Yesterday morning when I went out to open up the chicken coop, a Buff Orpington hen was crouched in the middle of the yard all puffed up, making funny sounds. I was worried she was sick and went over to check on her--to my surprise, nine tiny chicks scampered out from beneath her! Apparently she had been hiding a nest in the barn. We were surprised she brought her family outside so soon.
All she has to do is make a certain worried, motherly-clucking sound and the chicks nestle in underneath her for warmth or protection.
It was a beautiful day to be a free range chicken. Mom toured her chicks around the yard and barn and gave them lessons in eating from the chicken feeder and scratching in the dirt. She would demonstrate; they would imitate her. It is so much more satisfying to see chicks being raised by their mother than watching 50 mail-order chicks chaotically scampering in a pen.
Another hen has been sitting on a nest in the corner of the loafing shed. I have not seen her leave the nest for three weeks. When we checked on her, two tiny chicks peeped out, but there were still a number of unhatched eggs. This morning there were 6 adorable chicks, but still a couple of eggs.
I realize now that nature must have provided for newly hatched chicks not to have to eat for 3 days (which is why day-old chicks can be mailed) because it may take that long for the entire clutch to hatch, before the mother can leave the nest and lead them to food.
In addition to these new chicks, we have six chicks hatched by our first mother Orpington. They are now large enough that she lets them range pretty far from her. There is yet one more newly-hatched chick in the coop, being raised by a pair of hens who seem to share custody of both him/her and of a nest of still-unhatched eggs. Plus, we have the 50 mail-order Freedom Rangers, who are getting to be quite large, or at least seem large compared to the new babies.
We did not intend to raise so many chicks this year, but we are enjoying the chickenful bounty.