Pistils Nursery got our first chicks of the season yesterday! We start a bit later with chicks at the nursery than some suppliers, as we prefer them to travel to the shop when temperatures are less icy- www.pistilsnursery.com. Please know that we don't list what breeds we are expecting on our website as sometimes there are last minute substitutions and we would rather not be a source of disappointment. Give us a ring at the store for what's in- 503 288 4889. If you have a breed(s) you are seeking, let any of us know and I will endeavour to acquire them. (I try very hard to fulfill breed desires, but know that some breeds are very rare or might be hard to get at the time when you want them.)
|Even a baby Naked Neck is irresistable!|
|A little too much size diversity.|
You will need a container to house your chicks with walls high enough to keep out drafts and to keep chicks in. A range of vessels will work such as cardboard boxes, plastic recycling carriers, stock tanks, even a bathtub. (I use a metal sheep stock tank that is 4' high, 4' long, 2' wide; the nursery uses the same. These are handy, but are not inexpensive. If you do a lot of brooding they are great to have. Make sure to disinfect between brooding clutches. They also make great planters or water features when you are done with raising chicks. They are available at large feed stores like Wilco or Coastal.) You will need about .3 square ft. per bantam chick; .5 square ft. per standard chick for the first week; doubling this space allotment per week. Place your brooder in quiet, temperature stable place that is safe from predators/rodents and free of drafts. If you are brooding in your house, choose a spot where you don't mind some dust or smells. Kitchens or your sleeping space may not be the best choice. Chicks chirp and cheep at all hours. It is also a good idea to have something that you can place over your brooder when the chicks get larger to keep them from jumping out. This typically starts at around 3.5 to 4 weeks of age. I find window screens work well and are inexpensive and easy to find at salvage places like the Rebuild Centre or Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.
|I'm out! I'm out!|
The babies will need heat for the first 6-8 weeks of their life. One to seven day olds need to be kept at approximately 95 degrees fahrenheit. You then reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week. If the brooder is too cold, the chicks will huddle in a dogpile under the lamp. If too hot, they will run around manically and pant. Adjust the height of the lamp accordingly. Some people use thermometers to monitor temperature in the brooder. I have yet to do so as the chicks' behaviour informs me of what is appropriate for them.
|The classic heat lamp with a wimpy clamp.|
|My hero, the ceramic heat emitter.|
Lastly, you need to provide clean food and water at all times. Make sure these containers are set where your birds can reach them. When you first introduce your chicks to the brooder environment, dip each of their beaks into the waterer to allow them to find it immediately. Placing both the waterer and feeder up on blocks or hanging them at the height of the smallest chick's back can help with keeping bedding out of these vessels. (Rabbit style waterers or bottles with nipples are good choices for keeping water clean. Again, put the chicks beaks against the dispenser so they know where the water is. Place a saucer below the dispenser to keep bedding dry.) Make sure that you have enough vessels or ones that are large enough so that every chick has space to eat or drink without being crowded.
I add 1 tsp. blackstrap molasses per quart of water to provide electrolytes and trace minerals for the first week. I then move on to using 1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar per quart which also adds trace minerals and some acid which is beneficial to chickens' physiology. It keeps algae/mold from growing in the waterer. (Do not use vinegar if your water vessel is metal! It can cause an adverse reaction and release heavy metals.)
For feed, use a chick formula (ideally with 20-22% protein). Chick food is traditionally crumbly in texture. Add a cup of tiny grit (pulverized rock) for about every 6-8 cups of food or sprinkle it over the food in the feeder. Chickens do not have teeth. Food is ground up in their gizzards with fine rocks to aid digestion.
