Project Springtime part 1.5: chick maintenance

Visions and reality are often a little different. 

I envisioned having three cute chicks whom I would carry around lovingly, let the kids hold, and generally become attached to. 

We are all attached to them, but we handle them a heck of a lot less than I expected. 

Yes, they’re also a lot of work. Here’s what we have done so far, after the brood box setup from my last post.

Daily: change the water and check/change food/grit. Move lamp if necessary. 

Weekly: change the pine shavings (bedding), clean off poo from various places. 

Monthly: (I’ve had them a month, so I mean just once so far) add bricks to lift food and water, add 1 rock and 2 sticks for general amusement/perching. 

Water is critical and needs to be checked on multiple times per day I have found, since the chicks are really enjoying jumping onto the water jar and then the side of the box (sometimes out of the box too). On a few occasions they knocked over the water, and often the water tray is full of shavings even when upright – sometimes poo too! Yuck. If it’s got wet shavings in it I dump it outside on the ground between hedges before bringing it in for a good cleaning. It needs to be cleaned (in my opinion) with hot soapy water every day. I like watching them drink the fresh cool water when I replace it. 

Like children they seem to go through growth spurts, eating more on some days than others. I was filling the tray without a bottle on top at first, then they started eating all the food in a day, so I added the bottle. They slowed down and I think the bottle was unnecessary (didn’t hold any extra feed, difficult to get on and off, hard to refill if there was still feed in the tray) so I removed it today. So far not much poo in with food, but when there is some I remove it.

The bedding, especially if an inch or two deep, should last all week without getting too stinky or yucky looking – depending on how many birds you have I suppose. When I see a lot of poo mid-week I scoop some out. Since I upgraded their box a couple weeks ago I am scooping the old litter into the old box, and will take the whole thing to compost as it gets more full. I’m using an old plastic container to scoop out, and removing the litter with the chicks still in the box. They don’t seem to like this process, but they dislike the addition of shavings even more. I usually grab a big handful at a time and toss it in to the section they are avoiding. I assume there is probably a better way to do this, maybe moving the chicks to a different box while changing litter but that seems like unnecessary mess. Tonight I also cleaned up a bunch of poo outside the box. I’m looking forward to the coop. 

Of course, as I’m doing all these things I have a baby strapped to my front, and she’s going nearly upside down as I bed forward to remove and replace shavings. Mostly, she is agreeable, especially if I pick up the chicks afterward so she can touch them. She is far gentler than I expected considering how rough she is with us humans. All day long she says “bok bok,” which is her way of asking to go see them. When we have to come back inside she screams. She loves them dearly. As does the dog, who thus far has been very well behaved around the chicks, but insistent upon going to visit the box as often as possible. 

I have acquired all the wood for the coop, and will be posting about that as I begin construction. So far vision and reality have not looked alike, but I am thoroughly enjoying having chicks and the adventures associated with them so far. 

Project Springtime Part 1: Making a home for baby chicks. 

I decided to make my cross-town move a little more complicated by adding baby chicks to it. I’m now the proud owner of a black Australorp, a buff Orpington, and an Ameracauna.  They’re nearly a month old and have been perching on the side and leaving the brooder on occasion. Luckily they have very effective alarm peeps and we have had no casualties. 

They’re sturdy birds; the dog, the baby, and the noises of the move were tolerated well from the start. 

I’m feeding them an organic, unmedicated chick feed with grit and occasional scrambled egg treats. I know, feeding them eggs is weird. They go bananas for them and show their true chickeny silliness when it is time for treats. 

So far all that has been necessary is to make the brooder, feed and water them. The brooder consists of 1 large plastic tub with high sides (2 feet) around 2.5-3 feet long, and a special red heat lamp with 2 metal arches around the bulb for protection. I filled the bottom with a layer of pine shavings, and bought both a plastic feeder and waterer, to which I attach glass mason jars. I had a flat thermometer stuck on the inner wall of the brooder for the first couple of weeks to monitor the temperature more closely and keep one corner of the brooder between 85 and 90 degrees F. 

My first brood box was too small. I upgraded to a larger box with higher sides a little over a week ago, and the birds are happier. I also added 2 bricks to elevate the feeder and waterer, and a couple of sticks in case they liked standing on them. They don’t seem to care. They do like perching on the side and leaving bird droppings outside the box. In the above image you can see the old and new brooders, with my ameracauna perched on the side of the new blue one. I have no need for the thermometer any longer, but I did have a burn/melt spot after a couple of days when the bulb was too close to the plastic. It smelled gross (plasticky) when I walked out there, which tipped me off. 

The Australorp seems to be experiencing the pecking order. Her neck feathers are sparse as though she is being picked on. 

Next up for the chickies is a coop.