Two hens are better than one at parenting

Susan Manzke
Two hens brooding together inside a 5-gallon bucket nest.

Way back in February, our little bantam hen thought it was a good time to brood a clutch of chicks. It took a lot of persuading to keep her from taking possession of a nest. That early in the season wouldn’t work, at least not here in our meager chicken setup.

I was proven correct when that late winter storm hit the area. For sure none of her chicks would have survived all that cold and snow.

When May arrived, it seemed like a good time for the hen to start setting. Of course, at that time she had no interest in sitting on eggs. Eventually, she changed her mind and took up residence in one of the 5-gallon buckets Bob had set up as nests.

Since our rooster is old, I drove over to a friend’s farm and brought back six fertilized eggs. Hopefully, we’d get a couple chicks out of this mix.

A funny thing happened when that bantam hen started to set, another hen decided to set, too, right inside the same nest. The worst part was that this hen was a full-sized bird.

I was afraid I’d come to the nest one day and find that the big hen had smooshed the smaller bird. I tried moving her out with a few eggs of her own into the nest next door. For a day I thought the change had been a good one. But the following day, the big chicken was sitting right on top of the smaller hen again.

Two mothers sharing four chicks show them how to eat melon.

I tried moving the bantam out and leaving the larger hen where she wanted to set. The bantam moved right back into the crowded nest box—this occurred during the 90 degree temperatures on our farm.

The calendar was marked when the chicks should hatch (June 12). I feared for their lives. Those two mothers were sure to mash the babies between them. The mama birds wouldn’t be happy with dead chicks. They would probably not want to continue setting unless they had chicks.

Having two hens brooding in one nest had never happened here before. Any other hen that decided to set would take her own space, forsaking all other chickens, but not these two.

The bantam had set last year, alone. She never cared if I checked under her, only settling back on her spot after I left.

The big white hen is pecky. Anytime I needed to check things over, like to see if the bantam was alive or not, the white hen pecked me … multiple times. Bob won’t go near her. He’s not fond of chickens as it is. Having one pecking him is out of the question.

When hatching day arrived, I was afraid to go to the chicken pen to check on our duo-nesting hens. I was sure I’d find a disaster.

I was mistaken. The bantam hen was out of the nest with at least one chick. The large hen was still on the nest. Carefully, I put my hand down to take a look under her. Of course, she pecked me. Now that she was a mother she was even meaner—would she fight with the bantam over control of the babies? I wondered.

This chick claims a prime spot to enjoy some watermelon.

A total of four chicks had hatched. Another two eggs were unhatched—they were duds.

The two hens are now co-mothers. They don’t fight over which chick belongs to which chicken. The hens travel around the yard together, teaching their brood what to eat and what to drink. It’s quite an amazing sight.

When our grandchildren were here they named the chicks. Eli named one Gibby. Arianna called one Caramel, and Wyatt named one Fluffy. I named the fourth Weeble.

Somehow we lost one of the chicks. We never figured out how or why, but one is gone and we’re down to three—I claimed it as the chick I had named. Poor Weeble. I hope the hens can’t count and co-mother the survivors. It takes a village.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;