Normally we are delighted to have new additions to the flock and in the spring and summer we have a fair number of chicks hatching every week. We have an efficient process developed that works quite well where we separate the chicks from the adult birds. We find if we leave the chicks in with the hens we have several problems:
1. Access to water because the nesting boxes are a bit too high for the chicks to safely enter and exit.
2. The larger breed hens will often pick on the bantam chicks. The little Bantam hens will come to the defense of the chicks, but typically two or three bantam hens are still not enough to scare off a 7-8 pound full-sized breed layer hen.
3. The Bantam hens then get all obsessed with the chicks and forget about laying eggs. Also, if we're trying to get more eggs to hatch, the hens will often abandon the unhatched eggs.
So, typically the normal process flow kicks in and the chicks are put into the chick play pen with others of appropriate size, a waterer, feeder and warm temperatures until they are old enough to be returned to the outdoor coop. However, this process also disrupts the availability of our guest bathroom for a number of weeks.
Having literally just put away all the supplies for chicks two weeks earlier, "delight" was not an emotion I experienced when I discovered a single baby chick. Chickens need a flock and a single chick in the house seemed somewhat cruel to the chick. In addition, several more weeks of yet another stop on the animal care circuit a few times a day was beginning to get a bit overwhelming.
Laziness is often the mother of invention, so we tried a new tactic. We have a large dog crate that we have wrapped in hardware cloth and use as a "chicken hospital" when we have an injured bird. We filled the bottom of the dog crate with a layer of soil to provide good, familiar footing, we then put in a small chick waterer and a tray of chick feed. Then we placed the chicken hospital in a corner of the coop free from drafts and potential rain. Next was what to do about a heat source. We have heat lamps that can be used in the coop, but the use of a lamp in a relatively large and somewhat open space left some doubt in our minds as to whether or not that would keep a chick warm enough. We put the chick in to make sure it understood where its feed and water was while the hens stood around under our feet watching what was going on.
Once the broody Bantam hens heard the single chick cheeping in its new accommodations they were sitting next to and on top of the crate trying to get to the chick. On impulse I picked up a random hen and put her in with the chick. She immediately ran over the chick to make sure it was ok and scoped it up under her wing. Problem solved regarding the heat source!
We closely monitored the conditions over the next couple of days and everything was working great. The afternoon of the second day, another baby chick appeared. Knowing the Bantam hens are very gentle and loving to any hen's babies, I placed the newly hatched chick in the chicken hospital. The hen inspected the new chick and once she was comfortable everything was ok, scoped that one under her wing as well.
That was about a week and half ago and the chicks are doing great with their foster mom. We cleaned out the coop to make sure no one was hiding any additional eggs so we didn't have any sad events related to unfound babies and evenings with cooler temperatures than they could tolerate. So all in all, I think I'm going to implement this new process on an on-going basis. It's more natural than the heat lamp method in the house and the care and maintenance for me is much easier. Not to mention the electricity and resources you have by not having to use electricity and bulbs for a heat lamp!