Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the not so perfect first timers guide to raising meatie chickens

the not so perfect first timers guide to raising meatie chickens in central texas
- chapter one -
prepping the brooder to week three

i caution that this "not so perfect guide" is based upon my imperfect experience. i am not an expert. i make no claims to be a chicken genius but i can offer to you the lessons i am learning along my hippychickenfarmer way. it is important for me to start by thanking all of those chickenfarming folk out there who have posted helpful tips and instructions for dealing with the raising of the chickenfolk. there are many resources available to new or pondering chickenfarmers. if you are considering the rearing of chicks or the gathering of eggs in your own back yard then start your research now. fools don't rush in - and the reading is usually interesting and sometimes flecked with anecdotal humor. you'll be glad you did the work up front and your chickies will be too. i'll start with a short recap of those creatures living in the hippychickenfarmer universe.
  • three laying chicas (a.k.a. chickenchicas) - freckles, alfie and saffron
  • three baby laying chicas - not yet named 4 weeks old
  • thirty-one meaties - tri-color freedom rangers 3 weeks old
  • one lionheaded wabbit - king heinrich otto the first
  • two boy kitties - mr. t supercat and opera kitty
  • me - the fairly oddfellow
long ago i started out with mr. t as companion and true friend, less than a year ago we decided to raise three chickenchicas for our own home grown eggs and private channel of chicken t.v. which began the crazy coop caper, my foray into building housing for farm creatures. opera kitty adopted us. he was a lone kitten living bravely under the house for a while until finally warming up the idea of daily scratches, a safe warm bed and a loving family. king heinrich was recently gifted to us and happily lives next door to the chicken chicas. the meaties fill out the most recent adventures into hippychickenfarming. and what an adventure it is.

where to start?
i will start with the meaties as there have been many an entry regarding the chickenchicas.

the meaties - this is my first batch of meaties. today they are exactly three weeks out of shell. there are thirty-one. i ordered thirty tri-colored freedom rangers (a meat bird) from jm hatchery. the extra one is sent in effort to ensure that the full original order arrive alive and may prove as compensation in the case of a death. this is common practice for good hatcheries. i am happy to say that at three weeks, we have lost not a one. a bit now about the freedom rangers from the jm hatchery site.
The Colored Range day-old chicks are hatched in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The breeding stock is imported from the regions of Burgundy and Brittany (France). The genetic stock is derived from the American and European old heritage breed of chicken and was developed in the early 1960’s to meet the highest standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range program. Currently, the Colored Range genetic stock is used by most non-factory farm production models (alternative) all across Europe and also by small pastured poultry producers in search of a traditionally raised farm chicken - just like the "oldies", healthy and with a succulent flavor and texture.
even more important, was this statement
At J. M. Hatchery Inc. we strongly believe in traditional, sustainable, and environmentally friendly farming methods, and we are convinced that allowing the chickens to do what comes naturally ensures an incredible meal for your table!
that said, the babies were not super cheap. they came at $2 a head though i have to say that i did not think twice about price when the idea of the freedom ranger's history and heritage breeding were taken into account. for me, their breeding was an important factor. i could have pulled the price down to $1.5o or $1.oo a head had i purchased a larger number (5o-1oo) but in consideration of this group serving as the starter, introduction to raising your own food, can i really do this group, i thought best to start small. i purchased the meaties in october of 2008 but opted to delay shipping until a good bit of my work related travel had calmed down.
  • lesson number one - never name the chickens intended for the dinner table.
  • lesson number two - make sure you are not traveling during the wee early weeks of the meatie lives as this is the time that requires the most attention and where the "if something is going to go wrong" goes wrong.
  • lesson number three - do your research before the chicks arrive.
  • lesson number four - get the meatie world ready before the chick arrive. get your brooder ready, get the feed purchased, get the bedding ready, have your waterers, feeders and heat lamps on hand. if you wish, purchase some water soluble electrolytes often used in the waterers upon arrival.
  • lesson five - read the directions on any given item
  • lesson six - be ready to fall in love with the fluffy wee ones but also to begin the preparation of the mind for the raising of dinner.
there is a lot involved when raising the little buggers and most folks choose to start raising the wee chicks in the late spring months for many reasons, the most practical is that of natures seasonal climactic heating up. wee chicks need heat, lots of it, constant and steady. you can lose chicks fast if they chill. after all, they arrive one to two days out of the shell. they have no mama to cuddle next to (this in the case of purchasing chicks) and they have no feathers. yup no feathers for a few weeks and growing feathers takes a whole lot of energy and energy for a chick translates to a protein balanced feed mixed especially for starter chicks and heat. they do have each other which is why you will see them clustered together frequently and often, they use each other's body heat as an additional source of warmth.

