Saturday, August 7, 2010

Raising Day Old Chicks

I decided I couldn't possibly have enough chickens, especially with the amount of people asking for fresh eggs around here.  So to my mother's disbelief I ordered 50 new chicks on sale from Meyer Hatchery. 25 broilers and 25 "production pack" females. I wanted to try broilers just to find out what the hype is about but after I have established my flock I doubt I will support this again.

These chicks were shipped the same day I ordered and delivered halfway across the US within two days. These chicks arrived HEALTHY and with voices I could hear in the lobby of the post office.

The production pack was a hatchery choice of 4 breeds: barred rocks, rhode island reds, austrolorps and what they call golden buffs. These golden buffs are sexlinks I assume, a cross of a red based rooster and white based female. Sadly I did not receive austrolorps which is what I truly wanted.

Raising Day Old Chicks

Pick your chicks up from the post office, friends or local hatchery as soon as possible. Chicks can not survive off reserves of egg yolk for longer than a couple days.

Cover the floor with an absorbent, non-slip litter, turn daily and add more as necessary.

Provide Heat Immediately.

Start at 95F and decrease by 5F each week (by moving the heat source further away) until reaching outside temperature. Use a thermometer! Use a heat lamp is you can afford it or be careful using incandescent bulbs because they may provide so much light that chicks wont sleep or peck each other. Provide plenty of clean water they can not drown in and a high protein feed (20%).
"After they settle down, you can tell by watching them if they're too hot or too cold by the way they crowd under or avoid the heat lamp. Contented chicks are quiet, with contented chirps. When the chirping becomes shrill, you know something's wrong. If they all gather at one side of the hover, check for drafts."(p71)1 1The Homsteader's Handbook to Raising Small Livestock by Jerome Belanger, (1974) Rodale Press, Inc. I highly suggest this book.

A Broody Hen to Help Cut Costs

Luckily enough my two broody hens were still that and one took mothering to these new 50 in stride while others pecked their dear little heads. Now last night the temperature dropped below 50degrees and it just so happens that I refuse to spend money or electricity on a heat lamp... So this broody hen, tried her best to sit on ALL 50 chicks! What a job she does, never lost a chick to cold, although my nights were somewhat sleepless.

How Warm do Chicks really need to be?

I've seen week old chicks scratching for themselves on a breezy day with the temperature around 60F.  They were not cold and zoomed across the lawn in that awkward spur of the moment chick speed. To help, their crops were also already packed with scrambled eggs, beetles and grass. I have also seen my chicks tiptoeing around newly laid snow on a blustery day. When they are cold, they will shiver and may even start to screech.  If there is enough chicks, at least a dozen probably, and they can huddle in a draft free place with a insulating bedding, I think chicks could keep themselves warm above 50F.  But do not leave your chicks outside (or in your freezing basement) at 50F because I said so though!! Keep an eye or an ear on them!  But for whoever searched online for "is 78 too cold for 7 day old chicks", I do not think so.  My chicks rummage in my garden all day and at 78F I only see them huddle under broody mama if a predator is about... or for nap time.

Water and Feed Requirements

Provide plenty of clean water they can not drown in and a high protein feed (20%).  I am not going to explain protein or diets here. There are so many types of feed and ways to purchase. My advice, grow something and feed it to supplement their feed. If you can not, try to support an organic venture.

So, obviously if you have just a few chicks, your water needs will remain quite small. Do not disreguard the fact that their water/waterer should be cleaned regularly. On the other hand, if you purchase ample chicks to have a bulk discount, you might consider a higher capacity tank.
Do not let your chicks run out of water!

"You need at least two one-gallon waterers for each 100 chicks. The small plastic chick waterers used with ordinary fruit jars are fine for a few birds." (p70)1

Data from Meyer Hatchery's Poultry Catalog 2011

Approximate Water consumption of Growing Chickens (Floor Reared) Gallons/100 Birds/Day
Age (Weeks) Egg Strain Pullets Broilers
1 .53 .50
2 1.00 1.30
3 1.32 2.40
4 1.72 3.70
5 1.85 5.30
6 2.24 6.90
7 2.38 8.5
8 2.54 10.00

Trough Space

If chicks do not have sufficient trough space, wether food or water, you may notice crowding. Provide at least 1inch of trough frontage per chick and increase to about 3inches/bird at 1 month of age.

My Waterer

The water setup I use is something similar to this:

again from The Homsteader's Handbook to Raising Small Livestock by Jerome Belanger, (1974) Rodale Press, Inc. (pg70)

I obtained a 35gallon plastic barrel (free from craigslist) and a hot water drain valve, total cost $7.54. The barrel just happened to have thredded plugs that had a smaller thredding section in the middle. So we melted a small portion of the middle so we could screw the drain valve in the plug. The water pressure was perfect with the 3'long metal trough I used.


The Brooder

Indoor brooders can be made of anything including cardboard boxes. Chicks grow fast and become more active, so do not go out of your way to make a brooder unless they will remain in it after a month. In that case you must supply appropriate square footage per the amount of birds. Suffication and pecking problems can arise otherwise.

Space Requirement

Age of chicks Floor space per bird
0 to 4 weeks 1/2 square foot
4 to 8 weeks 1 square foot
University of Missouri Extension

”Small Flock Series: Brooding and Growing Chicks” University of Missouri’s Department of Animal Sciences

From experience, do not disregard vertical space.

This beautiful brooder pictured below is excellently made with nice style and craftmanship. I can see children right in the living room fondling chicks next to a masonry heater with this one. :P

One Man and His

Outdoor Brooder

The great outdoors, where this livestock creature truly belongs. Outdoor brooders require adequate protection from predators while still allowing chicks some real earth.

Much like a chicken tractor this brooder can be moved around the yard when grass vanishes. Again, make sure the size is appropriate per quantity of chicks. The entire flock will need to fit inside at night. Consider the possibility of rain and cover the outside area if it will rain for many days. Otherwise the outside area can become a slippery poo covered mess.

Make sure you use chicken wire that the chicks can not escape through. I believe 1" was sufficient.

My Outdoor Brooder

This is 4 sides of a dog kennel and one on top to keep out flying predators. I added chicken wire near the ground at first to keep them close, then a tarp roof in the neverending rain, and extended a paddock area outside the kennel.

Pictures below are at 9 days of age. They just LOVE their older siblings
Pictured above: Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, Broilers, Golden Buff

No comments: