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Mum knows best

PUBLISHED: 13:30 21 May 2014

A Buff Orpington hen and her chicks

A Buff Orpington hen and her chicks

Archant

Just copy Mother Hen, and you can’t go far wrong

How do you give your incubator-hatched chicks the very best start in life? Who best to ask for advice but the absolute expert in the field - Mother Hen herself!

Back in 1997, when I first began to produce poultry meat, I used as my inspiration a Mother Hen and her newly hatched chicks to work out a system geared towards maintaining positive health in the flock. Below is a summary of what I learnt about getting chicks off to the best start.

What Mother Hen does: she gets those chicks out and about straight away. They have to regulate their own temperature right from the start, returning to Mum for a warm-up whenever needed.

What you can do: Give chicks access to the open air as well as a heater; they soon find their way back to the heat source when they need it.

What Mother Hen does: She picks up the food she wants her chicks to eat and throws it in front of them, including grass and grit. She cracks grains open so the chick can manage them. They also copy Mum, scratching around and getting acclimatised to the various bacteria and pathogens in their environment.

What you can do: Give chick crumb or meal to begin with, but also insects, small worms, ripped up grass and grit/sand. Encourage chicks to scratch around, using your finger on the ground to tempt them to copy.

What Mother Hen does: She keeps her eyes open for danger; at her signal the chicks run for the safety of her protective body. She will fight dogs and humans to keep her brood safe.

What you can do: You can’t be there all the time, so make a safe ‘playpen’ for the chicks. You can cover it so that they play in dappled shade and can easily run back to warmth and safety.

This works for Mother Hen and has done us proud here at Providence Farm for 17 years of antibiotic-free poultry keeping.

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