Raising baby Chicks

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Raising baby Chicks

Postby 4seasons » Thu May 14, 2015 11:59 pm

I started to add this as an update to my getting started with chickens topic but figured anyone wanting to start from baby birds might not want to first read about my mature birds and big coop and just jump right in to the babies.

After lots of reading and thinking I decided I wanted to expand my flock of chickens. Due to the number of birds I already had and the size that I built my coop I was limited to about 10 chickens that I could add to the flock. That was the first hurdle to jump as most of the online hatcheries have a 15-25 minimum order and many are 5 per breed minimum as well. I wanted to try several breeds and add a rooster to the mix so I could either order more than I wanted figuring some would die in the shipping and raising process, order just a couple of breeds that I wanted and add in some meat birds to meet the minimum (but I wasn't ready to raise birds for meat just yet), or find another option. Tractor Supply also has a minimum order but if you buy in stock birds the minimum is 6 total with no per breed limits. I also have two Farmers Co-ops in my area that carry chicks and they have no minimum. After about 3 weeks of stopping by stores and making phone calls to find what store had what breed in stock I finally caught a break and one of my 8 area TSC had just got a shipment in with 2 of the 4 breeds I wanted. (Side note that the Co-op in the same town had one of the other 2 in when I called but had sold out by the time I got there.) I rushed to town and luckily was the first customer there interested in the Welsummers they had just received. One of the associates there was very knowledgeable and once she realized I already had chickens and was very serious about getting more of the right breed to go with them, she was able to sex the straight run of Welsummers and Plymouth Rocks to pick out the only pullet in a batch of about 30 Welsummers and Plymouth Rock pullet for me. I also picked out a Welsummer cockerel, two ISA Brown pullets, and a Buff Orphington pullet. I then made a call to another TSC in the area that had Leghorns in stock and told them that I had just bought my 6 minimum at a TSC a few mile up the road and could come by and pick up 3 more chicks if they would bend the rules but they would not sell less than 6 at a time. So I called Co-op and went rushing across town to get Leghorns from them but they sold out while I was on my way. (If I sound a bit frustrated about missing Leghorns twice it is because I am.) I also picked up some chick starter feed, a small feeder, and some vitamins/ electrolyte supplement for their water while I was there. I already had a heater, water, and wood chips at home for the brooder.
This was on April 22 that I bought the chicks set up the brooder and snapped a couple of pics.
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The Plymouth Rock is in the front, Buff Orphington in the middle, 2 ISA Browns on either side of them and one of the Welsummers is in the back. The other Welsummer is under the heater in the back of the brooder.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby 4seasons » Fri May 15, 2015 12:17 am

A quick word about the heater you can see in the background. I went with a EcoGlow 20 from Brinsea over the traditional heat lamp. After much reading online I was scared of heat lamps. As long as nothing goes wrong they work for keeping your chicks warm but a heat lamp can really run up your power bill, must be set at the right height to maintain the right temp and raised every week to decrease the heat as the chicks get feathers and need less heat. Add in the different growth rates of the breeds I am raising and the heat lamp looks less and less attractive. Add in the fact that if a heat lamp falls, a chicken jumps or flies into it, or occasionally just explodes and your brooder is on fire and I did not want that risk at all. Also in a truly natural environment where a hen raises its own chicks, the steady 95F decreasing by 5 degrees each week is so far from normal, I feel that the heat when wanted approach is much more natural. Maybe next year the Buff Orphington will want to raise her own chicks and I can go the truly natural way.

P.S. I had thought about a Rocket Mass Heater as a way to provide heat for the chicks but figuring out how much mass to put in a brooder, the time it would take to build, and the unpredictability of spring weather here in east TN kinda ruled that out before I ever really considered it.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby 4seasons » Fri May 15, 2015 12:29 am

My brooder is a very simple setup.
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In the back is a EcoGlow 20, in the middle is a very basic feeder, and in the front is a fresh supply of coffee for the chicks.
The whole thing is a large dog kennel that we use to take our Doberman to the vet in.
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And yes that is a coffee canister zip tied to the front.
I put chicken nipples in the bottom drilled a vent hole for the zip tie to go thru filled it up with vitamin water. I then put the lid back on to keep chicks from drowning in an open water container. It took about 10 minutes of tapping the nipples with my finger. I would flick a little water at the day old chicks then back away and wait for the first chick to give it a try. Once the first chick investigated it about 10 seconds the other 5 to rushed up and see what she was doing.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby 4seasons » Fri May 15, 2015 1:24 am

I have now had the chicks for 3 weeks.
1. I started them in the house because I knew they would be safe from predators and it was still a bit cold at night for them to not have feathers yet. Even week old chicks make a mess tossing wood chips out of the brooder and they stink real fast. Unless you want your house to smell like a barn lot find a secure location outside in a barn, shed, or garage to set up your brooder. Ours is on the carport now that it is a bit warmer at night.
2. Pasty Butt. If you don't know what that is Google it. Lots of good advice on how to deal with it out there but bottom line. If you can't see yourself cleaning poop off a chicks bottom for a few weeks, raising chicks is probably not for you. One of our ISA Browns had a bad case of it the day I brought them but after cleaning and applying Vaseline she never got it again. Our Plymouth Rock however got it a couple of days later and even after the clean and Vaseline treatment it reoccurred several times.
3. Different breeds grow at very different rates. Our Buff Orphington was the biggest on the day I brought them home. In the first week the 2 ISA Browns had out grown her. The Welsummers are still smaller than the Buff, but I was wondering if the Plymouth Rock was going to make it since she had so much pasty butt and was not growing much at all. But in the last week she has started to catch up to the Welsummers.
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Here you can see them all after 3 weeks of growning
4. I am very pleased with my brooder. The dog kennel is big enough, easy to clean, the waterer works great, the feeder is ok, and I love the Ecoglow almost as much as the chicks. I put some contact paper on top of the EcoGlow as recommended on another site and also put a rubber shelf mat on top to prevent splayed leg for the first week or two. The bigger birds roost on top of the heater and the smaller birds hide under it for warmth. Without the contact paper I don't know if I would be able to reuse the heater at this point. I have already changed it 4 times and the last time the poop was 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick across the top. Even though this heater is sold for "up to 20 chicks" I don't see you ever getting 20 birds the size of these under this small of a heater. Maybe they should rename it the EcoGlow 10. Also I have found it helpful to set one leg higher than the other since my chicks are growing at a different rate so that the smaller birds can get under the low end for more heat and the larger birds can still fit under the high end if they need a little heat.