there is a great deal of detailed information out there on the subject of how much heat and when but it is important to keep in mind the temperature conditions of the space in which you plan to place your brooder and the daily changes that space experiences not only through the span of a day but through the span of a day with varying exterior temperatures. it's not a perfect science, the how much heat and when. the recipe in books helps one to know what type of temperature to maintain but there is no perfect lamp that regulates itself with the natural daily fluxes so it is important that you have the time and the will to continually observe their living environment.
a reminder
  • lesson number two - make sure you are not traveling during the wee early weeks of the meatie lives as this is the time that requires the most attention and where the "if something is going to go wrong" goes wrong.
  • lesson number three - do your research before the chicks arrive.
here are a few pictures of my first brooder. i located the brooder in my garage which is fairly well insulated and free from drafts. it's a relatively simple set up. the brooder itself is a large galvanized tub of which i arranged three heat lamps above. note- i only ended up ever turning on two lamps at a time and only on the chilliest of nights. the heat from one lamp proved plenty for the day time hours. keep a thermometer in the brooder so that you can properly regulate their living conditions - don't guess. on top of the brooder is a screen cover. better to keep unwanted critters out and the wanted critters in. also note that the moment you lift up the top to care for the wee ones, they will start peeping and running for cover. this is based upon their instinctive sense that predators attack from above. you're not a bad wee chick daddy or mommy, it's just the way of the wee chick. i have raised the tub up off the floor for easy access and also to discourage any predators from unwanted curiosity. you can see that the feed tubs are located next to the brooder and water source just outside the garage. make the location work for you. you don't want to have to travel all about each and every time you need to care for the wee ones because let me tell you, there is a lot of care involved.

the inside of the brooder looks like this. the bedding is an 1" thickness of wood chips. here a lesson i would like to share. lot's of folks don't like the idea of wood chips from day one because the wee chicks don't yet know which bits of their universe they should eat and which they should not eat. they will peck at everything and there is vast documentation regarding chick related health complications and death with the use of woods chips as bedding in their early/first days out of the shell. i questioned it. bad chickenmama.

this photo is of their first few minutes in the brooder. it was not 30 minutes later that i noticed the buggers trying to eat the wood chips. i immediately pulled them all out of the brooder, placed them back in their familiar travel box, placed down a layer of natural burlap over the wood chips and re-set up the waterer and feeders before placing them back in .

i kept the wood chips below for softness and to retain warmth. the burlap provided a tight enough weave as to keep the wee ones from eating the wood chips. the burlap unlike newspaper also provided the wee ones with something to grip onto. newspaper can get slippery once poop'd on and wee ones poop a lot. the burlap was easy to take care of. i could either compost it (which i did) or wash it out, dry and reuse (which i did not because i did not want to risk illness). i had enough burlap on hand to last for weeks. i did pre-wash the burlap with biodegradable laundry soap and hung it to dry in the garage prior to use to insure proper cleanliness. i stopped using the burlap over the bedding after the chicks reached two weeks of age. the wee ones had grown by leaps and bound and were, at this point, avid eaters from the provided feeders.

i placed two quart size feeders and one large waterer in the brooder. i filled the feeders at least twice daily and changed the water in the waterer twice daily. you will notice that wee chicks have a talented habit for kicking bad ickies into the waterer. there were times when i was cleaning out the waterer three and four times a day. you'll have to stay observant.
  • lesson seven - the wee chicks must always have clean water and clean feed - you will be checking and changing them both frequently.
  • lesson eight - wee chicks eat and drink a lot - they grow fast and furious - growing feathers requires a lot of energy and thus a steady amount of food and water.
  • lesson nine - keep the brooder environment DRY - nothing will kill a chicken faster than a damp and dirty environment. if you spill the water everywhere, change the bedding - no ifs ands or buts about it.
once you are all set up and learn a bit about their schedule let them be. they have just undergone a great deal of stress. how would you like to travel in box for one to two days with no mama and no shell for safety?

the cycle of a growing chick goes something like this. often the order is of a varied sort
  • peep peep peep peep a lot
  • run around, play and romp
  • eat and drink and eat and drink and repeat
  • fall flat where they are standing and sleep for a while
  • poop nearly as much as they peep
ventilation -
which brings me to ventilation.
you want good ventilation for simple air flow. you want fresh air to continually circulate in order to balance heating and cooling exchanges. you must allow the little peepers good ventilation. they poop, the poop sends up gasses. gasses get inhaled and if the location is not well ventilated, you could lose baby peepers.

