Saturday, June 28, 2014

Brooder Bonanza!

Chicken is delicious, and nothing quite beats the feeling of picking up a still-warm egg from a nest box.  We've been raising our egg-laying chickens for 3 years now, and processing the extras for meat.  On our homestead bucket list had been to try raising broilers for meat, and this season we are finally taking the plunge!  At the same time, we have a formerly broody hen raising black australorp chicks, and we have 4 lavender orpingtons (and a mutt wyandotte) in another brooder to be replacement egg hens.  All told we have 4 brooders running with 59 chicks...We're crazy, thank goodness it's summer and Mr. RainySunday is home!
 Mama Hen is a buff orpington who went broody a couple months ago.  We bought and placed under her a dozen lavender orpington eggs from a local breeder...and none hatched.  Not quite sure what happened, since Mama did her job...but no chicks.  The breeder offered us some lavender chicks as a replacement, but they wouldn't be ready for 2-3 weeks.  Our broody had already been on the nest 5 weeks (21 days is usual to hatch), and I didn't feel it would be humane to keep her sitting any longer.  Enter the black australorp chicks.  We bought 3 and put them under her, and she took to them really well.

We had Mama and her chicks in a dog X pen lined with bird netting.  That was great, they had lots of room, were on dirt, etc.  Then Mama taught them to scratch, and kept opening up holes under the fence.  One got out, never to be seen again (I assume thanks to local dogs, our nearby owl, or a barn cat).  The other two were determined to meet the same fate, so we built them a wood sided, and bottomed brooder/hutch.  

They are still outside, with Mama, they have a shovel of dirt in there, along with alfalfa stems, their food, and a hanging chicken nipple waterer.  The top is covered with bird netting, and an old patio table top at an angle to keep the rain out, but let air and light in.  Another couple weeks, and I think they will be big enough for one of the dirt pens again.  We'll see.

Last week, we picked up our replacement lavender chicks (4) and one mutt wyandotte.

They are in a wood brooder in the house (in our school/art room, actually).  We had them on paper towels at first, but have now switched to pine shavings.

They are eating a ground, fermented feed, and seem to enjoy it and be growing well.  They have also transitioned from little lids, to a feed "trough."

Their waterer is a funnel with a tube, connected to a chicken water nipple.

We mounted a 100W light in a shop hood to keep them warm.  Chicks raised by a hen do not need heat lights, mama keeps them warm.  These gals don't have mama, so they need supplemental heat.  As they grow, and get more feathers, we will raise the lamp, and reduce the wattage.

  The lavenders are very cute, and I am hoping that the amount of holding and attention they are getting by being in the house where the kids can reach them will help them to be friendly.

We ordered 50 broiler (cornish cross)chicks from a local hatchery, Rock Creek Farms.  

To prepare, we built two brooders (and will add a third early next week).  I found 3 sets of bi-fold closet doors from a family in our local buy-nothing project.  Those doors became the sides of the brooders.

My husband, and his helpers, added in a floor and ends from wood we had around for just such a diy project.  


One of the ends is a slider, to allow for easy clean out of the brooders.

We installed a long PVC pipe with 9 chicken nipples.  A PVC elbow connected to a vertical piece of PVC allows for easy filling.  Eventually, that will be connected to a 5 gallon bucket so there is more water available at a time.  

A piece of down spout cut in half length-wise makes a great feed trough for the chicks.  

Each brooder is quite long, so we have two 100W lights per brooder.  We also added on a "heat trap" on each end, to help hold the heat in.

26 chicks are in each brooder (they sent two extras!), and that works well.  As they grow, we will add one more brooder, and split them up.  Then, once they have enough feathers, they will move to outdoor pens.  At first we had these guys on paper towels, but man what a mess!  They would walk in their food, and make the water drip, and poop, then track all of it everywhere!  So they were quickly switched to pine shavings, and it is much cleaner, and they seems happier too.

Speaking of happy...the kids are loving having chicks!  They know the fate of the broilers, and enjoy them being cute, and are glad we raising egg chicks at the same time, to make the transition easier at harvest time.