Why do Chickens Abandon their Chicks Too Early?

Mother hens care for their baby chicks between 6 and 8 weeks after hatching. They will take care of their offspring until they are old enough to care for themselves. However, some mother hens abandon their little ones due to several factors too early.

Some of the reasons why mother hens leave their chicks too early include hormonal changes and high stress.

When do Chickens Abandon Their Chicks?

Chickens stay with their baby chicks between 6 and 8 weeks. Once the baby chicks are over eight weeks old, their mothers begin to abandon their offspring and return to their old life. Mother hens usually don’t take care of their chicks past eight weeks.

Reasons Hen Abandon Its Chicks Too Early

It is pretty rare for hens to leave their babies after spending 21 days incubating their eggs. Although not common, some mother hens abandon their chicks too early. Many factors can make hens abandon their little ones. Below are some reasons explaining why hens leave their chicks too early.

– Inexperienced Mother

Young hens lack the experience to raise their baby chicks. Due to their inexperience, they can abandon or neglect their little ones. Furthermore, inexperienced mothers can’t make good mothers since they concentrate on their daily lives more than caring for their chicks.

First-time mother hens aren’t reliable parents, and they are likely to abandon their young ones at some point.

However, second-time mothers have the experience to raise their offspring until they grow old enough to take care of themselves. They will give undivided attention to their baby chicks, always having them by their side.

If you have a young hen that has abandoned her chicks, she will most likely take care of the chicks next time she hatches. At that time, she will have the experience to raise her offspring until they are old enough.

– Breed Specific Behavior

Most hens from various chicken breeds are great mothers. However, not all species are good at caring for their baby chicks. Similarly, not all species are good at hatching and protecting their eggs.

Chicken breeds such as Campine, Ancona, and Andalusian are hesitant to raise their baby chicks. Furthermore, these breeds are also reluctant to go broody.

Therefore, if your hens aren’t taking care of their babies for the appropriate duration, it could be due to genetics. At times, it is because of individual traits that make some chickens great mothers. Some breeds such as Silkies and Australorps are exceptional mothers.

These chickens won’t abandon their babies. They also tend to be affectionate towards their offspring. Furthermore, these great mothers will protect their baby chicks from hatching until the babies are old enough.

– Hormonal Changes

Another reason why mother hens leave their chicks before they are old enough is because of hormonal changes as they cease being broody. This habit is pretty common among exotic breeds.

Hormonal imbalances can make hens start hating their babies. Furthermore, hormonal changes can make chickens feel like they aren’t good mothers, making them abandon their little ones.

Hormonal changes affect a hen either once or twice in her lifetime. Hens experience hormonal changes like many animals and bird species. They won’t hesitate to leave their babies for hens once hormonal imbalances kick in.

Nonetheless, hormonal imbalances are rare in chickens, although they can occur sometimes. There is nothing you can do to stop a mother hen from abandoning their babies due to hormonal changes. The best you can do is take care of the abandoned baby chicks yourself.

– High Stress

High stress can make a mother hen abandon her little ones. For instance, disturbances by roosters and other hens can stress a mother hen, making her leave her babies. Chickens need peace while raising their baby chicks.

Exposure to even the most minor stress levels is enough to make a mother hen walk away from her babies and abandon them altogether. Predators can also stress your hen since she is ever on the lookout for predators that could harm their little ones.

If the hen feels she is unsafe because of roaming predators, she won’t risk her life protecting her babies. Instead, she will abandon them and seek safety from predators.

Besides predators and disturbances by roosters and other hens, loud noises can also stress mother hens. Deafening noises scare away chickens and further stress these birds, prompting them to walk away from their chicks.

Ensure your hen mothers aren’t vulnerable to any factor that can cause high stress. For instance, consider separating the mothers and their chicks from other chickens until chicks are old enough.

Furthermore, keep your hens away from predators that can harm them and their little ones, lest the hens suffer from stress, ultimately making them abandon their babies.

– Chicks Being Weaned

Some chicken keepers wean their baby chicks instead of letting their mothers take care of them. Although weaning baby chicks is suitable for ensuring they get all nutritional components to keep them growing healthy, weaning can make mother hens abandon their baby chicks.

These hens get a feeling that someone is taking care of their little ones. Therefore, they won’t be responsible for raising their babies. Instead, they will leave you to do the job. Even if you are weaning the baby chicks yourself, ensure their mother is around.

Please don’t keep the chicks away from their mothers for too long, lest the mothers start abandoning the chicks. Baby chicks need their mothers’ love at the formative phase of their life. Having their mothers warming them up and protecting them makes chicks grow happy and healthy.

