Doubtless the most difficult poultry problem today is raising the chicks. To many it is more difficult than hatching. Not all these difficulties can be solved by attention to constitutional vigor in the selection of the breeding stock. Probably the great losses incident to the season of brooding can be largely overcome by paying proper attention to the stock that is to produce the chicks. Poultrymen who follow this practice experience very little loss of brooder chicks.
But vigorous stock and good incubation will not atone for gross sins in brooding and feeding. A good brooder permits the chicks to find a comfortable temperature at all times. This means that at some point a surplus of heat must be carried, a higher temperature than the chick can endure for a very long time. The chick moves away from this heat and finds a comfortable place where it will lie down alone and sleep. When chicks crowd together they are not getting sufficient heat. Crowding or piling up is always disastrous. The chicks sweat -- if a chick can sweat -- and then chill, and lowered vitality and death follow. Chicks never crowd in a brooder where the heat is sufficient. If at night they are seen to crowd together and are standing up the brooder heat is not right. They should lie down singly and sleep contentedly. The brooder should be heated by hot air currents, thus providing both heat and ventilation at once.
Nests and runs for broody hens. Runs and nests 15 inches wide and high and 4 feet long. Lath over runs. Roof hinged to reach nests.
There must be ample room for the chicks to escape from too high a temperature, and the brooder must admit of being easily and rapidly cleaned. A brooder that does not embody these features is not worth consideration, and will be sure to foster loss. The heaters should be started several days before the chicks are to be put in so the brooders may be thoroughly warm and dry by the time the chicks are ready to be put in. An inch of dry, clean sand on the floors well warmed and dried is ideal. The temperature should be under the hover around 100 degrees. Oil lamps as the source of heat demand much attention to keep them going properly. The incubator lamp is a very safe device, the brooder lamp is not so safe; in fact, most of the brooders on the market are to be considered rather dangerous, and it is well to be a bit cautious with regard to fire. The flame should be turned very low in starting the lamp till the brooder is well heated, then it may be adjusted to suit. If adjusted before the lamp parts are heated, it is sure to run up so high as to be dangerous with the heating of the lamp.
Managing the Brooder
The success of brooding chicks artificially is having the brooding conditions the first few days similar to incubating conditions; not that the brooder is constructed like the incubator, but it has to be good enough to hatch eggs in, because in the four days that succeed the exclusion from the shell incubation is not really completed until the yolk is absorbed. The little chick that comes from the shell is very much like an infant; it has a tendency to lie around and sleep, and the nearer incubator conditions are reached in the brooder at the start the better it will be. The temperature would run from 85 to 90 degrees during this period, on a line with the chicks. Heat, if not too much, is beneficial.
When the chicks are put under a self-regulating hover, the heating conditions right themselves and one should not need to worry any more about the chicks than if they were eggs in an incubator; while if one has to depend on turning the lamp up and down to control the heat in operating brooders, especially out of doors, where there are extreme temperature variations to contend with, from 30 to 60 degrees in a day, that means that the operator has to be on hand a good part of the time.
During the first week of a chick's life heat is more important than food. Attempting to furnish this heat by excessive feeding to maintain the body temperature from within, we are pretty sure to overload the digestive system, and it seems to be the part of economy to supply the heat by oil or coal rather than by foods given the chicks.
Compare Natural Methods
If one would have greatest success in the rearing of chicks he must study Nature and the methods Nature uses, and apply the lesson thus learned to the work at hand. Watch an old hen steal her nest in some fence corner, bring off a brood and care for it without aid. Barring accident these chicks live and grow well. Study closely how and what they are fed. Chicks should be left in the incubator for 40 hours after the hatch is out. Then they may be put in the brooder and given a little warm water, that they may learn to drink. When three days old they are ready for their first feed. They may have already picked a little sand from the floor of the brooder.
More chicks are lost from feeding too soon than from most other causes. Nature put into the egg enough of just the right kind of food to keep the chick going till strong enough to get its sustenance without. When we feed too soon we interfere with Nature's plan and pay the penalty in losses later on. At the Kansas experiment station the best results were had by letting the chicks go without food for 90 hours after hatching. If the reader is skeptical on this point try it a time or two in a small way. We get back to Nature and make the first feed for the chicks by cutting into fine bits some tender grass. The amount needed is small. The hen that stole her nest and brought off a brood did not provide much for the chicks for the first few days. Many persons make the great mistake of overfeeding while the chicks are young. They usually pay the price in dead chicks later on.
Chick block. Chicks peck soft food piled round handle.
At first it is best not to use bedding materials that are indigestible or that may be eaten. Little chicks are very foolish birds. When taken from the incubator and placed in the brooder, they attempt to eat anything they can swallow. Too often they succeed and many a flock has been killed by filling up on bran, sawdust or sand. The first choice would be cut clover, next cut straw, barn litter or chaff, sweet and free from mold and decayed particles. After the first week almost anything can be used. One of the best materials available is dry earth, especially in warm weather. It absorbs the droppings and is a good disinfectant. Bedding should always cover the brooder floor at least 1 inch thick, and be short enough to let the chicks scratch in it. Dry chick feeds should always be fed in the litter, and every inducement given the chicks to exercise.