do want a less smelly and/or a clean fresh smelling brooder universe? then keep your brooder clean. change out the bedding frequently. if you have ever seen a wee chick sleep, then you have noticed that they sleep on the bedding, dirty bedding, dirty chick which could lead to sick chick. i know you don't want that.

is that baby chick dead - the way of the sleeping wee chicks
i was one of the many that first panicked when i experienced the falling flat where they were standing to sleep for a while. in truth, they look dead but they are not. they just exhaust themselves so much that that's the best they can do. i gave a few a poke just to check and up they popped and peeped and pooped and went through the whole cycle again. my suggestion is to sit a while just watching quiet. get to know their cycle visually and audibly. this will help you better identify the possibility of
a something not quite right. after the first few days you'll know how often you have to change the water, how quickly the buggers chow down the quart sized jar of chicken starter feed and how quickly they soil the bedding. keep a box on hand with a bit of bedding in it to use when cleaning the brooder. pull the chickies out and place them into the box making sure that they are not too crowded - you do not want any of the babies suffocating or stomping all over one another. clean the brooder well, re prep all the inside stuffs and then carefully place the wee chicks back into their home. they may peep a lot on the travel but after a few changes, they begin to get used to your hand.
  • lesson ten - use a gentle but firm hand when moving wee chicks about. they may struggle a bit but don't squish the babies too hard, they are fragile beings.
ok this is how it goes for the first week or so. then you might begin to notice a bit of build up on the bummies of the wee ones. this is called pasting and it requires attention.
"Pasting-up" of the rear of baby chicks (feces sticking and drying below and then sometimes accumulating upwards to even cover the vent) may occur following stress or chilling. This condition also may occur if the young become too hot. Seriousness of this condition depends on the severity and duration of the stress and if the vent area becomes blocked and the chick unable to defecate. In serious cases this accumulation should be removed by carefully softening it with a cloth and warm water. Wear protective gloves and take care in the removal of the crusted material by gently washing and massaging it away. Place the chick into warm comfortable quarters. In fast growing and feathering birds, small accumulations of feces will disappear in a few days as the bird grows and the baby chick down is replaced or dislodged. In moderate cases the pasting only occurs in a relatively small proportion of the birds and is not a serious condition provided the stress condition is not continued.
the cleaning up the wee ones is not difficult. follow the above remembering to be gentle and proceed with patience. i myself had to clean their bummies only once minus one chick that i cleaned up twice. now at three weeks, the bummies are all clear.

experiences with the heat lamp
- red heat lamp or white heat lamp?

know your wattage -
it is important to know that the white lamps commonly found in the stores are rated at 125 watts which can often fit into any garage type clip light (check it's rating to avoid fires.) the red lamps commonly found in stores are rated at 250 watts which will require the purchasing of a clip lamp with a ceramic base. it is very important that both the lamp base and the wire used on the lamp are properly rated for the wattage of the lamp, otherwise you may be heading towards trouble. be safe with electricity.

then what? why red or why white, they both produce heat right? yes they both do provide heat but they are seen and experienced by the chickens differently. the light from a white lamp gives each of the chicks the ability to see contrast and color. the red lamp dulls their ability to do so. the red lamp has also been noted to keep aggressive behavior and chick to chick pecking and/or self pecking to a minimum.

chicks peck at each other, themselves and stuff frequently, that is not unusual or dangerous. what is dangerous is excessive pecking. dangerous pecking draws blood and once blood is drawn, other chicks will join in and in a worst case scenerior peck a weak chick to death. the use of a white lamp allows chicks to see clearly the bloody area on another chick. the use of a red lamps dulls their ability to see color, changes how they experience the bloodly area visually (they see it as a dark spot rather than a blood spot) and deters the aggressive pecking from continueing.

note there are other factors that can cause this type of agressive pecking and should be checked if you notice such behavoiour.
  • the chicks are too hot and act out
  • the chicks have lice and/or mites which is not uncommon as one might like to believe
again there are many resources to investigate such occurances but it is most important for you to

the easiest first step is start by switching to red lamps only. if there are one or two chicks bleeding, it is best to separate them out from the group. there are several remedies for the treating of the wounds and to deter future pecking. in my case, i chose to invest in a bottle of rooster booster pick no more. i had no idea what to do. i first logged on to the backyard chickens forum and searched the topic. the forum holds a wealth of information and i visit frequently not just in time of need but as a regular resource for learning from those futher along in the game than myself. i found several folks who had a good experience with the rooster booster pick no more and lucky for me, my local feed store has a single bottle in stock. i made sure to tell the man at the counter that i was taking the last bottle so that he could order more for future folk in need. he too spoke highly of the product admitting to be a user himself.

