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Hens, Broodies & Chicks

The codfish lays a thousand eggs,
The hen lays only one
But the codfish? never cackles
To tell us when she's done
And so we scorn the codfish
While the humble hen we prize
Which only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise!


The shelf life of eggs depends on the weather. I collect eggs once or twice a day. The hen's body naturally covers an egg when it's laid with a substance called "bloom", which helps seal out bacteria--that's why eggs can last through the 21 day incubation period, still be OK and not turn into little stink bombs. As soon as you wash an egg you remove the bloom, that's why they should be refrigerated after washing. You can wash your eggs prior to using them, as dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella can be on the outside of the eggshell.  Of course, if a bird is infected it can be inside as well, but usually sick birds aren't laying eggs.  In some parts of the world people don't wash eggs and/or refrigereate them, and it works just fine for them.  Prior to washing and refrigeration keep your eggs stored somewhere cool and dry.

I've noticed that my hens have a procedure when laying an egg, and the other hens participate in it.  LOUDLY.  The hen that needs to lay will first go from nesting spot to nesting spot, sometimes seeming to be frantically searching and calling in an agitated way.  She eventually will settle in a nest for a few minutes but will then suddenly come out, cackling loudly.  The other birds take up this cackle--but surprise, no egg yet!  I call this the 'Pre-Egg Cackle' and I assume it's to draw out any predators and protect the eggs, because once the hen is committed to laying an egg she's trapped, and if the predator finds her then it can eat both her and her egg.  After a good round of Pre-Egg Cackling she will then slip quietly into the nest and lay the egg.  Sometimes afterwards she will run from the nest, cackling again.  Hens will also usually go to the feeder and eat and drink after laying an egg.

Young hens that are just coming into lay (at around 6 months of age give or take a few weeks) for the first time may occassionally have a little 'hiccup' in the egg laying process that causes them to lay weird eggs--soft shelled eggs, smaller than normal, etc.  Once her egg laying machinery gets up to speed everything should smooth out. When hens come into lay, their bottoms appear rounder and fluffier (especially just before an egg is laid), and they gain a new self-confidence that can transalte into a higher spot in the pecking order. Hens, like humans, are born with a finite number of eggs in their bodies. Hens begin laying at around 6 months old, reach their egg laying peak around age 2 years, and then laying tapers off and ends at around age 6 or 7.

There are a few definite signs of an egg-bound hen:  she may be panting, have her feathers fluffed up, look exhausted and may sit with her wings drooping and tail bobbing.  Her abdomen may look distended or be dragging on the ground.  Egg bound hens have a very particular stance they attain--very penguin-like; Upper body upright, tail & vent towards the ground and straining every few seconds to lay the egg. Since by the time you see a hen in this condition time is short, you'll need to act quickly.  Here's what works that most people have on-hand--there are other meds though that can help, ask your vet:  I keep my bird warm and quiet, and give her orally by eye dropper a mixture of white Karo syrup (for a quick energy boost to pass that egg), olive oil (helps provide slip) and milk or plain yogurt (to give her a much-needed calcium boost).  Add unflavored Pedialyte for an electrolyte boost.  If you have some cuttlebone you can scrape some off and mix the powder into the mixture, too.  Cuttlebone is a great source of calcium.  Egg bound hens are usually that way because of a calcium deficiency in the first place, and straining to lay an egg just sucks more calcium from their only bodily source--their bones. Calcium also helps muscles to work in egg laying.  

You can also take a warm, wet washcloth and wring it out well, then hold it against her vent and undercarriage.  The heat relaxes the muscles, gets the blood circulating, will help her pass the egg, relieves pain and just plain feels good.  The moisture help moisten and lubricate her vent a bit.  Do this every few minutes.  Don't soak her feathers and chill her, though!  Wet feathers siphon away much needed body heat. You can also take a Q-tip or your finger, dip it in more olive oil or vegetable oil--just a tiny bit, you don't want to soak the feathers--and GENTLY work it into her vent to help pass the egg.  You can also use K-Y jelly, but I'd avoid Vaseline in case the bird ingests it. DO NOT use soap! Soap is toxic when ingested by birds. I don't know if it is toxic when applied via the vent, but the possibility is there and since birds will preen themselves there is still the strong chance she will ingest it.   If the egg isn't laid within 30-45 mintes or if you are worried, call your vet!