Brooder on wheels. Front wheel pivoted for easy turning. Top hinged at back, loose in front. Runs placed at openings on side.
One thing to bear in mind in feeding young chicks is that the ability to select nourishing foods from injurious or harmful substances does not develop so quickly in the brooder chick as in the chick that associates with the hen. This instinct does not develop until the brooder chick is eight or ten days old. The time, of course, varies with strain and breed. The same chick under a hen will be able to distinguish feed in two or three days. From the hen the little chick seems to acquire this ability to know injurious or noxious substances. When the chick is placed direct from the incubator in the brooder it does not seem to have this ability, and shows a tendency to eat anything that it can swallow. Knowledge of this makes the matter of feeding little chicks very simple. Green food should not be neglected in the little chick's diet; it must be provided in some shape or form, even if the chicks are upon a grass range. After May or June the grass becomes too tough for them to eat and green feed must be supplied in some manner.
How Often to Feed
At first it is well to feed five times daily; later three times, and lastly by hopper altogether. Never give hopper feeding till chicks are at least six weeks old, and when they are put out on range. The first two weeks is the critical period. If one has no milk for them, beef scraps, curds or cottage cheese may be used, The colony system and individual brooder out of doors is the best process of raising chicks. If one cannot raise chicks in this way there is no hope for him.
Chick marking. Holes punched between toes of newly hatched chicks.
After a few feeds of cut grass give small amounts of the prepared nursery chick feeds to take the place of the seeds Nature supplies. A little later let the chicks have access to a shallow tray containing a mixture of high-grade dried beef scrap and bran, using 100 pounds of beef scrap, 50 pounds of coarse wheat bran and 15 pounds granulated charcoal. It will take the chicks some days to become accustomed to eating this mixture, and by the time they learn it, it is safe to keep it before them at all times. The grain and seeds composing the chick feeds may be thrown into finely cut corn stover, hay or other loose material after the chicks are four or five days old, so they may get the fun and exercise of scratching it out. There is not much danger of overfeeding after the chicks are 12 days old. From that time on it should be the object to have them eat the largest possible amount of proper feed. They grow rapidly and need to be well nourished. The foodstuffs must be highly digestible and should furnish as nearly as possible every element needed by the system of the chick. Large amounts of the carbonaceous, or energy-giving material are needed, because the chick is a lively, energetic fellow; also an abundance of protein, the blood-building, muscle and feather-making material, and enough of mineral matter to build bone and help the protein build the feathers. This is best secured in freshly cracked corn, a mixture of beef scrap and bran, an abundance of green cut grass, sand oyster shells, charcoal and crushed raw potatoes.
Rearing Chicks with Hens
A good beginning in rearing chicks with hens is to have a proper kind of coop, one with a removable floor bottom that can be easily cleaned and one that can be easily and securely closed at night to guard against the various kinds of night prowlers which may come around. The coop should be tight, so as to remain perfectly dry inside in wet weather. It should have a closed front, excepting an opening about 1 foot square in which is fitted a sliding wire screen door and also a tight floor if for early chicks.
The coops should be placed on new ground, either in a place which has not been used before or where the soil has been plowed or spaded. If this precaution is taken, together with the use of board floors and proper care, there may be no fear of gapes. The location should be in a good-sized yard with grass and some shade, or else at a little distance from where the old flock is in the habit of running. To feed young chicks among a lot of hungry fowls is provoking, to say the least. An orchard is an excellent place to put the coops, as there they may have plenty of shade and plenty of range.
It is advisable to watch the hatching closely when it is about time for the young to appear, so the chicks may be removed to a warm place and wrapped in flannel or cotton until the hens are ready to come off. If this is not done and the hatch is uneven, the mother hen may become restless and either trample some of the chicks to death or leave with some and cause the remainder to perish.
If good coops have been provided the chicks may be placed there with the hen as soon as they are all out and dry and can walk.
Triangular coop and yard. Moved daily as shown by dotted lines.
By this time they will begin to pick around for something to eat. Crumbs of stale bread may be given for a day or two. There are many things recommended for young chicks, and no one thing may be said to be best. A bread made by mixing three parts of corn meal, one part wheat bran and one part wheat middlings, baked until it is crumbly, and to which is added a little hard-boiled egg, is one of the best things for the first few days. After that chief reliance may be placed in a prepared chick food made up of cracked corn and various kinds of small grains. It is always ready and handy to feed. Care must be taken to avoid overfeeding any kind of sloppy mixture, as much trouble has been caused in that way.
