Another bold experiment involving chickens

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What is it with cross-species amity? I’m a sucker for all those pictures of two different kinds of animals playing together, or napping together, or otherwise cohabiting peacefully. I love it when horses make friends with goats, when a gorilla takes care of a human, even when dogs and cats live happily in the same house. My favorite video of all time is of an otter playing with a dog.

No, strike that, my favorite video of all time is the one of the crow snowboarding. My second-favorite, though, is the otter and the dog.

Friend, enemy, or dinner?

We don’t have much cross-species success at our house. Our late lamented cat, Cat, never got on particularly well with the poultry. She investigated them in a rather predatory way when they were small, and ignored them studiously when they were big. Kevin thinks she wanted to make friends with them, but didn’t understand just how uphill a battle it is for a cat to make friends with a chicken. In any case, we didn’t get any cute pictures out of it.

Chickens? I don't see any chickens.

We did try one cross-species experiment last year. It just so happened we had a broody hen when we got our six Pekin ducklings, and we thought we could get Blondie to raise our ducks for us, but that was a non-starter.

This year, though, we’ve got another experiment brewing.

Our turkeys have a been a success two years in a row, and we’re planning to do them again. We were going to get poults from a neighbor who keeps a Standard Bronze pair, but her hen mysteriously stopped laying just as we needed her to step it up. We were just about resigned to getting poults from feed store when Kevin came across an interesting ad on Craigslist.

If you were out looking for fertilized turkey eggs, my guess is that you’d have to leave no stone unturned. But if you’re browsing the Farm + Garden section of Craigslist with no particular end in view, they’ll jump right out at you.

Turns out there’s a guy in Chatham who keeps a few turkeys – two hens and a tom – and he’s got eggs to spare. He’s not sure just what kind they are, but I don’t think that’s a problem. They look a little like our usual Standard Bronze, but a little smaller and a little browner (if you’ve got a guess, let me know).

And it just so happens that we have a broody hen. Queenie, a three-year-old Buff Orpington with a long history of regular broodiness, is just dying to hatch a few eggs.

Queenie's brooder. That's her, tucked away on the right.

I drove to Chatham and picked up a half-dozen eggs. We set up a brooder in the shed with plenty of hay and feeders for food and water. I was afraid Queenie might be suspicious of turkey eggs – they’re bigger and they might smell different – so I put her in there with some chicken eggs first. Once she’d settled happily in the nest, we subbed out the eggs.

That was two days ago.

A chicken doesn’t have a wide range of facial expressions, and I’m not at all sure it’s possible for a hen to look contented. I suspect Kevin and I are imagining, or maybe projecting, when we say that Queenie looks happy and fulfilled. I believe she’s one of those chickens that feels compelled to hatch eggs, and I hope that, by giving her this job to do, we’re making her life complete.

Don't you think she looks happy?

Turkey eggs incubate for 28 days, and we have no idea what to expect in 26 days. For all we know, the eggs will be duds and Queenie will want to sit on them until the world ends. If they hatch, I’m not sure she will recognize them as her own. If she does, I’m not sure whether she’ll want to – or know how to – take care of them once they start getting big, which is in about seven seconds.

But if we do end up with a chicken mothering a bunch of turkeys, I’ll make sure to make a video. Crowboarding, it’s not, but maybe it’ll give that otter a run for his money.

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Comments

  1. Well, we’ve had a silkie hen hatch and raise runner ducks; ditto a pair of female appleyard ducks (one acted like the male) hatch and raise a chicken. We’ve even had a bantam hen adopt a young partridge who accidentally came home in the back of Mike’s truck when the hen found it wandering lost in the yard, in need of mothering. I’m sure Queenie will do a bang-up job as foster mother. Hormones seem to be the universal interspecies leveller.

    It is funny to see the chicks outgrow their foster mother. If she’s like ours, Queenie will simply spread her wings to cover over her gigantic brood. That makes for a sweet picture.

    Now I have to go look up the crow boarding video. It is what the internet was invented for.

  2. Hi Tamar,

    I’m a big fan of your blog and an equally big fan of interspecies friendship videos, so I just had to share this with you in case you haven’t seen it: http://www.wimp.com/catowl/

    Hope you like it!

  3. How Fun!! Looking forward to hearing more..

  4. There are interspecies hatching here almost every year. Turkeys that hatch chickens, chickens that hatch guineas, chickens that hatch turkeys and … who knows what next?

    It’ll work out fine. Mama chicken will teach her new brood to peck and scratch and the babies will thrive because they’re getting food and warmth. I might keep them separate from other chickens for a bit, though, to make sure they aren’t pecked.

  5. She should be fine! We had a bantam hatch and raise goslings, and all was peachy until the day they discovered the pond and basely abandoned their mother to go swimming. She stood on-shore and lectured them, and then wandered off alone. And was not at all averse to repeating the whole procedure the next time we gave her eggs.

  6. It’s funny how, when you’ve never done something, it seems like a big hairy deal. I’ve heard before, and Jen, Misty, and Stefka confirm, that people with poultry routinely do cross-species hatching. And, of course, they take it in stride. It’s only because I’m still a city slicker at heart that I think it’s pretty miraculous that a hen will sit in a corner, doing absolutely nothing, for an entire month, just so we can have turkey poults.

    Chloe, I have seen that video, and I love it just as much as the otter and the dog, and almost as much as the crowboarding.

    Trish, you will certainly hear more. Bank on it.

  7. Myrna Bowman says:

    Yes chickens do have facial expression, and your Queenie looks very smug. Conversely, a chicken not allowed to set is the most miserable creature in the world. We too have had chickens raise ducks, and ducks raise chickens, and yes, the ducks will try to teach their “babies” to swim, and yes, they cant.

  8. You might want to check up on this – turkey chicks can catch a disease called blackhead off of chickens, chickens carry the disease without any problems but it is fatal to turkeys. I’ve lost turkey chicks that were growing up with chickens. I think there may be other cross-contaminating reasons turkey chicks are usually kept away from adult and juvenile chickens. Of course this may not be a problem for you but you should be aware and do some research so you are prepared to take action if needed. Best of luck.

    • Thanks, Anon. I have read that there are several diseases that can cross poultry-species boundaries, and it’s one of the reasons we keep our chickens and turkeys apart (most of the time). I’ll check on blackhead. At this point, I think we have to just hope for the best and, as you say, be prepared to take action.

  9. I hope it works out. I’ve never had a broody chicken before that had fertilized eggs to hatch. Now that we have a rooster I bet a dollar not one of those hens will want to sit on an egg for a month.

  10. bird nut says:

    I have a bantam hen that has hatched ducks, guineas, turkeys, quail, and chickens. If you have a good broody hen they will mother anything. She’s 13 years old and gets the best of care.

  11. Hope those poults hatched ok. Have a female turkey that just lost her mate from what I believe was stubbornness to go inside on what has been the worst winter we’ve seen here in Ohio in a long time.If it was decent weather he would stay in cold he would try bedding down outside seemed weird to me and he could go in and out as he pleased.Ok back to getting on subject she started laying a couple weeks ago, she is prolly 9 months at most of age I tried to incubate a few eggs but they weren’t fertile.She is still laying and will move the chick eggs to her area.My question is I know the chicken eggs r fertile should I let her try to hatch some this spring or not.