A vet is trained to squeeze in a certain spot on either side of the pelvic bones (timing it with the hen's own push to lay the egg) from the outside to pop an egg out, or reach inside a bird, pop the egg and then either extract it or allow the hen to pass it.  Sometimes the vet will also give your birds medication to help.  Only someone experienced at this should try popping and extracting an egg though, as it can be harmful or fatal to the bird if it isn't done right.  

Having said all that, I DID, just last night, have my first experience with an egg-bound MilleFleur/Frizzle mix bantam 2 year old hen. I am going to share that experience here, because when I went online to try and get advice from anyone who had ever actually popped and extracted an egg themselves, I could not find anyone who had! So for what it's worth, here's how I did it--it was successful, and just may save someone elses' bird as well.

Naturally this happened when my vet was closed. I discovered this little hen at 4PM (hens normally lay eggs by 10AM) when I went out to feed the chickens. She was the only one who did NOT come running when I called--healthy chickens always come running when they think food is involved, if not something is WRONG. Instead she was sitting on the lawn, a little way away from a small orange tree. I walked over to her and she didn't get up and walk away (this particular hen would have done that), so I picked her up and carried her inside the house for a closer inspection. It didn't take long to see that her vent and abdomen were distended, she was panting a bit and straining once in a while to lay an egg. I could see the egg crowning and her vent feathers were fouled with poop, so she had been at it a while. Her crop was empty, so she had not been eating. I got her to eat a few bites of bologna (I wanted to get anything I could into her, she needed energy NOW and refused chicken feed and water) I put her on a heating pad set on 'low' and posted a quick message online to my fellow chicken owner friends asking for their input. I checked the hen again, still no egg. I applied a warm, moist washcloth to her back end and also oiled the inside of her vent and all around the egg with an olive oil-soaked Qtip, and massaged her muscles a bit. She was still trying to lay, and the egg was huge. I mixed up come crushed Tums tablets, milk (for calcium), white Karo syrup (for energy) and olive oil (for slip) and gave some to her by mouth. Back on the heating pad she went. I checked my post online and while everyone was helpful and supportive, no one was coming forward with firsthand advice on removing collapsing and removing the egg. A quick online search also yielded no practical help, beyond what I understood to be the procedure of choice: take her to the vet. I maintained the heat, massage, oiling her vent, oral calcium mixture and even oiled up my finger and tried to reach in and pop the egg out that way (I think we are engaged now, by the way). No luck. This went on until 8:30 that night, by which time the hen was only trying to lay the egg once in a while and was looking decidedly distressed and weak. We knew we had run out of choices and it was time to get that egg OUT. I decided the tool to use was a small, sharp awl which could easily puncture the egg without sliding off. Awls look kind of like a small screwdriver, with a sharp, needle-like point on the end that gradually gets bigger, and the shaft is smooth and polished. A needle would be too small and might break, and a screwdriver wasn't sharp enough. First I practiced my technique on four eggs from the fridge, learning how hard to push and what size hole I needed to make in order to weaken the shell enough so that it would crush and could be expelled.

With my husband firmly holding the hen on my lap so that she could not move, and a large, shallow dish ready under her, I supported the hens' abdomen (holding the egg in place) and parted her vent opening with the fingers of my left hand. Then I gently placed the point of the awl on the eggshell, making VERY sure that it could not slip and keeping the tool in my grip much like a pen, with only a short amount of the sharp end exposed. I pressed firmly yet gently and the tool readily pierced the egg. I then had to gently move the very tip of the awl (still in the same grip with only a tiny portion of the sharp end exposed) around, working the edges of the hole and breaking little pieces of the shell away to expand the hole.