other remedies i read about included the use of neosporin for its bacteria fight agents. and then a bit of vaseline with hot pepper power to deter future peckers. i was uneasy as to the mix of powder to vaseline and the possibility of burning their little bummies so i took my trip to the feed store. if i had not struck it lucky, i would have been on that forum asking for details.
  • lesson eleven - if the chicks are pecking one another, do not expect them to stop until you take action to make it stop
  • lesson twelve - if a chick is injured or sick, ACT FAST, you may only hours or a day to save it's little life
so far i've been lucky but i check in on the wee ones regularly. i inspect a few here and there as daily practice. i check for mites and lice. they like the warm spots on a chick. (under it's wings, around the vent hole - a.k.a. bumm) i observe group behaviour as often as i am able. who's on top? who hangs out alone? is that loner healthy? who clumps together? as they do create mini-communities and buddy systems. who's growing fastest? who is looking small? is that chick healthy? are you a roo roo or just a tough broad?

tips on heat -
  • are they too hot? - everyone fleeing the area of the heat lamps
  • are they too cold? - everyone clustering under the heat lamps
  • are they just about right? - everyone occupying the space pretty evenly
  • do i have enough or too many lamps in space? - chicks should have areas where they can cool down and heat up as they like. chicks do well with balanced micro-climates. chicks do not do well with extreme shifts in temperature.
  • thus, the importance in keeping a thermometer in the space
if you've been following the blog along, you have noticed that i moved the wee ones from the galvanized tub brooder to their growing shed (6'x6 in size) at just around their two week mark. today they are three weeks out of the shell, still growing rapidly and i begin to wonder if the shed will indeed prove large enough. i think it will but i am prepared to be proven wrong.

follow this link to see inside the shed.
this is hippychickenfarmer @ youtube.

i fabricated their first training roost and installed it this morning. it is just about 8" off of the floor. i have it supported on the top of two half size cinder blocks. a great number of the chicks enjoy sleeping under the roost as it probably proves an idea of safety. others have begun to investigate it for it's proper use. my baby layers were up testing it out right off. several of the meaties ventured a try but for the most part, it is not yet a popular site. on the other hand, it could be super popular by days end considering how quickly they grow and teach each other new tricks.

feed - i eat organic therefore i raise organic

lucky for me coyote creek farms is just down the road 15 miles or so and they prep their own brand of livestock feed from all organic materials. generally you feed on the following schedule. folks vary on the schedule so i urge again to do some research and to send questions out to folks who have further experience. take a look at the bag of feed. there may be information available and printed on the bag or call the producers help line and ask. or ask the friendly folk at the feed store. explore all available resources.

chicken starter - some folks say 0-6wks, others 0-8wks and yet others 0-4wks - i'm not going to switch over until they look pretty well feathered out. the extra protein in the chicken starter aides their quick growth and with the growth of feathers. did you know? feathers are made of protein

chicken grower - 6-17wks, again opinions vary
chicken grit - may be started at this age. keep the grit separate, they feed off of it as needed
note: oyster shell and grit are not one and the same. oyster shell is a calcium suppliment and helps laying chickens form the medullar bone which produces egg shells.

layer mash - 17 or 19wks on
if you've got meaties, they may not make it this far. if you've got layers then make the switch.

recap of brooder to week three -

this is where i am today. all chicks are healthy, growing fast and eating up a storm. i am now on the second 50# bag of starter feed and filling the feeders regularly. i have been on regular heat lamp duty as we have been experiencing rapidly fluctuating temperatures this past week. yesterday afternoon rose to 80˚f at which time i turned all heat lamps off. last night dropped down to 29˚f which requires two red lamped heat lamps full on with the heat source located at 24" above chick/floor height. i will be checking in on them in moments just to make sure the current set up is working. are the lamps too low, too high? i won't know until i check.

things pondered now that will be included in the next chapter -
  • raising chicks off season - when to let the buffalo roam when days are cool
  • buidling the meatie's run without going broke - these folks will not pen up with my chickenchica's so we'll be working on a whole new construction project.
  • raising the roost - the design and upgrades of the meatie shed - as they grow so raises the roost.
  • efficient efficiency department - how to set up the shed and the run for the best use of storage, time and safety.
  • my how they grow - i'll be taking in photos of their growth along the way
  • roo roo or henny hen hen - how will my prediticitons play out?
thanks for reading the first chapter of the not so perfect first timers guide to raising meatie chickens in central texas

and here's a video showing how some other folks do the chicken raising thing. click on the image of the chicks to get the video rolling.

want a few reading suggestions?
start here!

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