Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Nursery

Hatch day is but two days away, and excitement around here is building.  Here is a sneak peak at our set-up and some good-to-know chick info.

 Chick care is basic.  You'll need a small feeder with multiple openings just the right size for itty bitty beaks.  This will help prevent spillage and will keep little birdie dirty feet out of their food.  They come in petite sizes like my green one in the picture above or in larger galvanized troughs for bigger flocks.

A quart-sized waterer should provide plenty of water for up to 15 chicks.  The red color is supposed to draw them to it, and it is advised to put pebbles or marbles in the base so that no chicks might meet an unfortunate watery demise.

Because all that cute chick fuzz does little to keep those babies warm, a brooder lamp is a must.  The first week, the temperature in your brooder should average about 95 degrees.  You'll want to decrease that temperature by five degrees each subsequent week.  Your chicks will let you know if they are hot or cold by their reaction to the lamp.  If they are huddled together under it, they're cold.  Lower it a little.  If they are fleeing to the far corners of the cage, they're hot.  Raise it some.  You'll do this until the temperature reaches about 70 degrees.  Chickens will be feathered by 5 weeks of age, and at this time, they can regulate their own body temperature and can be moved to their coop.  Brooder bulbs come in white light and infrared.  I opted for the infrared because the red color helps chicks to sleep better than the glaring white, and additionally, its soothing color can keep chicks from picking on one another.

Really you can house chicks in any well-ventilated sizeable tub, plastic pool, or other critter cage.  I decided to go with a medium-sized rabbit cage, but then zip-tied some black netting around the outside for the first couple of weeks.  I am afraid those little houdinis will stage a prison break, and I'll find myself scrambling to stage a rescue from Spike, the critter-hating bulldog.  Rabbit cages differ from dog or cat cages because they contain flooring and a plastic drip-pan (for lack of a better term) to catch all that you-know-what.  Seems easy to clean.  Brand new chicks will have difficulty walking on most flooring in their early days, so you'll need something to help them with their grip and prevent a deformity called "spraddle leg."  Choose pine shavings since cedar shavings can irritate those little lungs and potentially create respiratory problems later.  Layer it thick and change it often.

Because I am new to this mother hen business, I've decided to start my chicks off inside.  Mind you, I said start.  I make no guarantees that they'll continue their stay in the laundry room.  It depends on how stinky those little boogers get.  With two cars in the garage, there isn't room for chicks.  With snakes and neighborhood cats outside, there isn't room for chicks there either.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Here is the finished product:

The day your chicks arrive, it is extremely important that you retrieve them promptly from the post office once they call.  You'll need to get them home immediately and into their brooder and under the heat lamp.  They will also be thirsty and hungry.  Some stores sell a "grow gel" that I've opted not to buy.  It is all green and goopy and unnatural looking.  While I'm sure it provides the extra boost those travel weary chicks may need, it wasn't an organic start.  Instead, we'll be adding an electrolyte and vitamin supplement to their water for the first day or so.  Make sure you have everything in place, including food and water, so that your chicks can begin their recovery as quickly as possible.  Depending on your brooder, you may want to turn on the heat lamp the night before so that it can reach proper temperatures inside before your babies arrive.

Chicks will need a special feed called "starter feed" in the beginning.  It comes in unmedicated and medicated varieties.  Chances are, if you are raising a small backyard flock, you keep a clean brooder (think daily), or you had your chicks vaccinated against Coccidiosis, then you don't need a medicated starter.  Depending on your choice of brand, you will feed your chicks starter feed anywhere from  4 to 18 weeks.  The bag will tell you.

So, now we wait.  Let's hope the next post contains some cute little balls of fuzz.

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