The hen was so weak that she couldn't even try to push anymore, so I tried to push the egg out from outside her body, which did not work. I had to enlarge the hole in the shell a bit, then work the tip of my finger inside the shell (I knew I would only have one shot at this). I hooked my fingertip firmly inside the egg and pulled it out of her in one motion. The dish caught the egg and it's contents, and after I released the hen (who looked very relieved but tired) I reconstructed the shell fragments to make sure that none of the egg had remained inside her. I'm confident that 99.9% of the eggshell was removed, and we could not have hoped for a better outcome. It turns out that the egg was sideways inside her, in addition to being very large. After a night indoors on the heating pad, a good rest and a hearty breakfast the next day, the hen was allowed back outside with the flock and seems fine.

I'm not saying that you should try it, and I realize that we were VERY lucky to have had such a successful outcome. But we had reached that 'last resort' stage, and we knew she was dead if we didn't try. It was truly nerve-wracking, and lots of factors contributed to the positive outcome--the hen being too tired to struggle, the fact that I practiced on other eggs, the right tool, my husband's help, etc. And just plain luck.
Here is a site I found with some good advice, although it discusses finches and other cage birds it can also apply to chickens:


Here's another:


Speaking of nesting hens, a broody hen is easy to recognize. She will be constantly on her nest whether she has eggs or not, generally ill-tempered and peck at her flockmates, constantly be uttering a low 'cluck-cluck-cluck' and will fluff out her feathers. It's basically chicken PMS.  If you find her on her nest she may act irritated, fluff up and growl or shriek at you, maybe even peck at you. Hens can go broody with our without eggs and roosters--and no rooster means no fertile eggs. :) They also cease to lay while broody. Some will snap out of it within a few days or weeks, others won't. Broody hens will sit on their nest in a trance-like state, only leaving the nest a few times a day for a few minutes to eat, drink and poop. Since they have been on the nest all day, broody hen poops are HUGE and nasty smelling. Some broody hens will pluck some or all of their breast feathers, both to line the nest with and expose more of their warm, moist body directly to the eggs. Some hens will sit on the nest but reach out and grab little bits of straw or grass and place it on their backs, presumably for camoflage (sometimes egg laying hens will also do this while on the nest laying their egg, but it's brief). If you want her to hatch eggs, make SURE to provide her and her chicks a location that is secure from predators and/or other chickens 24 hours a day.  If you don't want or can't have chicks and want to break the broody cycle, there are a number of things you can do. The normal incubation period for chicken eggs is 21 days. Sometimes a hen will sit a nest for weeks or months to the point of losing a dangerous amount of weight. I've heard people tell stories of putting the hen under a box for three days, squirting her with water, etc. This seems kinda needlessly cruel to me. I simply remove any eggs she has and don't let her sit on any more of them, roust her off of the nest several times a day, carry her around for a bit with me, give her some goodies to eat outside the nest, give her a handfull of ice cubes to brood instead of eggs and/or remove or block off the nest. The idea is to make being OFF the nest more attractive and fun than being ON it.  You can cage a broody hen in a wire cage for a few days to break the cycle, it sometimes works--the idea being that since she is on wire with air circulating around her undercarriage there is no soft ground to nest on and she'll give up the idea.


Hatching your own chicks is relatively easy once you do some reading up on it and are prepared, and VERY rewarding and exciting.  It's especially fun and fascinating for kids.  YOU MUST PROTECT THE CHICKS! That means make space in your kitchen, bathroom, etc. for the brooder box--it cannot go outdoors. Also, the chicks need the stimulation of having YOU around, and they will bond to you quicker and be more tame if they see you constantly and learn to take human activity and it's noise in stride. I keep my chicks indoors for the first few weeks 100% of the time, after that I let them out for supervised 20 minute playtimes. They don't get turned out into the flock and the outdoors for good until they are two months of age. Be ready with a few things:  A good sized brooder box sufficient to hold mama and babies for two months if needed, a gooseneck desk lamp with a 75 watt bulb for heat, appropriate feeder and waterer (waterer should have a small trough or place marbles in it to prevent drownings), a few bricks to place the feeder and water on so the chicks don't befoul the food and water constantly and shavings or some other soft but firm surface for new chicks.  The brooder box must include a firm surface for the chicks to run on--slick surfaces like newspaper are no good, they offer no traction and can cause a condition called Spraddle Leg, where the chicks' legs splay out from their bodies and they are unable to stand.  Or the chick's toes can curl under or to the side. Some times this condition can occur anyway or a chick is born with it.  Sometimes chicks are hatched with or develop within the first few days a twisted leg or curled-up toes. In most cases you can correct Spraddle Leg or a twisted leg/toes if you act quickly.  Baby chicks are like rubber when first hatched, and if you make a set of chick hobbles (for Spraddle Leg) or a single splint (for a twisted leg or malformed toes) for the baby to wear for a week or so chances are the chick will be good as new. See the section below for instructions on how to make chick hobbles. 

