Notes from Windward: #67


Brooding the Reds

settling in our new chicks

  March 19:

     We were excited to find a note in today's mail informing us that our shipment of fifty Rhode Island Red chicks was waiting for pickup down at the post office, so right after lunch we headed down the grade to fetch them home.

     As soon as we entered the post office, there was no doubt that we were in the right place since the chicks could be heard peeping away and drawing a lot of interest from the folks popping in to pick up their mail.

Walt transferring chicks to the brooder

     Last summer we purchased a half-dozen guineas to build up that component of our out-door flock, and something got into the brooder and killed them. We suspect that a skunk living in a den under that facility was to blame, and we set a trap which snared the skunk that night. It may have been a rat or a squirrel--known locally as a "tree rat"--that did the deed, but any skunk caught around the chickens is one skunk too many.

     In part to prevent a recurrance of that sad event, we moved the brooder over to Vermadise. After lining the floor tray with newspaper, filling the feed, water and grit trays, and making sure that the containment screens were secure, I began the slow process of reaching into the shipment box, carefully catching one chick inside my balled fist and transfering it to the brooder--repeat fifty times.

baby chicks arrive thirsty

     We ordered our chicks from McMurray Hatchery and couldn't be more pleased with their service. The chicks arrived in good form, with only one dead chick out of 51, so that's pretty impressive.

the mystery chick's on the left

     One of the things that McMurray does is to include a mystery chick with each order. They don't include any information as to the breed so only time will tell what sort of chick it is, but it sure wasn't hard to figure out who wasn't a Rhode Island Red.

  March 21:

     The weather turned cold last night; we know that we took a hit, but it will be some time before we know the extent of the damage.

     The weather's been so warm of late that our fruit trees were starting to bud. Well, last night came a hard frost--ice on the water sort of night--that could have killed off the buds on our apricot, fig and mulberry trees. We'll only know in time, but all of those trees had been planted on sloped ground, so we have reason to hope that the cold air didn't pool around the trees enough to do real harm.

     Where we know for sure that the cold hurt us was in the brooder. The chicks handled the first night with no problem, but last night was notably colder. In order to stay warm, the chicks crowded around the light that serves the brooder as a heat source, and some of the chicks were trampled and crushed.

     For years we've been using that brooder to raise chicks and ducklings that had been hatched naturally by their mothers since typically a hen will lose about half her babies between hatching and the point when they become autonomous. By scouping up the hatchlings and brooding them, we're able to double the number of birds that reach adult size.

     Because we're usually doing that in May and June, we'd not had to worry about keeping the brooder all that warm. There had originally been a curtain that separated the enclosed back of the brooder from the open front where the feed and water trays are, but that had been worn out some time back and not replaced. That's not been a problem before, but it was last night.

     In addition, we've usually only had to work with a dozen or so chicks/ducklings at a time, which prevented the crowding problems that showed up with our fifty Rhode Island Red chicks. As the chicks tried to crowd around the light for warmth, they wound up crushing some of their siblings in the corners, with the result that we lost eleven of the fifty-one chicks last night. <sigh>

the brooder's new curtain

     To try and ensure that we don't loose more chicks tonight, Gina got busy and used some of our canvas stock to make a new curtain for the brooder. We got it installed this afternoon, and it looks like it's going to do the trick. The curtain keeps a larger area warm, and the chicks are spreading out more. We're keeping our fingers crossed that tonight isn't as costly as last night.

  March 24:

     Good news--since installing the new heat curtain, we haven't lost any more chicks. It hurt losing those chicks, but they're so vulnerable to chilling at this time of year than it's very hard not to lose a few to crowding. As ever, all we can do is to pay attention and to build on what we learn in order to do better next time.

Day 6 and growing like weeds

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 67