After four days, if the ground is dry and there is warm sunshine, the old hen may be let out and allowed to take a hunt with her brood. There is nothing like a sensible mother hen to look after the wants of her young. She will scratch faithfully and find just the kind of grit, small seeds and grass conducive to the proper development of the baby birds. With good foraging ground, supplemented with good food, it will be pleasing to see how bright and smart the young chicks will be and how they will grow day by day. Of course, fresh water should be supplied them every day.
When the mother hen is first turned out it is well to look after her and see that she gets back in her place before night. She may be found sitting on her brood in some corner, but if she is not wild it will be no trouble to get her to coop and in a night or two she will go to it of her own accord.
Chickens in Hot Weather
If the best results are desired, growing chicks should have proper care and attention during the summer months. It is important that clean and comfortable quarters be provided for them. Coops so placed as to get the sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon will be found desirable. This will prevent the coop from getting so thoroughly heated as to make it uncomfortable at night. Habit is strong in chicks which will return to an overheated or foul coop, when they should be in more comfortable and roomy quarters. They may not die, if left to themselves; they will probably take to the fences or trees to escape from such a coop, but for this lack of care in their owner's part, they will pay the penalty in poor growth, lack of vigor and weakness, either at that time or later.
Portable coop and run. Coop, raised during the day. Triangular latch holds top up.
It is well to remember that chicks grow fast, and a coop that had been plenty large enough for a brood when young will soon become too small, and overcrowding, and, in consequence, injury to health and growth will result. More room should be given at once if overcrowding is noticed, either by providing larger coops or dividing the broods. If coops and brooders are cleaned frequently little reason will be found to complain of that great pest, lice, which otherwise might be the cause of weakness and stunted growth. Not only is it important that the coops be kept clean, but the ground in their immediate vicinity should not be allowed to become foul.
It will be found best to give growing chicks as much range as possible. If necessary to confine them, have as large yards as can be provided. Chicks should be fed apart from the older fowls. If all are fed together they will be apt to get an insufficient amount of food and the older fowls will receive too much and, in consequence, become too fat. The chicks seem to get plenty of grain on account of their activity, but when one thinks that this activity is, in a great measure, caused by their having to dodge the pecks of older fowls, it will be seen that they are not allowed to pick up as much food as they have the appearance of doing. Regularity in feeding is another important matter. If chicks are fed at certain times when on free range, it will be found that they will be near or about the feeding place at that time and all will share alike; whereas, if fed at any old time, some may have wandered off in search of bugs and insects and, therefore, miss their portion.
After a certain age a mash is a help to the development of the growing chicks. If given for a change and in moderation, however, it will be found best to confine one's self in the main to dry feeding as in the earlier stages of a chick's life.
One of the most important things to be considered during the summer is the water supply. The water should be kept in some vessel or fountain that will prevent the chicks from walking in it, or else it should be changed frequently. The fountain should, of course, always be placed in a shady spot.
Portable colony house. Sills are runners, to which frame is bolted. Walls, tongue and groove siding. Floors tight. Ventilators and other openings screened to keep out rats, etc. Size 6 x 8 feet, 6 feet high in front, 4 at back. Painted. Cost about $15.
Late chickens, when properly cared for, often make as nice fowls and lay nearly as soon as the earlier ones, as they have the advantage of settled warm weather and generally not so much dampness.
Set the hens all in the same room or building, in which they can have a good dust bath every day, and which can be closed to make sure that all return to their nests. Feed only corn and clean water and take them off at a regular hour each day.
Care of Little Chicks
As the chickens hatch, remove them from under the hens every hour or two to make sure that none get trampled to death in the nest. When at least one day old, feed millet seed and oatflake five times a day and give clean water as often. One of the safest ways to vary this diet later is a johnnycake made of two parts cornmeal, one of middlings and a fourth part made up of oilmeal and meat scraps. Stir in some finely broken egg shells so that the food will not harden in the crop, and feed dry.
Have a board floor to the coop, so a heavy shower some night will not drown the chicks. Always close the coop tightly at night to exclude rats After the chicks are a week old let the hen out with them every day a few hours while it is dry. Never turn them out in the mornings until all dampness has left the ground.
A few days before hatching rub sulphur thoroughly through the hen's feathers and sprinkle it in the nests. When the chicks are two days old examine them for lice. Unless accustomed to this one may decide that a poor little chick which really is being eaten alive with them is comparatively free from lice. It must be learned what to look for and how. The large gray louse is the most common.
Dip the finger in kerosene and draw it first around the chick's neck, next to the body This will start the lice all on a run for the head ears and under the bill. Follow them up with the oil and every one touched by it will be killed instantly It is not necessary to saturate the down, and care must be exercised to get no oil in the ears or the eyes. This treatment will not hurt the chicken in the least. In 15 minutes he will be as dry and fluffy as ever if he is not allowed to run directly under the hen. That would prevent evaporation and he might get a blister. This is greatly to be preferred to kerosene mixed with some other grease, as that prevents rapid evaporation. Never grease the chicks under the wings, as they are too sensitive there.
Next: Chapter XI
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