I can't even explain to people how much joy I have received from having Mama Hen hatch out thirteen chicks, watching her care for them, and watching them grow. As far as I can recall, I have not had a settin' hen hatch eggs since about 1968. I've had chicks, but I ordered them from hatcheries or bought them at Orscheln's. This whole process of watching Mama take care of her babies has been fascinating.
I had no idea how long a mother hen cares for her babies before she goes back to doing what she did before, which is producing eggs. I would never have imagined the change would happen so fast.
Saturday morning I watched that little hen chase a tomcat three times her size away from her babies. On Monday, it was as though an internal switch turned on, and she no longer cared about her kids. I noticed her comb was getting red again, which signaled to me that she would soon be laying eggs. Monday night she went to roost in the hen house, leaving her babies to put themselves up in the only home they had ever known... with no mommy.
So evidently, a mother hen is only obligated to care for her babies for about a month.
I plan to try and sell, or if necessary, give away, all the old laying hens, because a new generation will be laying eggs by October. I was going to retain one hen, Chickie... the one I raised in the house for the first part of her life. That plan has changed. I am only keeping Mama Hen, figuring there is a good chance she will go broody next year and raise more babies for me, since she did such a fantastic job this time. Besides, she has turned into a pet during this past couple of months. When she sees me outside, she follows me wherever I go. Her friendliness and great mothering skills have earned her the right to live another winter.
We were originally going to kill the older hens and freeze them to use as the meat in chicken and noodles. There is a reason why we are now going to get rid of them in whatever way necessary. That's another story, and I will do a separate entry to explain why we changed our minds.