I run my chicks on shavings with a nice firm cardboard underneath for the first week or so until they get a little bigger and stronger, then either keep them in the large brooder box or switch to a hardware cloth (wire) footing, which is easier to keep clean.  I have a large bird cage with a finely-spaced wire bottom and tray underneath which works great for the chicks, provided their feet are big enough and they are strong enough not to fall through the spaces in the wire.  You can stick with the big cardboard box and shavings if you don't have access to a wire cage. Cage or box, it still stays in the house to protect them from cold, drafts and predators! At the age of about two weeks you can provide roosts, that way the chicks can climb on them during the day (and jump on the other chicks' for fun) and get used to them.  If your chicks don't roost, don't worry.  Most chicks sleep in a pile at first, roosting doesn't really begin until they are out in the coop and all grown up. Even at first in the coop, they will still sleep in a pile on the ground. Don't worry, they just need time to adjust and in a few weeks they'll be roosting with the flock.

Mark your eggs to be hatched with a pencil so that you'll know which ones are your hatching eggs and which are new eggs laid by other hens!  If you are using an incubator, with pencil (ball point pens can puncture eggs but the ink itself on the shell is no danger) mark an X on one side and an O on the other, this helps to tell you which side should be up at each turning if you turn the eggs by hand.  It also helps you keep track of which eggs you have turned this time!  Eggs MUST be turned during the incubation process or the chicks will stick to the inside of the shell and die. 

I have included a picture of the egg turning chart I use, I just tape it to the wall next to the incubator along with a pen. Every time I turn the eggs, I mark the chart with either an 'X' or 'O'--depending on which letter is facing up at that turn. This really helps me to make sure that not only did I turn the eggs, but that I turned them all! I also note when I added water to the wells last by writing 'water' next to the X or O. My hatch rate has been very successful using this chart. At the top I note the date the eggs were placed in the 'bator, how many and the expected hatch date. The chart itself has a space for each day divided into three areas, the time of day to turn the eggs at the top of each column (you should do it at roughly the same time every day). I only mark the chart immediately after I do the turn, just in case I get sidetracked. At the bottom of the chart is noted the day to STOP turning the eggs (this sends the signal to the babies that it's time!) and the hatch date. At the very bottom I have noted how many eggs from each mother hen I have placed--if I'm not sure there is a question mark after her name, if I have no idea I write 'Unknown' or 'Banty'. :) As the chicks hatch it helps me to see which chick came from which egg (I also assign each mother hen a color and band the babies in her color using leg bands). As the chicks grow up, it also helps to me discover who is laying those 'mystery mom' eggs! I keep these charts in a file, this helps me see which mother hen lays consistently hatching eggs, and track any problems such as weak chicks or deformities.

Broodys turn their own eggs, but if you are using an incubator either buy an egg turner to go with it or turn the eggs three times daily by hand.  Automatic egg turners are a device that cup each egg and very slowly--so slowly that it isn't visible to the naked eye--rock the egg back and forth. They do not actually 'roll' or 'turn' the egg, they tilt it back and forth.  When using an incubator follow the instructions to the letter, including keeping the water resevoirs filled with the proper type of water (usually distilled).  You WILL worry about them as they incubate and during the hatching process, so try to resist the urge to check them every 5 minutes--especially during the actual hatch.  Let Mother Nature do her thing.  Hatching is a slow process that takes many hours, up to 24. Disturbing the mama hen or opening the incubator too often can cause problems with the chicks, it isn't worth it.  When you set a clutch of eggs under a broody hen, set a clutch of 7-10 eggs, no more.  She can't cover more than that and still have a good hatch, and remember she will have to raise the chicks once they are hatched!

