Friday, May 15, 2015

The 4Farthings chick raising method

So I've got some more chicks.  For some reason.

No but seriously, these are to live in the duck houses and keep the bedding turned, so it doesn't become a packed block glued together with poop.  The white/tan ones are Salmon Faverolles (they're French!), the black/white chipmunk looking ones are Silver Laced Wyandottes (they're American!), and the black/brown/gray ones with the poofy cheeks are Easter Eggers (my husband talked me into them!).  They are very cute and, for the next couple of weeks, very fragile.  Here is my method, honed over many batches of chicks and ducklings, for keeping them alive until they are feathered out and ready for the coop.  This method works equally well for every species and breed I've tried it on.

This is the last batch for this brooder.  They are not easy on it!
  1. If you are getting your peeps from the feed store, they don't require any special treatment when you first get them - that was taken care of by the feed store.  However if you got them in the mail, you will want to introduce them to water SLOWLY.  Let them have the water for five minutes, then take it away for fifteen minutes.  Do this three times, then let them have it full time.  This is particularly important for ducks.  The reason for this is because birds that have been shipped often arrive a little dehydrated.  Being thirsty, they can drink too much water, too quickly, and shock their little systems.  I have never heard of chicks dieing this way, but ducklings, particularly Muscovies, can and will kill themselves this way if you give them water full time right off the bat.  Better safe than sorry!
  2. They need to live inside at first.  I keep my peeps in our insulated shed, which we affectionately call the Man Shed.  It is mostly my husband's workshop, but the deal is he can do anything he wants in there as long as I can also use it for brooding poultry.  Any draft free space will do though - tiny baby birds CANNOT regulate their body temperature, and without a mama to keep them cozy, they chill and die easily.  So inside it is!
  3. Within the Man Shed, they are contained by a brooder.  Mine is made out of cardboard boxes.  I opened up one side of a bunch of medium moving boxes, taped them end to end, and made a ring.  Then I laid a piece of plastic sheeting in the bottom, and put a layer of pine shavings in the bottom as bedding.  A word to bedding: I have tried old hay, all kinds of straw, dry grass clippings, old leaves, and pine shavings.  USE PINE SHAVINGS, particularly for ducklings.  They are just better because they are just more adsorbent.  Dry baby birds are healthy baby birds!
  4. They have a heat lamp.  I use the red kind around the clock, no switching between a white one in the day and a red one at night because I am lazy.  I do NOT use a thermometer.  The first day, I adjust the lamp height until the baby birds are a) not huddled under the lamp and b) not getting as far from the lamp as possible.  After a batch or two in your brooder in your location you will know exactly what height this is.  After that I raise the lamp about four to six inches every four to five days.  This is significantly faster heat decrease than the books tell you to do!  But I find that the birds feather out faster and are just as healthy this way, compared to starting them at 95*F and lowering the temperature five degrees per week until you hit room temperature.  If I did it that way the dang chicks would be in the brooder for six weeks!  I don't have time or energy for that, and by then they can escape from the brooder.  No thank you!  Just keep an eye on them.  They will let you know if they are too cold by huddling under the lamp.
  5. When they are about three weeks old I can usually turn off the heat lamp.  Because my brooding space is insulated, over the next week the temperature will slowly drop.  Once the temperature in the Man Shed is about the same as the temperature in my house (judged by the very scientific "feels about right to me" method), I move them to the coop WITH a heat lamp.  This is purely for insurance, because my coop is drafty.  If they do well, I turn off the lamp after about a week - sooner if the weather is good.
  6. A note for integrating new birds into an existing flock - if you are not careful, the older birds will harass the new birds.  Do not just dump them in together and hope for the best!  I have a piece of fence that I can put inside my coop, making an area for the new ones with their own food and water.  This way the older birds can get to know the new additions while the younger birds can get away from the pecking.  For ducks, a day or two is plenty, but for chickens, you're better off giving them a full week.
Of course there are as many specific methods for raising baby birds as there are people raising baby birds, and if your peeps are active and growing, you are doing just fine.

However, I do have a warning for you all: HEAT LAMPS START FIRES.  You need to make absolutely certain that your heat lamp is SECURE, because if it falls into the bedding, and you do not correct it post haste, it can and will burn the building it's in to the ground.  Of course there is no reason to be afraid of heat lamps, either - but you must be CAREFUL.

Happy spring!

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