Chicks more often arrive in the mail, annoying the local postal staff with their loud cheeps and chirps until they are picked up by their excited new owners. They are brought home and placed under a heat lamp in a ventilated but not drafty place, safe from predators, and lovingly fed and watered. Each day, their vents are inspected for pasting up—poop can cake up on their hind ends, which can be fatal. Chicks stay in the brooder like this for several weeks before they are ready for the chicken yard. Adding chicks to an existing flock can be tricky. They need to figure out a new pecking order, and smaller chickens are usually at the bottom of this order. It can be pretty brutal. But there is an alternative to this system—let the hens go broody. When you let hens hatch their own eggs, all you have to do is enjoy and watch the mamas tend to their fluffy little chicks. The hens raise the chicks and they are incorporated into the flock. Mama hens know what to do. For this reason, We've been working to perpetuate our flock by broody hens instead of mail order. It has been challenging, because we've had predators cull our flock regularly (the chicken house bloodbath and the possum with the big scary teeth is a stor for another day). We have still ordered chicks each year from a hatchery, but we're hoping that this will be the last year for that.
There are reasons not to let let hens go broody. They can be "disruptive." They steal other hens' eggs to sit on, so you run low on eggs for the daily three egg omelets to which you've become accustomed. Many breeds have had the broodiness bred out of them for this reason.This is our third year with chickens, and we're still learning. But we haven't yet gotten over the thrill of watching a chick peck its way out of an egg while mama hen fusses to make sure the young are safe. Amanda