicks to Their New Home:
We picked our chickens up late in the day so we could put them into the coop almost at dusk. We slid them into the coop in the same box we picked them up in and left the top open and cut a good size opening so they could get out if necessary. I checked them at first light the next morning to make sure everyone was okay. I quietly put out their food and water left them alone to get us to the new pen. So far so good.
STEP 02: Don’t Expect Too Much From Chicks for a Few Weeks:
While I watched them carefully, and I fed them well, I pretty much left them alone socially at first. I knew that it can be stressful to move chickens and I wanted them to have an opportunity to learn about their new home, and me, with the least amount of stress possible. I kept our dog, Sassy, inside when I was outside with the chickens for the first three weeks and then introduced them very slowly.
Sassy meeting the chickens for the first time.
STEP 03: Expect to Teach Them More Than You Might Imagine:
While these chicks followed their mother everywhere and did whatever she did, I did not expect to have to teach these chicks how to eat from a chicken feeder or drink from a waterer, but I did. It turned out that in their former home this brood had lived in a structure that sat right on the ground, spent their days free ranging and eating only cracked corn thrown onto the ground or whatever they could scrounge at the ground level. I bought a galvanized chicken feeder and starter food for growing chicks and converted them to it a step at a time. As a result they began to grow quickly and they began to feather out as like they should be. Momma hen was a different story though. She was not quite flexible enough to try new foods like kitchen scraps, sunflowers seeds, scratch bird feed, and cut up apples or most anything I tried throwing onto the ground. I wanted both to give them some variety and to be assured that the babies would be more adventuresome in their eating patterns. To this day Momma Clover really only wants cracked corn and meal worms! Boring!
After a few weeks, I felt that the babies has adapted to their new location, coop and us. They were eating out of the feeder and drinking out of the waterer and now it was time to begin to teach them how to get in and out of the coop. I also learned that if I wanted to introduce a new form of food, Mung Bean sprouts for example, it was best to do that early in the morning when they were the hungriest.
It took Momma Clover about three months to act as if she was comfortable with us.
Feeding the chickens mealworms.
STEP 04: Getting the Lay of the Land:
While our coop was newly built and ready to go these chicks had no idea how to enter or exit a coop that stood off the ground. The strongest and biggest three that grew their feathers the earliest, learned how to fly in and out of the coop first. For several weeks I needed to pick up the two smallest one and assist them into getting in and out of the coop. I discovered too that the chicken ladder we had made was a bit too steep for babies and even though we had added wooden cross bars they were too far apart for babies to manage.
In our case both sides of the coop have double doors and both open up and lock. This large opening provided a “user friendly” way for the babies to fly in and out. It was a bit non-conventional but it worked!
The “Chicken Chalet” with double doors open before the sand litter was put in.
The babies came to us fairly wild and having not been handled at all. My desire was that the babies would do more than tolerate me and in fact eventually allow me to stroke them. I also hope they would will trust me as a kind provider and let me hold them at some point. I began to offer them small amounts of mealworms from my hand. It took a few days but after a while they were eating out of my hands, as the saying goes.
STEP 05: Continue the Gentling and Taming Process:
At about four months the babies were comfortable eating from my hand and jumping up on my legs to get their treats. At this point I started stroking them while feeding them and using two fingers softly touching them on their breast front area just to get them use to the humans touch. This is a very slow and very gently process that took quite a bit of time but I kept it up. At this point they allowed me to pick them up. They didn’t like it, screeching loudly when I picked them up but they allowed it.
STEP 06: Getting Babies to Come When Called:
I used a two-part method to get the babies to respond to me and to come when called. I gently talked to them as I approached the coop letting them know it was me and to associate me with the soft spoken voice they heard. Then I began calling “Chick Chick Chick” when I was bringing them food. That way they began to associate me with a food reward. Then I began to draw them into the garden part of our run by opening the gate, tossing down some treats while calling them to come forward. Before long they were coming when called and I could move them from their run in and out of the garden at will. So when food in one area is limited I can call them into another area where the grass is fresher.
Taming takes time and effort but can be accomplished with patience and conditioning.
Clover peeking out of the chicken coop.
STEP 06: Consider an Enclosed Run, if You Can Swing it:
Baby chicks like to fly and hop. Must be the raging hormones! Our Cochin babies liked to fly out of their fenced in pen so we added a covered area to one end of the chicken run. We selected the shadiest section and the portion where their chicken door exited. Not only did this contain the babies and give me more piece of mind, it provided them a place of safety, it gave them protection from the wind, the snow and the rain.
Like most work with animals the amount of time and energy we put into them shows up in their behaviors and attitudes. Its a lot of work, but the benefits are worth it, I think.
Small House Homesteader, Donna