Proverbs 27:27 And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Save the Chicks!

This time of year when we go into the farm stores for our grain or to browse the isles to start to plan our gardens we hear it almost as soon as we walk in the store.  The peep, peep, peep of tiny, cute, fuzzy baby chicks.  I always say I am not going to even look.  I do raise a batch of layer chicks for eggs and roosters for meat every year.  So why look.  I always have plenty of chicks around in spring to raise and get my fix.  But eventually, either one of the kids drags me over  to look at them or I happen by the area and glance down and am hooked to look.  I look at all the kinds they have.  Look at all the differences.  Look into the mixed pen to try to see if I can guess what kinds the different chicks are.  Then there are the easter pens.  Full of fluffy yellow chicks and little yellow ducklings and I hate to say this but many in those pens are doomed to be bought by so many well intentioned people, who buy just one or two chicks or ducklings for their kids for easter and might not know how to care for them. 

             Sound asleep in the chicken feeder after eating its fill.  That is the life!

Most people don’t realize that ducklings are INCREDIBLY messy and the chicks they bought most likely will not be pullets that will be egg layers once grown.   I mean I am just as guilty of impulse buying.  Just happened to me about two weeks ago.  I already had my batch of pullet layer chicks going here on the farm and while at the farm store saw some little Americana pullets.  You know, the ones that look like little chipmunks with the stripes down their backs.  To cute.  Yup, you guessed it.  I bought three to bring home and watch grow up.  I would not have done it though if they were not exactly the same size as the ones I had going.  So there would be no picking on each other.  (And I know most people would think of that as a no-no too.  The germ factor of mixing different hatchings of chicks from different places.)

Anyways, I know anyone at anytime can google chick care or duckling care and get some very good information.  But I thought I would cover it lightly here today in case any one finds themselves trying to raise a few chicks or ducklings for their kids for the easter holiday and have never raised any before.  Or were gifted someone else's purchase because they didn’t understand what it took to raise a duckling or chick.

Now this description is not scientific or exact.  With temperatures and everything.  I mean, I have read some of the how to raise a chick websites and it is… keep them at this certain temperature with this much humidity and lower the temperature so many degrees every week till fledged and such.  I don’t have time for that kind of detail on our farm.  So this is what works for us.  Try it at your own risk.  Praise God I have never lost a batch yet. 

I have a three shelved brooder I built years ago. (above)  But if you have just a few chicks you can brood them in a homemade brooder of four short pieces of plywood screwed together, Some people use corrugated cardboard to keep them corralled in a small portion of a large stall until they are big enough to enjoy the whole stall or even a large rubber maid tote will work well.  I used large totes for years, they work great.  The tote meets several of the requirements they need.  They need a large enough area to move around freely, with a heat lamp on one end.  (Do not use the solid lid that comes with the tote, chicks need good air circulation!)The area needs to be large enough that they can get under the lamp when they get cold or move away from the lamp when they get to warm.  Chicks need to stay dry.  So bedding that is fluffy and easy to change out and keep dry is great like pine shavings.  Not cedar. Also, you might have to keep in mind predators.  So a screen top (hardware mesh, maybe) of some sort if you have cats or what have you.  Housing for brooding is basically a draft proof, predator proof pen with absorbent bedding with a heat lamp at one end.  The pen being big enough that the chicks can move away from the light if they get to hot.  Many people use the red heat lamps as they say it cuts down on them picking on each other.   But they come in white heat lamps as well.  I know this is not the right way to do it.  But the heat lamps have such thin glass if water gets splashed on them they crack.  I use old fashioned flood lights. (not the florescent ones as they give off so little heat) The old fashioned flood lamps last longer, are heavy duty and thick glassed.  Just keep in mind old style flood lights  don’t give off as much heat as an actual heat lamp.  So you might need to use two or hang it a bit lower.  I like to use two lamps if I am raising more than 20 chicks.  As if one blows there is another to keep them kinda warm till I see what happened.