Can Baby Chickens Survive Without Their Mother?

Yes, baby chicks can survive without their mothers. However, you need to play a motherly role by caring for the orphaned baby chicks. Else, the baby chicks won’t survive if you don’t accord these little birds proper care. They will have to die at some point due to negligence.

How to Care for Orphan Baby Chickens?

Mother hens can die like other creatures, either due to diseases or being killed by predators. A mother hen dying means the baby chicks will be orphans. Luckily, baby chicks will survive even in the absence of their mother.

Nonetheless, orphaned baby chicks require appropriate care to survive. Kindly read through these tips below on how to take care of orphaned baby chicks.

– Provide proper housing conditions to your baby chicks

Baby chicks need suitable housing to survive, considering their mother isn’t around to warm them. Baby chicks can either live in a cage or a brooder. Alternatively, you can raise your orphaned chicks in a cardboard box since kids don’t require much space like adult chickens.

You intend to raise your baby chicks and ensure they are warm enough, particularly in cold weather, regardless of the housing conditions. Baby chicks are vulnerable to cold, and cold is the leading killer of baby chicks.

Ensure their house has a heat source, preferably a heat lamp. Alternatively, you can use a 250-watt bulb to provide a similar amount of warmth to the one their mother would give them if she were around.

The ideal housing temperature for baby chicks should be approximately 95 degrees Fahrenheit. You can transfer the baby chicks to a chicken coop after three months since they will have feathers to keep them warm without a heat source.

– Provide the best diet to your baby chicks

Orphaned chicks need a proper diet, especially if you have backyard baby chicks that can’t forage on their own. Your baby chicks require a high-protein diet in the first few weeks of their life.

Baby chicks will struggle to eat adult food because their beaks and stomachs aren’t strong enough to allow them to eat the types of foods you provide to your adult chickens.

Furthermore, adult food doesn’t have the proper nutritional balance chicks require for long-term growth and development.

The best foods for your orphaned chicks should include hard-boiled green vegetables and protein-rich foods such as earthworms and mealworms. Besides food, your baby chicks will still need water to avoid dehydration, which can kill the baby chicks in a couple of days.

Although water is essential for baby chicks, these birds are too tiny, and they can easily drown in water or become cold if the water is freezing. Therefore, use a shallow bowl or a commercial waterer to water your chicks.

Orphaned baby chicks have a problem drinking water, particularly in the first couple of days of their life. Therefore, you will need to teach the chicks how to drink water by gently pushing their beaks into the water to make them learn how to drink water.

Besides food and water, provide your baby chicks with grit to help the tiny birds grind their food. Provide grit in a separate container rather than mixing it with your chicks’ regular diet.

– Protect your baby chicks from predators

Orphaned baby chicks are vulnerable to predators because they have no mother to protect them from predators. No wonder predators prey on desperate, orphaned baby chicks since they deem them vulnerable and an easy target.

It would help protect these birds from predators by ensuring they live in a predator-free environment. Don’t let your baby chicks go outdoors on their own since their chances of encountering predators such as hawks, cats, and dogs are high. Furthermore, seal their cage to stop predators from exploiting the loopholes to attack your baby chicks.

– Protect the baby chicks from diseases

Apart from predators, diseases also attack baby chicks since they are fragile. Monitor your baby chicks for any potential diseases that can claim their lives. Make their environment clean lest they succumb to diseases such as Avian cholera.

Don’t be reluctant to call a vet when you notice any health symptoms in your baby chicks. Furthermore, you can have your chicks vaccinated against common diseases that attack chicks. 0n average, you should call a vet at least thrice a month to check on your orphaned baby chicks.


Chickens can choose to abandon their chicks too early for different reasons. They might not be interested in caring for their little ones, or they might not have the motherly instinct to care for their babies.

Regardless of why your hen has chosen to abandon their babies, you can still provide good care to the chicks until they grow to adult chickens.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

Questions and Answers

Hi James,
I enjoyed the info you provided. We are new at this and are unsure of how to handle our situation. We have two hens sitting on the same clutch of eggs. One is very broody, ISA brown and the other a mix of Aracauna/? They are both in the same nesting box in the coop where everyone else goes as well. We thought about after the eggs are hatched we could move the ISA to a chicken tractor with bedding and food for her and her little ones but was concerned about the stress factor if that will work. We are set up if we have to put them in a brooder.

If we try the chicken tractor do we put both birds with the babies?

Last year we had a bad experience with our Rhode Island Red’s chicks being eaten by the other chickens as they were hatching. Same nesting box, etc.

What do you think?

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