Chicken Grieving Homesteading Inspiration When life is tough

How to Successfully Encourage a Broody Hen to Adopt Chicks

I knew nothing about the subject of a broody hen adopting chicks. Until last night that is.

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I was up early. Which is very uncommon lately.

Recently, sleep alludes me until the wee hours of the day, then, once I can crash from exhaustion, I tend to sleep a few long, deep hours, with farm chores delayed. I’ll spare you the whys, maybe that’s for another post one day when the pain isn’t so raw and confusing.

But this morning, as my husband’s truck turned toward work, rumbling down the curved drive, off of our rural New England farm, I was ambling down the slope to the back side of the barn, with a plate of stale crackers and ham scraps in hand.

Why we prefer hen-raised chicks to incubated ones.

Last night we decided to add a few incubated chicks to Eagle’s clutch. (With her beautiful white head, our broody hen was fittingly named “Eagle.”) She was proving to be a wonderful momma, and we’ve learned over the past two summers that we greatly prefer momma-raised chicks to ones that mature under the warm but uneducating light of the brooder. So after dark last night we took a few tiny chirping bundles down to the cage where Eagle’s nest is tucked away safely in a dog’s cage, in our hay overhang. (We lock her up there every evening to keep her and her chicks safe from predators until the babies are big enough to traverse the tall ramp that leads into the coop.)

Eagle has been a momma to only one sweet chick (whom I’ve dubbed “April”) since a disaster struck a few weeks ago. That disaster will also be a  subject for another day.

chicks in the brooder-2

Then this week, chicks hatched in our incubator. So I started wondering if Eagle would like being a momma to more. Would she like keeping more babes safe and warm under her feathers? Would she like training more babes how to be wise with predators and crafty with food collection? Or would she see the new ones as a threat to her precious little April who has been the sole source of her adoration for almost a dozen days?

So I reached out to my readers, on my fb page, to get a consensus of others who have tried such a thing. Because my readers are amazing, I had answers within minutes and knew I wanted to give it a cautious try. (You really are amazing–thank you all!)

Night is the best time to introduce new ones to a broody hen adopting chicks. She’ll most likely, if she’s a good broody hen, shuttle them right under her feathered belly. Or reject them immediately, in which case you can stand by ready to rescue them if needed.

We were on a mission.

So there we were, my comrades in wings and I, with flashlights and chirping chicks in hand, traipsing down to the back of the barn under cover of night, to rehome a few babes under Eagle’s care. We wore work gloves, because we knew Eagle might not take kindly to foster children and we might have to rescue them from her tenacious bites.

We knew our mission might fail.

At first, the babies had no idea what to do, out in the cold dark night, out from under the protected heat of the brooder. They stood unsure by the open door, shaking. (I should say, not atypical for New England, it was a cold May night outside our farmhouse, with a toasty fire going inside our farmhouse.) I immediately hesitated, wondering if the night temps might dip too cold for them to survive outside. But I decided to watch and wait.

Eagle was torn. She went toward them, then returned to sitting in the corner, over April, when April started to come out from her warm, safe bed under momma’s feathers. Eagle softly purred at the two new recruits. (It really did sound like a purr. Broody hens make unusual sounds as specific signals to their chicks; this one was a new one to me.) They just stood and shook.

The daughter who was still wearing gloves, the daughter who is the most take-charge homesteader, scooped up those babes and determinedly pushed them under Eagle. Content to be safe and warm, in comforting ways they had never known before, they stayed. All night.

When I awoke, they were in the forefront of my mind.

This morning brought new fears.

Armed with meat scraps and mushy crackers, I wasn’t sure what I would find this morning. Feeling it was possible Eagle would have rejected them, irritated at their squirminess. Or she would let them be in danger at their own devices, tired of their possible roaming that would jeopardize her first love, April, leaving her cold and exposed, if Eagle pursued wayward ones.

But instead, as I pulled the heavy, roughly hewn door open on its loud track, I was greeted with a happy chirping momma telling her three little ones that breakfast was here and guiding them off of their nest of hay.

Then this morning brought joy.

I almost cried at the beautiful sweetness, watching Eagle patiently, instructionally feed her newly adopted babes before eating any breakfast herself. I breathed a deep sigh of contentment as I watched Eagle quickly reprimand April when she meekly pecked at her foster brother over a scrap of ham fat.

When Eagle realized the two youngest proteges needed warmth, I couldn’t believe what she did. First, she led them up into the protection of the hay. Then she quickly ran and grabbed a piece of meat to lure April into the hay as well. She sat on the other two while April contentedly pecked away at the ham under her momma’s watchful sight. Once April had her fill, she hopped up on Eagle’s back, and, with the foster chicks under her wings and April on her shoulders, the momma hen was a beautiful sight for my tired eyes.

broody hen adopting chicks

broody hen adopting chicks

broody hen adopting chicks

This morning brought a beautiful allegory to our farm.

There is a newly formed family unit in our barnyard today, and with it, God brought me peace, comfort, and assurance of His sovereignty and love.

Yet, as crazy as it may sound (well, to someone who isn’t a crazy chicken lady), this wasn’t the first time God brought me comfort through a hen. You see Eagle was one of two chicks who survived another devastation one year ago this month. In fact, if you glance back at that post from last summer, you’ll see sweet, pre-momma, pullet Eagle.

In fact, really, take a second to glance at that post. You’ll also see adorable, down-covered, baby Eagle peeking out from her own momma’s wings. She learned her mothering skills from her own wonderful momma. Eagle was one of only a few chicks raised by our farm’s first broody hen, Missy. Eagle survived and prospered, and now she is training new recruits for this sometimes hard life.