Our 3 1/2 week old chicks are in my grow out pen I made now.  I just block the drafts with something flat.Note the feeders.

Eventually, you will have to move them to a bigger and bigger arrangement to accommodate their growth.  As overcrowding is a huge killer of chicks.  It causes pecking and it is hard to keep them clean and dry. At about four or five weeks old they should have all their feathers and you can start to decide if they need the heat lamp anymore.  Taking into consideration night temps and such.  Just pay attention to how often and when they use the heat source anymore. Often at this stage if we are having warm days and cool nights I keep the lamp on at night and turn it off late morning for the day.
Our three and a half week old chicks.  They are very awkward at this stage.  Half fluff and half new feathers.

Now what to feed them.  I recently had a neighbor raise a batch of chicks his broody hen hatched this winter.  He brooded them for four weeks and had no place to grow them out. So sent them to my house for the time it took to grow them out and I sent them back to his place.  He didn’t want to buy chick starter for them.  So just crushed up layer pellets and fed them out on that the first four weeks.  I had never done this in an experiment or anything but was amazed at the results.  Those chickens, even though they had layer mash for only the first four weeks of their lives were the most unhealthy misshapen chickens.  Bless their hearts.  Once they got to my house I raised them the rest of the time on chick starter but the damage was done.  Layer mash is 16% protein and a lot of research has went into what layers need.  Chick starter is usually 20% protein for their fast growing little bodies.  I guess what I am saying is don’t skimp and forgo the chick starter.  I never realized it but it does make a huge difference.  Out of seven birds only two are left alive now.  And they are not as robust or large as other birds raised correctly their age. 

So you need fresh water for them in a special chick waterer.  So they don’t drown.  And chickstarter crumbles.  Don’t let the food or water run out.  As they sleep and eat and sleep and eat.  They aren’t like a dog you feed just once or twice a day.  If you buy any chicks mail order I usually have to teach them to eat and drink.  As they got shipped the day they hatched.  Out of the shell, into a box and shipped to you and then out of the box at your home.  As I take each chick out of the box I dip each chicks beak in the waterer and set them down next to it.  If they run off that is fine.  At least they know there is water and where it is.  Usually a smart chick will come back and start to drink and lead the others.  To teach them to eat, even though you have a feeder in there,  I take a piece of paper towel and lay it in the bottom of the brooder.  Than take a pinch of chickstarter and slowly drop a little piece here or there on the paper towel.  The instincts that God gave them to go after bugs and movement kicks in and a smart one will run over and peck at and eat up the small crumble that just hit the paper towel and bounced like a bug hopping.  I do this for a short while and spread a little chick starter over the paper towel and leave it there for about 30 minutes for them to learn to eat and peck at the food without it sinking below the fluff of the pen.  I don’t leave the paper towel in there as news paper and paper towels are a bit slippery compared to fluff and raising chicks on it can lead to leg disfigurement called spraddle leg or splayed legs. 

Now when raising a duckling the above is pretty much the same, except for a duckling needs a lot of water to drink.  The food and water need to be close together as they eat and then wash it down with water.  They need a wide rimmed water as they kinda swish their little bills back and forth in the water to clean out their bills and drink.  With ducklings there is just going to be more mess.  More changing fluff because of all the water and wetter droppings.  They do not need a pan of water to swim in!  They can drown easily or get chilled if allowed to swim to young and not get dried off well.  I never let mine play in any water till about two weeks old and not in their pens unsupervised.  If is it a sunny after noon I will take them on a little field trip out side in the sun, let them play in a small low pan of water.... supervised... for a short time and then dry them off really well and get them back to the heat source.  When they don’t need the heat source anymore they are good to go on swimming and playing in water.  But I have still seen people do it to soon and one drown here or there or get chilled. 

Anyways, I covered as much as I can think of and if you have any questions feel free to email them to me.  I don’t know everything and there is great info…professional info.. out there on the web.  But if I can answer any questions I would be glad to. 

Gods blessings and happy farming!

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