Saturday, 23 July 2011

The day after the first day

Now, I'm not an early riser (my husband will definitely vouch for that!) but you know when you half wake up, instantly remember you've got stuff going on so  you'll never get back to sleep? Well that was me - actually has been me since the chicks arrived.  I'm becoming quite acquainted with 7.00am on weekend mornings.

So the day after the chicks arrived, I'm up and down the stairs to make sure they are still with us and I'm extremely happy to be greeted by a chorus of cute cheeps.  They seem so pleased to see me that I feel a cuddle is probably in order - wrong!  The appearance of a looming hand sends the fear of god through them, and a scattering to the four winds.  It seems that natural instincts have kicked in, suddenly I'm transformed from kind giver of food to an airborne invader about to swoop down and turn them into breakfast.    

At this point, I should explain that our chicks live in the house, the brooder in the living room, so I can keep an eye on them while get used to us.  There's been talk (on the 'chicken' section of the internet) that chicks are pooey (correct), smelly and dusty and that a lot of people don't care for their lodgers to lodge for too long.  Our chicks lived in the brooder with us until they were six weeks old, they were cleaned out everyday and not once did we have a problem with smell or dust, the hamster on the other hand is a different matter entirely...

Now where was I? Ah yes; nervous chicks.  Now I know that any pet, furry or feathered, can be bribed into domestication with treats - it's just about administering the right treat.  So adding to my list of chicken tasks was to find the optimum treat for bribing purposes but top of todays 'to-do-list' was to find out about a proper lamp, the thermometer and clean them out.  Chicks poop about once every 2 minutes and there's a fair few minutes involved in one night.  You'd think being asleep would stop them but no - they 'sleep poop'!
I have come across a video of the chicks in their brooder. They are roughly a week old, give or take a few days either way.

Cleaning out is relatively quick and harmless, dirty towel out, clean towel in.  I used towels because initially they were old ones I had lying about but on further research they are quite good.  They aren't dusty like shavings and they don't spread themselves about your house with uncanny ease! They are easy to get clean and because they provide a good, grippy surface to stand on, stop the onset or worsening of something called 'splay legs'. Splay legs is fairly self explanitary in that chicks stand with their legs apart and are unable to bring them together to stand properly.  They can be born with this or (as I understand it) it can develop from too much time on slippery surfaces.

A cure is to hobble the chicks legs together with string, a plaster of something similar and this keeps their legs together and corrects their stance.  This stays on for 3/4 days, after an initial hour of close supervision to ensure they are comfortable with their new leg-wear and helps the chicks legs strengthen and straighten.

Right, back to heat lamp research.  It seems that these 250 watt heat lamps are very expensive and it also seems that they are intended for people with somewhat more than 2 chicks.  I still wasn't totally put off the idea of having one as it is the 'proper' piece of kit...that was until I read that one of these lamps nearly burnt someones house down!  They get VERY hot and need to be housed with extreme care and that incident wasn't isolated, so strike that off the list then.  Luckily, further research showed that indoor, small scale poultry keepers successfully use household spotlights with 60 watt bulbs, which as luck would have it was what I was using. 

There was also a suggestion that red bulbs are more calming for the birds and discourage them from pecking at each other.  I used both during the chicks' time in the brooder and I can say that I didn't notice any difference in their behaviour from one bulb to the other.  The red bulb did give off the suggestion of a house of easy virtue though and the clear one didn't do us any favours either, being on 24 hours a day it just made our neighbours think we were farming cannabis...

So that was it then. The chicks were sticking with the acquired spotlight from my upstairs rummage and seeing as they and I were doing such an excellent job of managing the heat without the thermometer, we were just going to wait until the tortoise's turned up but of course, it never did.

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