God impresses on my heart every time I witness the sweet chicks crawling in and out from under the hen’s wings that He has me under His care and protection.

No, it doesn’t always feel like it. Sometimes I feel I’ve been abandoned in the cold, dark night.

No, it doesn’t often look like it, by the world’s standards. The brooding light looked much better to the chicks than an unfamiliar, cold, plastic cage. Until they understood there was a momma there, ready to enfold them.

No, it doesn’t mean that life isn’t unbearably hard. Sleep sometimes alludes us, and days are sometimes overflowing with grief that seeps into every crevice until there’s no room for laughter.

All the “no”s don’t make sense to me.

But His promises are true.

But I know that I know that I know that He loves me and is caring for me, and my own brood, even in those deep, ugly moments when I see nothing that I would call evidence of His love.

But when I really allow myself to admit it… when I allow myself to think way outside of this minute of heartache… or this day of pain… or even my number of years that God has allotted for me on this earth (Psalm 90:10)… I know I can honestly say what has the earth that I desire besides Him? (Psalm 73:25)

And I can follow His lead. Blindly. With assurance. Even in the cold. And in the dark.

I have been welcomed into His family as a foster child, yet an heir. I was adopted as an incubated, clueless chick who causes Him anguish, yet I am His own, who can claim her place of honor under His wing. Sometimes that’s all I have to cling to, but even then, that is enough.

So I don’t have solutions to grief. I have no power to take away a child’s physical pain. I can’t rid today of hardship or tears. But God has given me a beautiful reminder as I traverse the fields and complete hard work that indeed I am under His wing.

I knew nothing about the subject of a broody hen adopting chicks. Until today. Until I needed to know.

Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away…
Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:10-12

…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings… Luke 13:34

Meet Eagle, and hear the story of how we almost lost this sweet momma–>

And see Eagle with her growing chicks (and a boisterous bathing duck, none-the-less) in a video here, in this post.

And check out our gardens and farm for just a few minutes.

But I should warn you, the new calf cuteness might be too much to handle.–>

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broody hen adopting chicks

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14 Comment

  1. So now I’m sitting at my desk at work during lunch, crying! This was so beautiful. I’m going through some stuff, too, and needed to hear this and be reminded of God’s protection and provision. Thank you for sharing (and please thank Eagle for me!)

    1. Awwww, lunch-desk crying was never my intention. But I will definitely share your appreciation with Eagle. And I pray you quickly see an end to your difficulties, and continued peace in the midst.

  2. It’s funny to me that you and I were on the same page. I just published “wings” with some similar thoughts. I’m sorry that you’re still going through pain, I hope that God can comfort you and that it ends soon. Just last night I received a severe weather alert on my phone, just as I went to bed. Exhausted, I prayed and asked God to cover our home with His wings and protect it. I woke up this morning, wondering if it had even rained. It’s not the first time I’ve prayed for protection and felt like I received it. I slept like a chick under a hen’s wing. It was wonderful!

    1. It is sweet that we both wrote about the allegory of a mother hen this week, Michelle. (To anyone reading these comments, “the other” Michelle–my blogging friend–wrote this this week: Unfortunately, it isn’t me going through the pain. I wish I could take it on in her place, but it’s my daughter who’s struggling with post-surgical, neurological pain, and the surgeons can’t figure out how to help her. But thank you for your prayers.

  3. You are an amazing story-teller! This is so beautifully told – thank you for sharing your heart and the beauty God reveals to you in such a touching way.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share such a sweet compliment, Monica. Not many things in life could make me happier than hearing that my writing has impacted someone’s day for good.

    1. She is beautiful, isn’t she? I have to admit, she’s a “mut” of a chicken though. But I’m glad you stumbled across my tiny corner of the internet on Pinterest! (I LOVE pinterest!)

  4. Thank you for this story. I needed this today.
    I could not find anywhere that mentioned your beautiful hen’s breed. I am hoping to add to my flock of two Rhode Island Reds, and your Eagle seems to have some wonderful characteristics we are looking for. I am relatively new to chickens, so my best guess is Silver Laced Winedot?
    Thank you for your time!

    1. Hi Jenny–I’m so glad you found my narrative on a day when you needed it. Eagle is a very sweet hen, but sadly I can’t tell you a breed. She’s a “mutt” in the chicken world.

  5. I enjoyed reading this.. Very well done.. 😊 I had a hen that say on her eggs, they didn’t make it, I assumed w it being her 1st time sitting, may be she got her belly wet and the eggs didn’t make it.. I was HEART BROKEN.. So I let her out of her ” nursery” found her the next day ,sitting on the other hens eggs, so I moved the eggs and hen back to the nursery.. and again 2 babies formed but didn’t make it.. I Cried my eyes out for that poor hen.. So I decided to go to the Feed store ,for 4 baby hens, took em home.. Said a Prayer.. Lord let her except them and then her.. I put the 4 babies under her, at 1st, she didn’t know what to do..!! They were all over the place, they’ve never had a momma, n she’d never been a momma.. Well I say and watched, then she started ,clucking went straight to the food bowl, n started showing them how to peck.. I CAN HAPPILY SAY.. SHE’S BEEN A GREAT MOMMY.. Already got our 1st eggs from one of the babies.. THANK YOU GOOD LORD ABOVE.

    1. Oh how sweet of you to “adopt” babies and let her be a surrogate momma! Not too much unlike people, I guess, there are definitely a few hens on our farm who LONG to be mommas. It sounds like your hen–and my Eagle–are two of those. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story with me, Casi!

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