A broody hen’s natural abilities allow her to provide a nurturing environment for her young. A hen with chicks is also great to see. She’s more than just a warm body on the go for your hens! Multiple advantages have been discovered for the chicks when they are raised with their mothers. She does more than just keep her brood warm and safe; she also teaches them what foods are healthy and which ones are not. She shows them where to find food, water, shelter, adventure, and roost.
They learn to fear certain things because of her. She does this until the chicks are about six weeks old, at which point they have grown enough feathers to regulate their own temperature, enough strength to perch and escape danger, and enough intelligence to make decisions for themselves.
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Development of Cognitive Abilities Begins During Early Embryonic Life
A hen’s innate instincts tell her when to sit on eggs and when to turn them. She stands to rearrange the eggs or leave the nest momentarily to tend to her own needs. These times are just long enough for the eggs to get enough light to promote healthy brain development, but short enough to prevent them from overheating while she’s away. A hen with chicks is very protective.
The embryos hear her cluck while still inside the egg, and when the time comes, they clap their beaks in response. They cry out in anguish and joy, and she answers them both. All of the chicks can hatch at the same time thanks to the clicks and beak claps the parents make.
Parenting – Hen with Chicks
The chicks quickly form an association with their mother’s voice and appearance (especially her facial features), leading them to stay close to her and instantly responding to the unique rhythmic cluck she makes. In addition to attracting them, these clucks help solidify their memories. They can tell her apart from other hens by the time the chicks are four days old and ready to leave the nest. A hen with chicks will teach them a lot.
Chicks spend the first six weeks of their lives inseparable from their mother due to the strong emotional bond formed between them as they discover and learn about their mother. Sibling relationships also strengthen after the first day.
Surviving Close to Mom
After three days, they have developed a natural instinct to avoid risky situations by avoiding novelty. The comforting presence of mom hen, however, allows the chicks to venture out and learn about the world without fear. She likes to hang around food and water sources to encourage exploration and foraging. A hen with chicks takes good care of them.
In the event of impending danger, a mother hen will issue a series of distinctive alarm calls tailored to the developmental stage of her chicks. As the chicks get older, she modifies the alarm calls so that she only sounds the alarm when small predators pose a real threat. After hearing these warnings, they immediately cease their activities and brace themselves for danger.
Scientists have discovered that a mother hen’s social interactions with her chicks are as important as the physical benefits she provides. Helping with diet, timing of activities, and reducing stress are all crucial responsibilities.
Up until they are about three days old, newly hatched chicks will peck at small, round, and moving particles without regard to the quality of their food. Oftentimes, they won’t think twice about nibbling on inedible objects. As the yolk provides enough energy for the chicks to make it through the first few days, they are able to devote some of that time to education. The hen’s job is to show them what’s good for them to eat. Farmers feed chicks that have been incubated artificially by laying out a lot of crumb on a smooth surface (typically paper) so that the chicks can see what the crumb looks like and learn to eat it.
When foraging for food in the unpredictable conditions of the open range, a mother hen will use a unique food call and pecking display to signal what is acceptable to eat. A series of short, repeated calls and pecking at the ground constitute the display. They flock to the items she displays and eagerly devour them. To get her chicks’ attention, she raises her display and calls louder if they don’t eat or move closer.
She will increase her calls, pick up and drop appropriate food, and wipe their beaks until they switch to the right food if she observes them eating something she considers inappropriate based on her experience with the item. Feed them a good chick feed.
The first week is the most formative because of the knowledge they gain from her regarding the quality of the food they consume. She makes more calls for a larger find and longer, more intense calls for better quality items, like mealworms, in her calls. Within the first week, the chicks’ reactions to her calls have greatly increased.
At the three-day mark, they begin to respond to information provided by the food they consume and begin to learn independently. They gain knowledge from one another, too, and stop eating foods that some of the hens find repulsive.
Behavior Coordination Among Chicks
The newly hatched chicks sleep and wake up at the same time. In the absence of a mother hen, however, this synchronization quickly fades away after the first three days. If the chicks aren’t able to keep their schedules in sync, the active ones will wake up the resting ones. Chicks are able to stay warm and safe by huddling together, thanks to their ability to synchronize their movements. Sixty percent of a chick’s time under the hen is spent sleeping.
She tends to brood each chick for 30 minutes at a time, though the exact timing varies by hen. As people age, their periods of activity naturally lengthen. The brood will continue to be more synchronized in their activity long after she has stopped caring for them, and this will serve to keep them safe as they venture out into the world.
Assume and Maintain a Roost
At around two weeks of age, or sooner if encouraged by mom, chicks begin perching. They can better assess their surroundings and navigate with increased proficiency thanks to perching. Chicks that are given perches to stand on as they develop have stronger muscles, better balance, and are less likely to lay their eggs on the floor as adults. Within the first six weeks, about a quarter of the day is spent perched. The young birds eventually learn to roost in the same area as their mother each night, though they move to higher perches as they get bigger.
Parental Influence on Fearfulness
Chickens that are frightened are more difficult to handle, and some may even injure themselves in a panicked response. As they brood over their young, hens produce clucking sounds that soothe them. In her company, they feel safe enough to go on an adventure. Baby chicks raised in captivity show more anxiety than those raised by a calm mother.
But how afraid they are will depend on her actions. A hen’s progeny will tend to be more anxious if the hen herself is easily triggered. Depending on the maternal example, young birds may develop irrational phobias. Chickens hatched from hens that are accustomed to human contact are less likely to develop social anxiety as adults.