Characteristics of a Mother Hen
Mother hens demonstrate behavioral habits that deviate from the normal chicken. After hatching eggs, their priority shifts from personal survival to protecting and ensuring the survival of her young. Young chicks are threatened by predators and other hens in the flock. The mother will teach them basic skills while guarding them until they are mature.
Broody hens demonstrate a strong desire to successfully hatch their eggs. A broody hen is not necessarily a mother hen but she has the natural desire to become a mother hen. Broody hens will lay eggs in the nesting boxes and will avoid laying eggs outside the box at all costs. They are territorial around the nesting box and will attempt to sit on the eggs.
Mother hens and chicks use verbal commands to communicate. Hens and chicks will recognize their distinct sounds and stay together. They do not mistake the vocalization of other chicks for their own off spring. The mother hen's vocalizing makes the chicks aware of her location and it keeps the chicks in her range. She naturally will lead the chicks to food and water.
Competition and Protection
Mother hens are protective of their chicks and they are often aggressive toward chicks of another mother. Separating mothers from chicks other than their own is often necessary to prevent mortality. The hens will peck at other chicks and cause physical harm. In some instances, they will peck until they kill the chick. Mother hens will gather and herd their own chicks to protect them against pecking and aggression from predators and other hens. She will gather the chicks under her to protect them when a threat is present. Mother hens are calm around people if they are accustomed to people in their space. Otherwise, they will herd chicks away from people and may even charge in an attack.
Mother hens provide an education to their young chicks. Chicks will not drink water until they are taught or accidentally discover water by pecking at reflections and bubbles. Mothers will press their beaks into the water to help them discover and learn the drinking process. The chicks will fight among themselves and the mother will regulate and stop the behavior if she sees an outside threat. Otherwise, mild fighting is normal among the chicks as they set the pecking order in their group.