Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Raising chicks off medicated starter

A little earlier I explained my current projects as crossing red layer hybrids to an ancona, and meat hybrids to a leghorn.

Here they are now (most of them) and as you can see, they're all quite well grown. The big heavy robust white ones are the meat hybrid x legorn. Some of the others (ancona x) are developing nice feather patterning, especially on the males.

Now for a little bit of background, especially on the feeding regimen.

With some temperature problems it wasn't a great hatch, but I ended up with 26 chicks from the first hatch and, a week later, 8 chicks which I put under a broody hen.

The 26 older chicks were given heat for a little under a week, by which time they were able to use the cold brooder (with gentle encouragement when they forgot where to go to stay warm). They were shut in at night only for the first few days after the switch to a non-heated brooder, then they could basically come and go.

They were also given medicated starter (the only version I can buy) for the first week only. This was to help them over the hump of being incubator hatched and then the change to cold brooding. Since I'm not a scientist, and haven't had my home feed tested in a lab, I start chicks on commercial feed just to make sure their first meals are completely formulated.

I also sprinkled adult hen droppings in some dirt and seeded this through the brooder litter. Apart from that there was little floor litter besides some gravel. The floor, being wood, doesn't really need litter (which is often there to insulate as well as soak up liquids).

After the first week, I switched the feed over 2 days to my home made mix. This consists of freshly ground corn, sunflower, bran and pollard (though usually I use freshly ground wheat), soy meal, lucerne chaff (alfalfa), seaweed meal, salt and kefir (soured milk). Every day they were given freshly chopped grass or other greens (e.g. dandelion). Lastly, I made sure the chicks had access to stone grit and shell grit if they needed.

The birds grew well, and then were transferred to the tractor (at 3 weeks of age). Again, I do this at that age so as not to seed the brooder with high levels of cocci. During their time in the brooder I didn't change much except remove droppings from the nest area (where they sleep in close confines, hence it needs to stay dry and fairly clean). Droppings built up on the brooder run floor and as they didn't smell of ammonia and weren't clinging to birds' feet, I left them there. It sounds terribly unhygienic, but by this stage chicks were scratching straw out of their nest area, and thus a layer of deep litter had begun to build up. Deep litter has a controlling effect against coccidia.

So as I speak, these birds have been in the tractor on the same spot as other chicks have been raised for the past week, with no signs of coccidiosis. I haven't moved them since putting them on the patch of grass as there's still plenty of green growth there. It's a large tractor for only 26 birds. I'm presuming the main reason that they haven't come down with coccidiosis is that since they're not meat hybrids, they don't put out a huge amount of droppings (meat hybrids soil the ground much more quickly, due to high volumes of food passing through). Thus the area they're on is still relatively clean.

So here we have 26 chicks just coming up to 4 weeks of age, on ground that's had several batches of chicks raised on it before, without medications for 3 weeks, and I'm seeing no coccidiosis.

I'm not saying this is a perfect system, and I still can't say if deliberate exposure from day one is the main thing, or whether it's the soured milk they've had in the diet all along (even when given commercial starter I moistened some of it with kefir), or whether it's something else going in my favour (such as local weather conditions). But I will say that it's been warm and humid and we've had rain since they've been out on grass, so I do feel that coccidiosis would have shown up by now.

Still, I'll be moving them today to new ground to keep the greens up to them. And I'll be watching them fairly closely to make sure none starts showing symptoms. But for now, it's all good. Need I add, the chicks that went under the broody shortly after hatching have remained in the same aviary since hatch, and as with the tractored chicks they're coccidiosis free too. But as they're now 3 weeks of age, I feel it's time to move them too. I'll be putting them in the tractor with the week older birds, and putting the hen (though she'll hate this) back in the hen-pen.

Clearly it's possible to raise small batches of chicks without using medicated starter, as long as some basics are observed (and I would also add that separation of several weeks between chick batches is a very good idea--we're taught that coccidia live for many many months in soil, but I suspect a good many die off in those first few weeks between hatches).

Some slow-feathering genes apparent in this bunch...

Best of all, I haven't seeded my soil with drug resistant coccidia; at least, not so far.

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