Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

Brooding, stress and poopy butt

You lookin' at me?

A lot of people came to buy chicks this weekend, so this is a good time to talk about brooding. Hatchlings cannot regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks of life so, since they are not being cared for by a mother hen, we as their keepers must simulate a proper environment for them. It’s really not all that hard and can be very rewarding as the chicks will become very friendly if you handle them regularly. I like to use a large cardboard box for a brooder. Some people like to use a big tupperware container or large glass fish tank, and those work well, but I am basically lazy and like to just compost the whole thing when I am done with it. Locate your brooder in a warm room inside the house or a heated garage. Do not put outside. Please be aware of the fact that both your cat and your dog would very much like a chick snack, so keep that in mind when choosing a place out of harms way. Unsupervised handling by small children can also be dangerous for young chicks. After the first few weeks your chicks will start to feather out and you can start leaving them outdoors on warm days – still bringing them in at night until they are fully feathered. If there is an indoor area of your coop, you can put a light out there for a few weeks as well.

Ok, first off you need a heat source. I like to use one of those clip-on lights with a metal hood with a 100 watt bulb (these are getting a little hard to find these days with all the energy saving bulbs but some places still carry them). Be sure to place the light low enough, about 4-6 inches from the floor of the brooder. Use as large a box as possible so they can chose where they want to be in relation to the heat source. Use common sense – if the chicks huddle under the lamp and are being noisy- they are too cold. If they are in the farthest corner away from the lamp and panting then they are to hot. If there are some eating, some sleeping under the light and some walking around and they seem content, you’ve got it right. Now, I hate to have to say this next part but I know at least 2 people who lost their chicks this way so I say it to be safe rather then sorry – don’t turn the light off at night. Common sense is not as common for some as it is for others.

Next, you need non-slip flooring in the box. Pine shavings are best. NEVER use cedar – it is bad for them to breathe in. Paper towels can work for the first few days if you were caught unprepared but do not use newspaper, it’s too slippery and they cannot get their footing and will end up with splayed legs.

Then you will need food and water. I start with the medicated chick starter and I like those plastic screw-on feeders and waterers – they come apart and are easy to clean. Place food and water in the farthest corner from the heat source. Add marbles in the moat of the waterer if you are brooding very small chicks like bantams or quail so they can’t drown themselves but can still drink between the marbles.

If you have purchased chicks from a hatchery and they have shipped overnight and are a stressed, you can give them a little sugar in the water for their first day- but not after that, since it can bind them up. You can use a touch of corn syrup if you are out of sugar, but again, only for the first day to give them a boost.

Despite your best efforts though, sometimes one or all will stress and end up with “poopy butt” or “pasting up” – this is where poop blocks the vent and prevents them from going to the bathroom. If you don’t take care of this right away you will lose them – so let the great festival of butt washing commence! I bring the chicks to the utility sink and run the tap until it is WARM to the touch, not hot or cold. I hold the chick in one hand with just its little bottom under the gentle flow of warm water and work the poop off between my fingers. I gently pat dry with a hand towel and place the chick back under the light in the brooder. Recheck your chicks every day until you are sure they are over it.

There is tons more info on brooding on the net that you can check out, this is just a brief overview of the way we do it here. The whole brooding thing is a great experience to go through (well…maybe not the poo-poo butt!) and you can count yourself as a real chicken keeper when you make it through this phase with your flock. Happy brooding!

Hatching, continued

My good friend Katie came over this morning with her first goose egg of the season (she has Embden geese) for me to put in the incubator for her. She loves her geese. She is also the duck keeper among us. She sells a lot of duck eggs to people who bake and to people who have allergies to chicken eggs. Katie loves her ducks. Katie loves all ducks. Me, I like baby ducks for about the first 4 days when they are cute, then I hate them. I keep a small flock of Tufted Roman geese and a pair of Mandarin ducks, and that is it for me and waterfowl! Every year one of my teachers will get ahold of some duck eggs from somewhere, and hatch out a bunch and then bring them to the farm, and I will moan and roll my eyes and take them in, and then foist them off to new homes as soon as I can!

I was greeted once again this morning by a peeping incubator with a lovely tray of little warm fluffy balls of new life. I don’t think I will ever get tired of this. Yes, of course there was one who bailed out the back of the tray and I had to retrieve it with the paint stir stick (see yesterday’s rant), but the chick had the top part of the shell stuck on it’s little bottom like a little brown turtle, so it was too cute for me to be mad at.

I will never in my life cease to be fascinated by a chicken egg. Each one is like its own self-contained little space ship. They can be laid on almost surface, left out on a chilly night, kept on the counter for over a week, packed and shipped through the postal service to just about any destination. Then taken and placed in just about any kind of unit that will hold a temperature of around 100 degrees and about 30% humidity, rocked back and fourth, and in exactly 21 days, produce a fluffy little bird that is up and ready to go in about an hour! Think about it- what other organic product can you find that is porous – it can allow air in, yet so sterile that it can be placed in 100 degrees for the better part of a month and not go bad. It still blows me away every time!

I have had much success over the years hatching out quail (they take 18 days to hatch), turkey, pheasant, duck, geese and even 1 peacock egg (they all take 28 days to hatch). But the crowning achievement was a pair of Emu eggs that were hatched two years ago. They took 55 days at a temperature of 97 degrees and 20% humidity. We were surprised ourselves when we first saw them!

Emu babies

For years I use to run what I called a “natural hatchery” that consisted of 8 to 10 broody hens that would set absolutely anything you shoved under them. It was not uncommon to see one of these hens with up to 5 different species of young, in all shapes and sizes, at their heels at the same time. I think the best memory I have is of a guinea hen, who was almost prehistoric looking, proudly protecting her nest box with the cutest little gray-green gosling peeping out from under her. Two very different types of birds, one common goal – hatching!

I had this wonderful system in place with these broody hens for years, and ran at a very high hatch rate, and derived much joy from it, until one horrible fire season a few years ago, when the Malibu fires drove a huge number of predators into our area, who then discovered our beautiful little freerange farm. We were wiped out in two nights. We were heartbroken. All of the broody hens that escaped are now in safe pens for their own sakes, and my idyllic set up is no more. I hatch all my eggs in the Sportsman incubator now, but it’s just not the same. I get good results, but still miss the joy of seeing those dedicated broody hens with their motley clutches in tow.