Baby chicks need your help even if they have an adult hen for a mama. With no mama hen YOU are mom and need to protect and teach the little ones. Appropriate food such as chick starter or grow mash needs to be placed within easy reach, and waterers should have marbles placed in the trough so that accidental drownings do not occur--remember that Chicken Motto. Both food and water must be available to the chicks 24/7. Since I use shavings as litter in my brooder boxes, I've found that placed the food & water dispensers up on a couple of bricks keeps them MUCH cleaner--otherwise the chicks kick shavings into them in their normal scratching around. Don't make yourself crazy cleaning feeders out constantly, elevate those feeders a bit. :) Of course the chicks should be kept warm (95 to 100 degrees at first with no drafts) and placed in a brooder box or run that keeps them safe from predators. I use an old gooseneck desk lamp with a 75 watt bulb to provide heat & light for the chicks, it stays on 24 hours a day if there is no mama hen in with them. Gooseneck lamps are great because there is a low chance of chicks burning themselves on the light or knocking it over and starting a fire. Use a lamp with a nice, heavy base that can't be tipped over by the babies--thrift stores and yard sales are a great source for old lamps. It's going to get pooped on and dirty, so use one you don't care about! Don't use the modern eco-friendly curly light bulbs, they do not produce enough heat--use an old fashioned bulb or a heat lamp of some kind. You need to keep the area under the light at around 100 degrees. Too cold, and the peeps will cluster together underneath it and peep in distress, too warm and they will avoid it. What you want is a brooder box where the chicks roam around dispersed evenly throughout.

If the chicks will be kept indoors, say in a large cardboard box, they will need some diversion. In the brooder box picture you'll notice that I've cut a window for the chicks to see out of and covered it with a piece of hardware cloth, which was placed on the OUTSIDE of the cut-out area and hot glued into place--on the outside so there are no sharp wire ends for the chicks to hurt themselves on. Having a window to look out of is vital--would YOU want to live in a room with no windows? It also makes for tamer chicks, since they can easily see people moving around and get used to it. I place the window before the chicks are in the box, of course. I also make SURE I place it about 5 inches from the bottom of the box--place it too low and the chicks will constantly be kicking shavings out through it, making a huge mess for you to clean up. As the chicks grow and develop their wings, you'll also want to fashion a wire cover for the TOP of the brooder box--otherwise after a couple of weeks the chicks are going to start jumping/flying out of the box! Also, if you have small chidren it's a good idea to have a wire cover (I use chickenwire for the cover, it's perfect) from the outset so the kids don't accidentally drop toys on the chicks or climb in with them. You can also use an old fishtank for a brooder box or a large Rubbermaid tub--but realize that the chicks are going to outgrow them pretty darned fast! I prefer the huge cardboard box, that way the chicks can live in it for the first two months until they ae ready to go outside with the adult chickens, and when I'm done with the brooder box, I just remove the hardware cloth 'window' to save for next time and throw the box away--the cardboard box gets pretty nasty by the end of two months and isn't worth keeping. Boredom, overheating and overcrowding can cause chicks to peck each other. I give my chicks a great big, nasty, grassy dirt clod--dirt, grass, roots, bugs and all. It provides several things: A toy to jump and climb on, green matter (grass) to eat, dirt to peck and scratch at and dustbathe in, grit in the form of dirt for their little crops so they can digest their food, protein from the bugs they find, etc. So far it's the best thing I've found for chicks to keep them busy and happy for days. They'll spend hours pecking and scratching away at it, discovering new goodies to eat--sprinkle some chick food on it, 'peck' at it with your finger and call excitedly when you first put it in. They love to climb on it and play "King of the Hill", jumping on each other. Just make sure your grass is pesticide-free and is not so long as to be a choking hazard--trim it with scissors if needed.  The roosts you provide them are also great for play time.

