Friday, March 16, 2012

Chickee Mama

Since my incubator-hatched chicklets don't have a mama hen to raise them, I have to give them what she would to the best of my ability.  This runs a far second to what she would provide, but these little ones will still grow up to be healthy, productive members of my flock.

The chicks will need quality food, water, and warmth as their most basic needs.  In my basement, they will get quite a bit you will see over the next few weeks.

A couple of days before their arrival, I set up the "brooder."  This is the name for the very protected space that mimics what the mother hen would provide.  The chicks will create a lot of "bird dust" and the end of their six weeks in my house so we put them in our unfinished...and unheated....cellar.  I set up the brooder well in advance of their arrival to give the heat lamp time to warm up the bedding and the walls.  Newly hatched chicks would normally stay underneath the protection and warmth of mama's feathers for the first few days, just going out into the wide world for quick meals of worms and grubs that the mama hen dug up with her feet.
See the wading pool?  That makes clean-up so simple, especially when the chicks get bigger and knock over their waterer now and then.  I need to put up another hook and hang it up, which would prevent this....(note to self:  Get hook installed in ceiling!) 

Next, I opened out some boxes and taped them together to keep out drafts and also to contain chicks.  Don't be fooled by those fluff-balls, they can jump and fly over that wall by the time they are two weeks old.  If you don't have boxes that are big enough, Home Depot and other such places sell moving boxes, and the ones that are about a buck apiece are the perfect size.  You'll need three of them.  Tape them securely, as these babies will grow fast and will start to be a bit rough on those walls.

Because of their active nature, I string two pieces of baling twine across the top in an x and cover the brooder with a bit of deer netting.  Right now I have a couple of old sheets over the deer netting, temporarily, to hold the heat in the brooder.  As the babies get a bit bigger and spring progresses and the cellar gets a bit warmer, I'll take those off.
I bedded deeply (3-4 inches, to keep them off the cold cement) with wood shavings, available at any feed store in a large bag.  One bag will bed this size brooder generously, and I keep a second bag off to the side to add bedding as they poop and it builds up.  Adding shavings absorbs and dilutes the poo and I'd like to say it keeps it smelling sweet, but tolerable is a better word.  Ideal would be to have the chicks outside, moving around in a much larger area with their mother to protect them. 

I found a bag of lawn hay, so I added that.  This is not something you can purchase, you have to make it.  In the late spring, on a warm, dry, breezy day, I spread fresh lawn clippings from our untreated lawn on the driveway in a thin layer, and turn it every hour or two until it is crispy-dry.  Then I bag it in old feed sacks and store it in a dark, dry place...usually on a high shelf in my garage....until winter, when I offer it to the hens when there is a solid snow cover and no fresh (frozen) greens are available in the pasture.  Rapidly growing spring grass is the most nutritious, so I try to gather a couple of sacks of this for them.  My hens will eat the finer bits of hay that the goats drop on the ground, so I really don't have to make lawn hay....but I still do.  Just because.
A heat lamp with a 250 watt red bulb is hung on one side, lowered on a cord until a thermometer placed at chick height reads 95 F.   It is hung in such a way that the chicks can get away from the heat if the cellar warms up at mid-day, and can gather under it for more warmth when the air gets chilly.  Seeing the chicks gather around the perimeter of the heat source indicates that the temperature is ideal.  If they were clumped right underneath it because they are chilled, it would need to be lowered, and scattered far away from it indicates they are too hot and it needs to be raised.

They also need a safe source of water, so notice that the gravity waterer I placed in the brooder has pebbles in it.  This keeps small, weaker chicks from falling in and drowning, or even getting a good soaking.  I'll remove the pebbles in a couple more days.

For food, I put my homemade chick starter on a couple of pieces of cardboard with the edges bent up, along with a filled standard red chick feeder.  The cardboard feeders will be used for the first few days, to help them find food as they naturally would in the wild, on the ground.  Ultimately, they will discover the feeder and once they are reliably eating from that, I'll discontinue the cardboard feeders.  The homemade cardboard feeders are easy to clean.....just toss them and add new ones when they get poopy, which they do pretty quickly.

It is so much fun to raise little chicks.  Every time I run to the cellar, I have to look at them and talk to them and lift a few up to whisper to and get them to know my voice.  Chicken therapy, we call it.  It really calms ya right down.  Look at these cuties eating:
Like babies of all species, they nap a LOT.  I love it when they face-plant into their food:
I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience raising chicks! 
Aren't they just too adorable?


  1. They are so cute! How many did you end up with? How many of each breed?

    I am fascinated with how the chicks' feathers within a breed will look so different, but final feathers often are nearly the same. Also how some look like chipmunks, and their final feathers are entirely different.

    Regarding deep bedding, we do the same in our brooder and coop and in the cow stalls. Joel Salatin has said if you can smell it, there's not enough carbon, so add more.

    I know none of our areas smell. I don't know if it's good or bad, but people do remark our barn/coop doesn't "smell" like a barn/coop.

    All our poultry waterers, and for older birds, feeders are hung. The advantage is you can keep them at the correct height, level with the birds back, and the waterers stay cleaner. The reason is if a bird lowers it's head to drink, the contents of the crop leak into the water, fouling it. Also all that scratching dirties it too.

    For feeders it's the same height, but there's less waste from head flinging.

    Our brooder is in a warm area, so we don't need the bedding as insulation. We start them on plain newsprint with food spread on it the first day or so, until they are eating from the feeders, then we spread bedding. Your cardboard feeders are a real good idea!

    Ours don't come until May 2nd. Love looking at yours!

  2. They sure are cute at this age! Yes, it is fun to see how they feather out. The Icelandics are a landrace breed, so they can be any color or pattern, so that will be extra fun as they mature.

    I had a problem with the incubator while I was at work and lost the last part of the hatch, but I got what I wanted the most, which was 14 Icelandics (I really-really-really want a half dozen broody hens for next year)and one each of the other eggs I put in Light Brahma, one Americauna/Light Brahma cross, and one Maran.

    I wanted a full brooder, so I went to the feed store and got some chicks to make up the difference: a half dozen straight run (straight run means as they come out of the egg, male and female, not sorted by sex) Buff Brahmas and five mixed Red pullets (female chicks.) There are 28 chicks in the brooder.

  3. I also tape a turkey feather duster to the side of my brooder about 3" above the bottom. This gives the babies a "momma" to hide under just like they would if a hen had hatched them. The baby ducks I brooder raised always ran in and out and in and out from under that duster depending on how cold or brave they were feeling. It's like a safe little feather fort. For 97¢ it made a fantastic "babysitter".

  4. Feather duster mama! Love it! Where on earth do you get a feather duster for a buck?