Smile girls, it is time for your close up
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From left to right, Plymouth Rock, Welsummer cockerel, Welsummer Pullet, 2nd row Buff Orphington, back row both ISA Browns. You can also see the chicken nipples on the bottom of the coffee can in this picture.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby mannytheseacow » Sat May 16, 2015 2:05 pm

That's awesome, 4Seasons. Thanks for sharing all that, and the photos, too. It looks like you have quite a good flock on the way.

I have raised most of the same birds you are raising at some point or another with the exception of the ISA Browns. I keep a variety of breeds around for certain characteristics that I like. I've had some Welsummers for a few years now and I really like them for their foraging ability and egg laying. They lay a nice big dark brown egg. I sell a lot of my eggs and for whatever reason my customers do like that dark brown egg with the spots. I know they all taste the same on the inside, but... I've had three Welsummer cocks over the years and culled all three because they were so aggressive, so when the Welsummer hens I have now go, I will lose the pure Welsummer genetics in my flock.

I've been slowly creating "my perfect chicken" through breeding. Something that will put on meat and lay eggs. The Welsummers have really nice thighs but not much for breasts. The Buff Orps do put on a nice breast, too, and are great layers. My favorite breeder right now is a black cochin rooster. He has great temperament and good muscle gain. I have sold many chicks this year that are cochin/welsummer crosses and cochin/buff orp crosses, but don't plan to keep any for myself until later this summer. I keep a variety of standard layers, too, just one or two of each, barred rock, RI Reds, etc. They lay many eggs but just don't lay on meat. I'm not trying to kid anyone, I'm sure the commercial hatcheries can breed a better dual purpose bird, but I like playing with crossing breeds.

I like that brooding setup you have. They'll be out on their own in no time. Mine is the same idea, I incubate and brood in super-insulated boxes made out of 2" foam that I contrapted together with duct tape. I just use one of those seedling heat mats on the floor. It's super efficient on the electricity and puts the heat on the ground where the chicks need it. I don't know that I would go out and buy a seedling mat if I didn't have one, but I got a couple of them years ago when I worked in a greenhouse.

That pasty butt thing is bad. I don't know much about it but it seems to come with commercial chicks. I've never had it on any of my home raised chickens. Could be your feed, too? The medicated feed sometimes causes this as most antibiotics do. I think biotics are a good thing, not something we should anti-. ;)
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Way behind on an update

Postby 4seasons » Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:55 pm

Between working too many hours, getting the garden going, working on no less than a dozen of other projects, I forgot to update this post.

By the time the chicks were 6 weeks old they had outgrown the dog kennel brooder. I had to get them a bigger setup and fast. So I started building a chicken tractor. Sticking with my theme from my first chicken coop I used what I had laying around, buying as little as possible. I also used a very similar design, and also started with the hen house before moving on to a run.

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The base is a 40" x 40" piece of plywood under-framed with 2x4s. I screwed another sheet of plywood the same size to one end, and angled two more pieces to the sides. I ripped a 1x6 to use as corner reinforcement, and to add some strength to the roof.
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I took the glass out of a couple of 8x10 picture frames and made some sliding windows with some old door frame trim. I also framed out a permanently open vent with the door trim and covered the openings with hardware cloth.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby 4seasons » Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:09 pm

I salvaged some hinges from a old shed that I tore down to get the metal for the roof.
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For the pop door, I framed it out just like the windows and put a bolt latch on it to temporarily hold it closed.
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Just like the big coop, I used a linoleum remnant on the floor, a 1x4 to hold the compost in across the door opening, and a natural tree limb for a roost.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby 4seasons » Wed Jul 15, 2015 12:12 am

I put the heater, food and water in the hen house and let them live there for a few more weeks until they were fully feathered and the overnight lows were no longer low. Then I lifted it up put 4x4 legs on the hen house, framed the whole thing with treated 2x4s and fenced it in.
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This pic was taken when the chickens were 12 weeks old.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby 4seasons » Wed Jul 15, 2015 12:23 am

With the wheel setup I can lift the hen house end up (with a tremendous grunt, lots of testosterone, and the occasional hernia) to let the wheels and axle swing underneath. I can then lift the light end up (with a hand truck or the tractor, since I used all my energy to lift the heavy end first) and roll it to fresh grass.
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I still need to add some handles to make moving it easier. Or maybe just a hook point for the tractor's 3 point hitch since i overbuilt the crap out of this thing like always.
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Re: Raising baby Chicks

Postby pa_friendly_guy » Tue Jul 21, 2015 6:27 pm

I love chicken tractors, love them. I love the idea, I love the way they work, I liked your design, I love the idea of vinyl on the floor for easy cleaning. The whole project is very well done. Using things you already have on hand is definitely nice and really keeps the cost down. To make it easier to lift and move around I wonder if larger wheels would help, maybe an old 20" bike that is laying around, [ or available on Freecycle ] would help. When it comes to wheels I always feel that bigger is better, especially on rough terrain. Just a thought. ;)
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