I also give my chicks table scraps diced into non-chokable pieces--anything that is good for you is good for them. Again, no uncooked meat, no raw eggs for babies, no chocolate (toxic to birds). Cooked spaghetti is good but cut it up. Scrambled eggs, diced grapes, raw corn on the cob (score the kernals so they get the idea that this is FOOD after they peck at it), cooked hamburger--all are great.  Mealworms from the pet store are great and chickens LOVE them. Crickets too. It's a hoot watching the chicks chase down a bug and then play "Chicken Football" with it, although the bug itself might not appreciate the fun in it. You may have to "peck" at the food with a finger and make mama hen clucking noises ("chick-chick-chick") to draw attention to the food and teach the chicks that this is Something Good To Eat. It's also good to settle on your special "Come & Get It" call so your birds learn to recognize it and will come running when you call. Food is the #1 motivator for chickens of any age, they are very food-driven. Food will help you tame new arrivals and get on friendlier temrs with your birds. Offer special treats and the little buggers'll love ya. :) They will naturally chase and peck at things that are moving, so pick up and drop the tidbit a time or to and draw attention to it. This also helps develop their natural instincts. Remember, you are the chicken mama and need to teach the kids! :)


Some breeds are referred to as 'sex links'--that is, they have at hatch characteristic markings such as a lighter spot on the heads of female chicks that allow you quickly and visually tell the girls from the boys. Most don't. In hatcheries, professional chick sexers peek up the vents of day-old chicks to tell who is who, and it takes lots of practice before you can look up a chick's skirt and tell the gals from the fellas. Failing that, you can tell a BIT by close observation of that brooder box full of unsexed chicks down at the feed store. This is all my experience and isn't scientific at all. :)

As a rule, the roos will be out in front, facing you and being curious. Hens will be more shy and retiring and will stay at the back of the box. Baby roos will be friendly, colorful, have larger, redder combs and be that one chick that is your favorite bird (it never fails). If you pass your hand over the heads of the chicks or sail a soft, flat object such as a beret over the chicks, the roos will stand up tall and peep loudly, the hens will hunker down and get quiet. That is because they instinctively do this in response to a predator threat such as a hawk. Hens don't want to be picked up, roos run over to you to be picked up. When you leave the room or otherwise get out of sight, that baby chick that starts yelling loudly for you will be a roo.
If the chicks seem droopy or are not thriving, you can replace their drinking water with unflavored Pedialyte (from the baby aisle in the grocery store).  It provides electrolytes which helps give the chicks a boost--especially helpful with chicks you have had shipped from a hatchery or with any ailing chicken.  Shipping is stressful on birds and they need all the help you can give them.  If the chicks still don't perk up after you have provided the Pedialyte, a good chick starter and the foods mentioned above, check their poops.  The quality of their poop is a great indicator of their health.  If there are loose and bloody stools Coccidiosis may be the culprit, in which case you need to take action right away.  Medicated chick starter feed that has Amprollium (a medication for Coccidiosis) in it or adding a coccidistat to their drinking water, such as Sulmet, also helps.  In your reading you will find that there are MANY illnesses that birds can suffer from, but there are a few that are the most common, such as Coccidiosis.  If you suspect an illness, call the vet!


On the UPA (United Peafowl Association) site, great instructions for placing a chick with Spraddle Leg in a splint (also called hobbles or a chick splint/shoe), it also works with leg injuries:


See the link above for instructions on chick splints (also called shoes or hobbles).

