Do chickens breastfeed or nurse their young?
Do mother hens nurse their young?
Chickens are birds and do not produce milk to breastfeed or nurse their young. It may look like it sometimes when she has all her babies underneath her but chickens lack breast tissue, milk glands and nipples to feed young like mammals do.
Baby chicks instinctively respond to their mother scratching, pecking at things, picking things up with her beak and making a chick specific noise that sounds like bok-bok-bok.
Below: It might look like a mother hen is nursing her young but she is just keeping them warm.
Chickens do care for their young but they do not produce milk. The closest a hen comes to feeding her young is holding food in her beak and letting them peck it. She may also peck bits off bigger food items and drop it for her youngsters. Hens are surprisingly good at multi-tasking between incubating eggs and caring for baby chicks but they do not produce milk to feed their young.
Chicken breasts are pectoral muscles and not breast tissue. Chickens are not mammals and do not feed milk to their young, and so do not have milk ducts or breast tissue like a human female.
Below: A mother hen with her chicks. She will keep them warm but chickens do not nurse or breastfeed their young.
Mother hens will call their babies to the food and pick up bits and drop it to show the babies. It's really cute to watch. Chickens are not like some birds where the parents leave the chicks in the nest and spend 3 weeks or so bring them all their food until they are ready to fledge.
Evolution means chicken broods can be as big as 16 and if the hen had to feed them all that would never work, the robin in my garden struggles to raise 3 chicks in this way.
What and how do mother hens feed their new babies?
Chickens feed their young by showing them how to eat the same food that they themselves eat.
Mother hens have a specific cluck they use to attract the attention of the chicks and then proceed to pick up and drop whatever food they are trying to get the chicks to eat. You can use the same technique to teach day old chicks that have been hatched in an incubator to eat. Pick up some chick crumb and drop it onto some paper and that will attract the chicks into pecking at the feed.
Below: Mother hen drying her chicks in a nest. Chicks can survive without food for 72 hours after hatching. Then mum will teach them to eat.
They scratch at food and make a particular clucking noise to show the chicks the food and tell them that it is good to eat. My broody hens usually sit for 1 or 2 days after hatching started, then leave the nest with the babies. They stay close and do not wander much for the the first day or two.
You will see the chicks spend most of their time snuggles up warm under mums wings. The babies will see the mother hen eating and drinking water and copy her.
Baby chicks instinctively know how to scratch about in the ground for food as soon as they are able to walk. Their yolk sac will keep them fed for the first 72 hours or so until they learn from you or their mum where the food and water is. For the most part they are on their own to scratch for bugs and grain.
You will need chick starter crumbles, medicated or non-medicated, a water supply and chick grit. Sprinkle a bit on their crumbles.
Mum will take care of everything, she will eat the starter crumbles as well and that's just fine, but you have to make sure the chicks can get in and out of their nesting box easily or they could starve or freeze.
Chick grit is very important with chicks that are raised by the hen. She will find them natural foods like grass and tiny pieces of scratch that grit is essential for digesting their food or they will get impacted crops.
You can feed them chick starter food or just fine crushed corn. When they are a little older you can give them fresh greens.
Do hens feed their chicks at night?
No, hens do not feed their babies overnight. She will keep them warm and cosy tucked up in her feathers but chicks do not eat from bedtime till dawn and wake up very hungry. Keeping her chicks warm using her body heat is an excellent method of conserving their energy, they do not need to produce as much heat of their own.
Baby chickens or chicks, are hatched ready to survive on their own, this is how they can be raised commercially so easily. Chicks will stay close to the mother hen for warmth and protection, but the mother hen does not directly feed them like a pig would nurse her piglets for example.
Many more chicks are hatched in incubators in the world and are raised without a hen at all. These chicks will eat food provided for them and require little feeding assistance from their human caretakers.
Do baby chickens drink milk?
If you provide milk for chicks they will drink it. Chickens will consume, cream, yogurt and liquid milk, and sour milk is fine to give them in moderation.
Milk proteins and sugars are not something that made up part of a chicken diet when they lived in the wild so they are not equipped to digest it properly.
Chickens don’t have breasts like mammals and can not produce milk for their chicks. It is only mammals that produce milk. All poultry are birds and they produce eggs. Also the chicks don't need milk or any support from mother after coming out of egg. So they don't produce milk or not capable of producing milk.
The mama doesn't bring food to the baby, she finds food and calls the baby over to eat it. But if she's still hatching, she probably hasn't gotten up to find food. If you're really worried about it, you could put a small container of food in the nest area, but that might make mama poop in the nest.