Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Neither, for us it was two chicks.

After a gap of over 20 years since owning a single cockerel, two little fluffy chicks came into our lives.  So I thought I'd blog my beginners trials and tribulations; it might prove useful to some, amusing to others and may even encourage a few more people to join the chicken-keeping flock.

It's amazing how much you forget over 20 years...

Emperor, my first cockerel.

The rather unplanned arrival of new family members on a Tuesday afternoon in June, in the shape of two fluffy day old chicks, brought about a quick and rather unprepared for return to poultry keeping.

With the chicks (one brown and one traditional Easter yellow) contented in the arms of some equally contented children, I set about turning general household objects into a hi-tech brooder.  I knew I needed a brooder, I'd read it on the internet. 

A brooder is a container, be it a cardboard box, large plastic container (like the type you have under the bed to stash stuff that in all honesty should've been thrown away yonks ago), an indoor bunny cage or such like.  Whatever you use it should be safe, large enough for your desired number of chicks, able to offer a cool area away from the heat lamp (I'll get to that particular trial later) and easy to clean.  Chicks poop...chicks poop A LOT!

I  didn't actually have anything suitable in the house but a quick drive to my obliging (and also not at home to stop me trawling through her house) mother, produced the container I needed to provide a home for my chicks over the next few weeks.  

Once back at home and after a quick flick through a chicken forum (yep they have forums for everything) I discovered that heat was essential. And not just heat; heat at 95 degrees that had to be reduced by 5 degrees each week!  Now, I knew I had a lamp that kicked out a lot of heat as our tortoise uses it in the winter but, of course, I was never going to find that, so a quick trip to one of the children's rooms heralded an unused spotlight. I made a mental note to buy a proper heat lamp for the chicks at the earliest opportunity and headed back downstairs.

A quick check on the chicks...still happy and still cheeping.

An old towel placed in the 'acquired' tub and the spotlight angled over the side to provide a good amount of warmth but 95 degrees worth of warmth?  Hmm...
it seemed that this temperature was a definite requirement rather than a rough guide.  Obviously, I didn't have a thermometer to hand, even though our tortoise also has one of those in the winter( I must find out where he hides it all) so another check on the internet to find out if a thermometer is absolutely essential.

Apparently, the chicks themselves will tell you if the temperature is correct, too cold and they will huddle together under the lamp; too hot and they will be as far away from the heat as they can get.  A good indication that the correct temperature has been reached is a bit of lying under the heat coupled with wandering about, eating, preening and other such chick activities.  Seeing as I was currently thermometerless (must get one of those as well) it was down to the chicks to let me know if I was getting it right.

A quick trip to my local farm shop for Chick Crumb, a complete food for chicks up to the age of roughly 7 weeks.  You can buy this non-medicated or medicated, which helps prevent chicks from the masses of bugs and germs that seem out to get them.  A quick look at the illness pages in any chicken book will have you wondering how they manage to survive at all!

With the brooder ready to go, I added their food and water in a very shallow dish.  Chicks can drown very easily. Some people recommend putting marbles or pebbles in the bowl so they have to drink from between them and there's no risk of immersion.  

I prised the chicks from the children and placed them in the brooder. Initially this had the chicks in a bit of a panic but they soon settled under the lamp, which I dropped down a bit when I was a little more confident I wasn't going to cook them.  They had a wander, inspected and even tried their food, had a drink and went back to snuggle up under their lamp.  At this point, I realised I should add a picture of the brooder but am quite shocked to discover that during the many photo sessions with the chicks, I failed to take any of the brooder, so I will have to ask you, dear reader, to use your imagination.  Hopefully I have given you enough information for a very good, if imaginary, annotated image.

I was pretty confident our home-assembled brooder was doing a reasonable job of looking after our new charges but (as always) overnight would be the challenge.  Baby birds and night time never strike me as a good combination.  Any baby sparrow, blackbird or suchlike I found as a child and brought home to help always died overnight, so it was with much relief when I found two expectant faces waiting for me the following morning.

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