Hatcheries often send a few extra chicks with an order just in case there are problems during shipping. Our SARE study involves 6 breeds of chicks so those few extra chicks added up to an extra little group of broilers.
Last year I heard about someone raising meat chicks with some foster hens. The idea is that the chicks benefit from having some adult role models and caretakers around. Hens are said to be far better foragers than broilers are perhaps because broilers are younger and haven't really learned how yet.
I decided to try raising the extra chicks with our hens. After they had a couple weeks on their own to put some feathers on I built a little see-thru coop within a coop so the chicks and hens could get acquainted safely. I wanted to make sure the hens and rooster weren't going to bully the chicks or try to run them off.
The hens seemed to pay them no notice so after a few days I let the chicks out with the hens to see what would happen. They happily ran around the inside of the coop but weren't sure what to make of the scary looking ramp.
A few days later they had that figured out too and started to come and go just like the hens do.
They've grown quite a bit since these early photos. As you can see below they look like small chickens now and really seem to forage very well.
I wouldn't say the hens are fond of the chicks, but they don't seem to mind them either. They are older and wiser and demand respect, which the chicks are happy to give them.
Overall I'm very pleased with the experiment. I'd like to try to expand on the idea by adding hens to our main broiler group in future years.