Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Taking them under our wing, chicks in the mail

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I posted about meat chickens earlier, but now the chicks are here, so I thought it would be a good time to go over what I wrote about earlier, and add a few pictures so you could see the process so far.

Ideally all chickens would be raised by their mothers, learning how and what to eat and drink under the watchful eye of Mother Hen. Hatched in a safe, secretive nest, and then wisely taught how to avoid predators. But alas, many chickens start their life in a false incubated "nest." Whether at home or at a hatchery, when we decide to take matters in our own hands and become the hen, we need to nurse the chicks along and provide what the hen naturally would. When chicks are hatched they need warmth, water, and food. Safe surroundings are a given.

Many chicks are purchased from hatcheries and sent via mail. They can survive up to 3 days on the yolk that is ingested just before they are hatched. This time frame gives the hatcheries a window to get the chicks to you. The longer the window is pushed means the longer chicks are without a safe, warm place and something to eat and drink. If you can, try to purchase from a local hatchery to shorten the time the chicks are in a cardboard box, seeing the country via airplane or truck.

Before the chicks arrive, have their brooding area ready.

a) Chick feed and grit.
b) Clean bedding.
c) Heat lamps working, plus extra bulbs.
d) Waterers clean and working order.
e) Feeders clean.
f) Newspaper or cardboard for first few days of feeding.

Gravity flow bell waterers can be hung on a toggle to raise and lower to adjust to the chicks growth. Doing this helps keep the water cleaner but still in reach of the chicks. They won't use this for the first week or so, but chickens are wary creatures and if they are used to seeing this scary red monster, it won't be such a shock. As each day progresses I move their small waterers closer to the hanging one, and gradually provide less of the small type.

Arrival Day! You can gain insight to the chicks needs by listening. These chicks are fairly quiet, even though they have been handled and hauled many miles. Listen and you can hear the rain on the greenhouse, but despite the cold and rainy day, the babies are safe and sound. What you want to hear is slight peeping, no shrill peeping which would signal distress. In the video it sounds like one chick is upset, if the whole crew is shrill, something needs addressing. Usually at this stage it is too cool of temperature. It isn't unusual for chicks to peep loudly somewhat during the first day, but by night they should be used to their surroundings and ready to settle in.

Watch and listen more. If they are huddled closely that means they need more heat, add a heat lamp perhaps. If they are scattered away from the light, that means they are too warm. You want to see a loose group, dotted all around under lights.

Before we take the chicks out of the box, we place multiple feed and water stations around the outside of their hover. We want to give them every opportunity to eat and drink and stay strong. Newspapers sprinkled with food and grit work good for the first two or three days. Use fresh paper with each feeding. After that we start introducing metal feeders and gradually take away the papers.

One problem with chicks can be pasted vents. Their digestive tracts aren't working properly if this happens. An easy prophylactic measure is to top dress their feed with either clabbered milk or yogurt. If you have chicks with this problem, you need to clean off their bottoms for them and make sure they have access to the yogurt/milk. If you have more than one or two chicks with this problem, look to your management. Make sure everything is clean and you aren't using feed and water devices from older chickens. Also, chlorinated water can also put a fragile digestive tract over the edge. If you are using municipal water, let it sit overnight before giving to the chicks. Plus a little dirt doesn't hurt either. Our brooder has a dirt floor and is bedded with horse stable cleanings. Closer to surroundings that a hen would provide her clutch.
Like all babies, as soon as they eat they probably will have bursts of energy and then a lot of naps.

These are our two year old hens. For our chickens to be productive for egg laying or for meat purposes they must always have the same items provided as the babies. These girls are still laying at a good clip - 7 or 8 eggs a day from 10 hens. They have all their feathers and are able to produce and stay healthy. If your chickens are missing feathers this time of year, check your feed, it may be lacking. Or you may have too many roosters, they can be heck on a hen.

Just shy of two weeks this Cornish Cross broiler is getting his feathers. Weather permitting they will go to their field pen at 3 weeks of age.

I will update on my next post so you can see how they are doing.