(Do not feed or administer amprolium if your birds were vaccinated for coccidia.) Amprolium restricts vitamin/mineral uptake which in turn creates an inhospitable intestinal environment for the coccidia to thrive. Coccidiosis is a condition from protozoa (Eimeria genera referred to as coccidia) that is common; often present in even the cleanest of settings and the most robust flocks. These protozoa produce egg capsules known as oocysts which can be ingested by chickens and then are crushed in the gizzard releasing the coccidia, known as sporozoites. These sporozoites lodge in the bird's intestinal wall where they mature and reproduce, shedding more oocysts that get excreted out. The life cycle is rapid and can become out of balance in small, enclosed environments which quickly get over run with oocysts, causing the birds to ingest enormous quantities which can physically overwhelm them. Signs and symptoms of an outbreak are droopiness, huddling with ruffled feathers, loss of interest in water & feed, retarded growth or weight loss, droppings that are watery, or mucous or pasty in texture, tan or blood-tinged (diarrhea). Chicks can perish. Keeping your brooder clean, and the chicks uncrowded as well as stress free will help prevent outbreaks. I use medicated feed for the first week for birds that are not hatched at my farm; organic feed for ones that are, and as feed for the remaining weeks of brooding the others. If I have a weak, listless chick, I have had success on some occasions feeding them a minute amount of yoghurt.
Dietary supplements- At two weeks of age I provide other goodies like finely grated carrot, finely chopped greens (chickweed is a favourite ironically- it's also very healthy), minced garlic, and crumbled hard boiled egg. Make sure these are finely chopped so that there is no chance for crop impaction. An impacted crop (the pouch where food is stored before heading into the digestive tract) can get clogged and cause starvation if not corrected. At this stage I also add a grassy divot to the brooder. It provides entertainment; a place to scratch and climb, fresh greens to nibble, and maybe some bugs, as well as getting them exposed to the earth and all its microscopic bounty of bacterium. I recently read about feeding small of amounts of worm castings to their feed. Since I do vermicompost, I am going to give this a try. It has the same goal of adding beneficial microbes and sounds like a nifty thing to do!
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW:
Terminology- 'Chick' refers to a baby chicken regardless of gender. 'Pullet' is a female chicken less than 1 year old, though commonly is used to refer to a female that is considered a teenager- not yet laying eggs. 'Cockerel' is a male chicken that is less than 1 year old. 'Hen' is a female over a year old, though commonly used to refer to females once they start laying eggs. 'Rooster' or 'cock' is a male over a year old. 'Chook' is the word used for chickens in crown countries like Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. 'Broody' is used to describe the behaviour of a hen that wants to set/hatch eggs and is also used to refer to a hen that engages in this behaviour.
Keep a Journal- You will be pleased that you did. Record where/when you got your chicks, what breeds they are, any vaccinations, etc. Notate your observations, maybe keep an egg log later. These notes will help you immeasurably with your flock keeping journey.
Social Creatures- Chickens are social creatures and you need to have more than one for them to thrive. They require physical body contact to develop normally both physically and mentally/emotionally. Consider getting the limit your town/city allows. If you have future losses due to a predator and are left with one chicken, finding new flock mates at certain times of year can be a challenge.
Pasting up- this is when feces builds up on the backside of the chicks. This is fairly common during the first week to 10 days. Keep a watch out for it as this can block the vent, causing excreta to build up in the intestine, inducing septicemia and can cause death. Gently remove the paste with a warm, damp clothe.
|This looks restful....|
Cannibalism- You will not find chicks cooking their compatriots in a little pot over a fire. This term is used for all kinds of destructive behaviour from toe to feather picking/eating which is common if chicks are crowded or bored.
Flightiness- Be aware if you are casting a shadow when you approach the brooder. This elicits a predator response and will freak out your wee ones. I like to play the classical music station on the radio 24/7 for my chicks. I think the music is beneficial & calming, and hearing human voices talking throughout the day and evening will get them used to human sounds. Having your brooder at eye level-- if possible, seems to keep chicks from feeling intimidated by having a large being looming over them.
Roosting- Add some roosts to your brooder when your chicks hit about 3 weeks of age to get them accustomed to roosting. This will provide some more stimuli.
Handling- I don't handle my chicks much for the first 2 weeks short of removing pastiness if necessary. Handling when they are small can prove stressful for them and can make them more susceptible to illness. Always wash your hands before and after handling.
|Correcting 'spraddle leg'.|
|If only it was this easy!|
ENJOY YOUR WEE ONES WHILE YOU CAN! THEY GROW UP SO FAST.