By Susie Kearley – When Helen Redfern moved from the city to the countryside, she started keeping ducks, then chickens. The ducks insisted on sleeping outdoors rather than in a coop and were taken by foxes at night. This left Helen with her chickens and a lingering question: Will a broody hen adopt ducklings?
“I moved to rural Cambridgeshire, UK, six years ago,” explained Helen. “I’d previously lived in London, then Buckinghamshire, with a garden the size of a postage stamp. So our new home with land, a pond, and three ducks in a small farming village was daunting! The previous owners didn’t want to take the ducks away from their pond, so we adopted them. They’d kept chickens too, and that inspired us to get chickens.”
“We bought six hybrid hens, which supposedly lay eggs all year round, although in reality some of ours have stopped laying. I’ve now got some pure breeds as well. The numbers grew because I kept buying more chickens. I thought I’d just get another six, and then another six, and it became a bit of an addiction. One day I woke up and had 24 chickens! So we progressed very quickly, from a small chicken run and coop to an electric fence surrounding an orchard, where the chickens now roam.”
“My first broody hen was Hermione. We’ve never had a cockerel so I got fertilized eggs from someone I knew on Twitter. Wincey was the next hen to go broody. She’s a hybrid hen who’s not supposed to go broody because they stop laying, but she keeps getting broody anyway!
“The first eggs, Hermione’s batch, hatched as hens and a Cream Legbar cockerel. When Wincey first became broody in 2016, I got her chicken eggs from eBay and she hatched three boys and one girl. We gave all the boys away and kept all the females.”
The Story of the Ducks
“After losing our ducks to foxes twice, we decided to get baby ducklings, so we could train them to go into the house at night. First, we bought four ducklings and kept them in a cage indoors. Crikey, they stank! We trained them to go into their house and finally I could go to bed at night and not worry about the ducks on the pond.”
“It was all going so well and then sadly, we lost one duck to a surprise fox attack in the daytime, which is rare. We lost two more in early 2017 — they died in their sleep, leaving just one duck, DuckFace, who is still going strong. She started to socialize with the chickens, but she needed some duck friends.”
“So when Wincey became broody again in 2017 I thought, will a broody hen adopt ducklings? Wincey started clucking, quietly at first, and then it became more pronounced and she wouldn’t move from the nesting box, so I bought some duck eggs on eBay for her to sit on. They arrived in the post and I placed them in her nest and wondered how she’d behave when they hatched.”
“Now a chicken’s incubation period is three weeks and ducks are four weeks, but Wincey was brilliant. She did the full four weeks and would come off the nest for 20 minutes every day, and then sit on the eggs again. I’d pamper her, giving her water, and watery foods like grapes.”
A Protective Mom
It was the moment of truth: will a broody hen adopt ducklings? In Wincey’s case, it was a resounding yes!
“At first, Wincey was very protective of the ducklings she’d hatched,” explained Helen, “She’d had chicks the year before and if I went near the chicks she’d fly at me, even though normally she’s docile and scared. As a mother though, she can be quite ferocious. She was just as protective of the ducklings as she was with the chicks a year earlier.”
“I’d read about other people who’d given their chickens duck eggs and the mothers were really panicked when the ducks first went for a swim, but Wincey wasn’t bothered by this. I put a little dish of water down and they’d play in the water. When they’d finished they’d go under her wings to warm up.”
“They were about three or four months old when they eventually separated from Wincey. She had been sleeping in the duck house with her ducklings, but she left the duck house when one of her male ducklings started trying to mate with her. Having decided that she wasn’t standing for any of this nonsense, she went to sleep in the hen house instead. She still clucked to tell the youngsters there was food for them in the morning, and that continued for a while.”
Helen’s birds share the garden and seem to enjoy each other’s company, but at night they go into different shelters. Her chicken coop has raised perches for the hens, whereas the ducks sleep on the floor of the duck house. It’s best to have different accommodations for the two birds, who have different needs.
Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs. They stay fresher for longer, have a richer flavor and may contain more omega 3. Some people with allergies to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs.
They’ve changed my life!
“The chickens and ducks have changed my life!” said Helen. “They’ve got me outdoors, appreciating nature. I used to have a tiny garden and did no gardening. It just didn’t appeal. I didn’t notice the seasons changing, only whether it was windy or raining. Now, even though it’s winter, the goat willow buds are getting thicker and snowdrops are starting to appear. I wouldn’t have noticed that before. It’s made me slow down, take interest in nature and the seasons, and see what’s around me, just because I’m outside with the chickens and the ducks.”
“It’s been a fascinating journey. We’ve planted over 100 trees since we’ve moved here — lots of small trees and some bigger ones like apple, damson, and pear trees. I’ve made jam from the fruit, sloe gin, sloe vodka, and chutneys. I’ve always made cakes, but I’ve got more seasonal with my cooking and baking.”
“I post images of my chickens, ducks, and seasonal cooking on Instagram, where I have over 16,000 followers who seem to love my updates. I film the ducks every morning — they’re so happy to be alive, it’s quite inspiring really. The chickens get filmed too, but they’re more laid back and chilled. I now have 12 chickens in total and six ducks.
“Moving to the country, rearing chickens and ducks, has affected my interests and passions. I now enjoy photography, filming, and creating non-fiction. I’ve become passionate about telling stories of the seasons and telling people about the antics of my ducks and chickens in my daily Instagram posts.”
“It’s a snowball effect, but if you peel everything away, it all comes back to the chickens and the ducks. I was writing before I moved here — I had a novel on the go, which would never see the light of day. I was doing book reviews too, but now I’m writing about life and it’s just given me confidence in my abilities. Looking after the birds has given me confidence in other parts of my life too. I felt daunted by the idea of getting chickens, but I made myself do it, and it turned out well, so that gave me a boost to try other things.”
“Now I see myself as a seasonal storyteller, which comes out in my photography and filming. I take lots of video clips in the morning and then put them together into an edited version and upload them to Instagram and other social media. That creativity, interaction with the chickens and ducks, and the fresh air … it sets me up for the day. The varied weather just makes it more interesting!”
Will a broody hen adopt ducklings? Heck yeah!
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