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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2 week old chicks in tractor on grass, no medication

Just an update. The chicks have just turned 2 weeks of age and I made them a new tractor to celebrate.
This is their first move out of the miniature wire brooder, which they were outgrowing. It's also their first time on the ground, though of course they've been on a floor containing a small amount of healthy adult hen droppings.

Their diet is the same as last time I talked about these birds.

So here they are in the new tractor, complete with hose-covered wire handles for dragging. It's basically a miniature replica of my huge tractor. This one is about 600mm x 1100mm, so it isn't very big, but quite sufficient for either a hen with babies or a dozen or more chicks on their own.

The structure is basically made of Bunnings compost panels (this whole unit took a single pack, plus one offcut from last pack; I could have done without that though).

Two panels were bent to form a semicircle when clipped together with c-clips up the spine (which is the top middle of the curve). Another panel was halved and c-clipped to the curve to lengthen it and make it even bigger. To keep them in this U shape (when seen in profile) the ends were then c-clipped to cut-out sections of panel. The front opening (to the right in this picture) has a lower section that doesn't open, so chicks don't come flying out all at once when I change food and water.

Over the top of the compost panels, once they were fairly rigidly clipped together, I then added a layer of bird mesh. It's not the really good stuff (which has square holes) because the compost panels provide security against big predators and little ones find any sort of small-holed mesh a challenge. With a good dog in the backyard I tend to focus on slowing predators down rather than building Fort Knox. Even so it wouldn't be easy for a fox to get at these chicks through the wire.

The unit is also pegged to the ground in 5 places. Yes, an animal could dig underneath. But again that's something that takes time to do, and my dog is very alert. If this unit was to be used away from the house I'd perhaps think about adding a mesh skirt around the outside. At any rate the tent pegs keep it from being lifted up.

Over the unit, as you can see, there are some small tarps (folded in half and fitted around the curve) and some offcuts of shadecloth to stop currawongs herding the chicks from one side to the other and pecking their eyes.

The feeder (attached to the front of the cage so it moves with it) is a piece of drainpipe slit lengthwise. This is set in at a slight slope so water tends to drain away, though practically speaking the tractor is never really on level ground anyhow.

The chicks are really enjoying the mixture of grass, sunshine and a generous long feeder.

Now for the simplest part of all. You can see I'm using a cat carrier as the cold brooder in this setup. That's because it's summer right now and although it's an unusually cold summer (current temperature 22C, last night down to about 18C) the chicks are doing perfectly with an open fronted sleeping area. They've been trained already to go into an insulated nest at night or when cold.

The cat carrier isn't just bare, of course. The floor is 2 layers of foam insulation. The walls and ceiling are a rectangle of the same insulating foam (camp/yoga matting) cut to size then bent into a curve that hugs the structure above and on the sides. The pressure of the foam wanting to turn into a rectangle again keeps it pressed against the walls. With another piece of foam at the rear, tucked behind the curved piece, and some loose wool (from my pet sheep) stuffed into the cavity between foam and cat carrier plastic ceiling, the little space is truly cosy. Lastly I've inserted a couple of pieces of packing foam across the front, as an extra heat retainer.

These chicks know where to go because they've been largely cold brooded (after being trained to use the insulated nest area in the first place by a ceramic bulb). They're largely self sustaining now. About 6 days ago I sold 5, so these remaining 10 birds are doing all the work at staying warm.

At 2 weeks of age you can see they are remarkably well feathered. Largely this is genetic (the red hybrid and leghorn parents are both early maturing) but partly it's because they've been asked to do some of the insulating themselves.

Of course coccidiosis is always a worry, but these birds are on the kefir diet and I'm not expecting to see any setbacks. They've had the usual regime of a handful of hen soil sprinkled through the litter from day one, and being moved from the starter-brooder before 3 weeks of age. However the grass under them is damp and it's been raining off and on for a couple of weeks now, so I'll be watching them closely. This is their second day on the ground so we'll see by day 5 whether I'll need to make any changes.

But I don't think I'll see a problem. :)

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