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Greenmeadow Poultry

Brooding

Chicks under a brooder lampA 'brooder' is basically a warm area where you keep your chicks until they have enough feathers to survive on their own.

There are various types of brooder - the most common is a lamp on a chain, with either a special red coloured bulb or a 'dull emitter' ceramic bulb in it. You hang the lamp up, so the bulb is a foot or 18 inches above the floor and you allow the chicks space to get away from the heat if they want to. Often this is done by making a circle of corrugated cardboard 3 or 4 feet across, with the lamp at the centre. You can also hang your lamp over one corner of a large cardboard box or get special 'brooder pens' to keep the chicks in. You can also get a system called an 'electric hen' which is a heat-pad for chicks to sit under when they are cold. Someone I know broods her chicks very successfully in a cardboard box by her aga.

For more information about setting up a low-cost brooder for a dozen or so chicks, have a look at designs for two simple brooders.

Temperature

If you are using a heat-lamp, the temperature at ground level directly under the lamp should be about 37 degrees centigrade on day 1. You will be able to tell whether the chicks are too hot or too cold by their behaviour. If they are too hot, they will move away from the lamp. If they are too cold, they will huddle underneath it. You can adjust the lamp up and down accordingly.

Gradually, over a few weeks, as the chicks develop grown-up feathers, you raise the lamp a few inches at a time and eventually start turning it off during the day. It's very difficult to give a rule of thumb for this, as it depends on the weather and the temperature of the building your chicks are in. For example, in a hot summer, you might be able to start putting two week old chicks outside in a pen on grass for an hour or so every day. But in February, you wouldn't. As a guide though, even in the coldest weather, I would expect to have finished with the lamp completely by six weeks and in warm weather perhaps by four weeks.

Environment

ChicksYour brooder needs to be somewhere dry with a steady temperature, free from draughts and safe from predators such as cats, rats and crows. You can keep it in a spare room in the house - but remember chicks grow quite quickly and after two or three weeks will probably start outstaying their welcome.

To start with it is very important for the chicks to have a non-slip surface under their feet. They can be subject to something called 'splayed leg', which is made worse if they can't grip properly. Put them on corrugated card (rather than newspaper) from hatching to three or four days old, or a deep layer of woodshavings.

After two or three weeks, as they get bigger, some people keep them in a greenhouse - or put them out in to a greehouse in daytime. This tends to work well in spring or autumn - if it's very warm weather the greenhouse will be too hot for them. Also, however small they are, chickens are incompatible with growing plants!

Weak chicks

Quite often with each hatch there will be one or two chicks that after a day are two are obviously not quite 'right'; nature usually takes it's course with these, but you can cull them if you want to. I prefer to leave them to it and see what happens - sometimes they survive despite everything.

Food and water

Chicks Your chicks should be fed on baby chick crumbs for the first six weeks of their lives. You can supplement this with leafy vegetables like cabbage or lettuce; or carrots or apples hung up for them to peck at. This keeps them busy and supplements their diet. Chickens are omnivores - but chick crumbs will provide them with all the nutrients they need to start with. I also give them mixed corn after a week or so.

The advantage of having them on corrugated card to start with is that if you put chick crumbs down on the card too, when they peck at them it makes a noise - this seems to encourage them to get the hang of feeding. Alternatively you can scatter the chick crumbs in an old carboard egg box or something similar for a day or two - anything that makes a noise when they peck it.

To start with you should provide them with a shallow dish of water, that they can't knock over or drown in. A deepish saucer with some pebbles in it will work; or there are special 'chick drinkers' that you can buy.

After six weeks you should move them on to 'growers pellets' rather than chick crumbs.

Cheryl Arvidson,
West Bagborough
Nr Taunton
Somerset
TA4 3EQ

email: info@thegreenmeadow.co.uk
telephone: 0797 0594 226

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