If you do need to make a splint for Spraddle Leg, you can construct one similar to the one pictured here using a wooden matchstick and 2 bandaids. Blue painter's tape from the hardware store also works beautifully--it's strong enough to hold yet won't stick bad enough to tear delicate skin or tear out feathers. This is best done with someone holding the chick while you apply the splint, so get a helper. First, while your helper holds the chick, position the chicks' legs where they should be and hold up the matchstick to the space between the legs, using your eyes to mark how much matchstick is needed to bridge the span between the legs in order to hold them at the correct distance apart. The legs should be straight and not turned. Cut your matchstick to the appropriate length and then hold up chick and the cut stick again to be sure you have it right. Next take one regular type bandaid and cut it in half lengthwise (don't remove the adhesive backing yet). You may want to use one of the 'junior' size bandaids for tiny chicks. You need to pad the ends of the matchstick so it doesn't gall the chicks' legs, so use the other bandaid--cut out the pad, leaving a small strip of the sticky part on, and cut the pad/strip in half. Place one piece of the pad over each end of the matchstick, using the sticky part to stick it to the wood so it doesn't fall off. Using the first bandaid, the one you cut in half lengthwise, stick one end of the sticky part to one end of the matchstick, so that the pad, which will be wrapped around the chicks' leg, is now hanging off the end of the stick (don't peel the other end yet). Do this at both ends. You should now have a padded matchstick with a strip of bandaid hanging off both ends. Peel the remaining backing off the adhesive strips. While your helper holds the chick, use one hand to position it's legs and hold them there. Put the matchstick between it's legs, on the shank between the ankle and the hock (knee), and wrap one of the hanging bandaids around it's leg, being careful not to get any feathers stuck to the adhesive. Stick the loose end of the bandaid to the matchstick to secure that end, then repeat at the other end. Be sure that the chicks' legs are straight, pointing forward and are the correct distance apart--this is the way they are going to be from now on! Placing the splint isn't easy and may require several tries and loads of patience. The chick won't be able to walk or move with this on, so YOU need to place food right in front of it and not only make sure that it is eating, but protect it from the other chicks. It should be able to sit down comfortably and NOT have to lie on it's back (the chick in the photo is just for the picture). Usually a few days to a week does the trick and you can take the splint off afterwards.

I always hold several of what I call "Meet & Greets".  I've found that this is a great way to introduce new chicks to a flock. That is, I directly supervise the introduction, and anyone who gets out of line gets 'pecked' by ME, since I am the Head Hen/Roo. I keep these supervised visits short (about 20 minutes or so) and do it for about three days to a week. After that I put them all together for good. It cuts down on the violence you get otherwise when you just toss 'em all together. There is still the establishment of the pecking order, but that's a given anyway.

I generally show the existing flock the new chicks when the chicks are a couple of weeks old. I keep chicks without a mama hen in a wire bird cage and put it down on the lawn with the flock around.  This way they see them and know that they are there and can safely come up and check them out, and the chicks are safe inside the cage. I stay and supervise, making it clear that these chicks are MINE and are under MY protection.  Speak soothingly to the flock and praise them as they look disgusted at these new upstarts.  After the chicks get to be about a month old you can do this without the cage, but still stay and supervise!  This is the most important part where some pecking can be attempted by the older birds, don't you allow it!  Reward good behaviour with a soothing, praising tone of voice and chase off any bullies.  You are the Head Roo, remember, and these are YOUR BABIES.  After you take the babies back into their brooder, spend some time with your flock praising them and passing out goodies to help sooth hurt feelings and reinforce your position as parent, provider and god.  Chickens DO experience emotions the same as you and I, and jealousy is one of them.  I always turn my chicks out into the cold, cruel world of flockdom at the age of two months, but not before then. If I have a broody hen who has raised the chicks I keep her and the chicks in their own pen for the first couple of weeks to one month to avoid problems from over-aggressive birds and sometimes other hens who want the babies themselves. After that I allow everyone in the same coop, but let mama hen have a ground-level nest for her and the kids. The chicks will naturally want to roost instead of cuddle under mama by two months of age or so.

As for teaching the new chicks where they should roost for the night, a good way to do this is to step into the coop a couple of times during the day with little treats and give it to them in there (be careful not to cause a stampede for goodies where the little ones could get hurt), or place the food and water in the coop so that they have to enter it to eat, and will associate the coop with pleasant things. I just leave my coop door propped open during the day, with food and water kept inside and the chickens come and go as they please. My chicks never had a problem with instinctively following the flock and going to the coop to roost, but then in my yard the coop is the best place to roost so they prefer it. Of couse, there's no harm in showing them where to go, and I'd certainly be out there the first couple of nights and watching at dusk to see if they go into the coop on their own or are bullied if they try to--which sometimes happens, especially at first.  Expect some squabbles at first and the chicks to be roughly shoved off the roosts, where they will huddle on the ground for the night.  Don't worry too much, things will work out in time and all should be well.

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