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How Do Chickens Feed Their Babies?

As chickens are members of the fowl family, the relationship between parent and offspring is somewhat different than what we as mammals are familiar with.

Mother chickens will feed their babies by showing them ‘this is food’.

This is accomplished by pecking at something she wants them to see, briefly picking something up and dropping it, or even letting them peck at it while it is in her beak.

One might not think that this would be adequate for something so vital as survival, but baby chicks learn through observation and are very much aware of what mama bird is doing.

And in the off occasion where the chicks might not be directly under foot, she has a very special clucking sound that brings her babies running.

It can not be understated just how significant the relationship is between a mother chicken and her babies. They will watch her every move for clues regarding something tasty. Everything from the best bugs to the most tender plant shoots, they will learn by observing her.

Mother Hen And Water

So ingrained is this behavior of learning from mama hen that baby chicks without a mama can easily die of thirst despite the obvious presence of water.

As mentioned, baby chicks learn by observing other chickens – most especially mama hen. If she is not there to dip her beak in the water and show them ‘this is good’, they do not always have the innate inclination to try and find out for themselves.

Point of fact, I can tell you from raising chicks without a mother, even when you physically dip a baby chicks’ beak in water, they still do not always understand the significance of water.

Simply put, this is not how they are ‘wired’ to learn.

In this situation, another approach is necessary. For more on making sure your baby chicks understand the importance of water, please read, ‘How To Give Water To Baby Chicks’.

Mother Hen And Food

When it comes to food, things are a little more forgiving for baby chicks. This is due to the fact that they will absorb the contents of the egg sac just before hatching, essentially storing up the fuel necessary to get them through the next couple of days.

This is not to say that they will not eat. I’ve seen baby chicks pecking at the feeder just hours after the last egg has hatched and mama has everyone up and moving around. But, it is because mama is pecking at the feeder that all of her babies have taken interest in it.

Now it should be noted that baby chicks are very curious creatures and there is a very high probability that they will find the food without a mother hen to show them. But learning comes much MUCH faster when mama bird is there to show them.

Chicken Vs Mammal

Chickens and mammals are profoundly different. And it are these difference that can make it difficult to understand them. For example;

  • Chickens do not produce milk – they simply do not have the mechanisms to do so.
  • Gestation takes place outside of the body – eggs are laid in a nest and do not start incubating until temperature reaches a certain level.
  • Baby chicks can eat the same food as an adult immediately after hatching – meaning bugs, grass, ect. (Be certain to provide only starter feed as this has the necessary protein for their accelerated growth)

Once a person starts to recognize the inherent differences between chickens and themselves, then acceptance of these strange characteristics gets easier. It does not seem so impossible that a baby chick with a mama to observe can be up, fed, watered and acting in the same manner as an adult chicken within hours after being hatched.

This is not to say that a baby chicks’ survival doesn’t depend on a mother hens’ warmth and protection. But as members of the fowl family, their path to adulthood is considerably different than our own.