Friday, March 27, 2015

Raising chicks in a chicken tractor

The chicks have grown enough to move out into a chicken tractor. Here's some thoughts from the books about feeding the chicks and their first few nights in the chicken tractor:

Feeding chicks
There are a few options for feeding the chicks. You can just buy a commercial chick starter crumble, which is formulated for chicks, and usually contains a coccidiostat (an antibiotic to prevent the chicks getting sick from coccidiosis). This is more relevant for large-scale production of chicks and probably unnecessary if you’re only raising a few chicks. A good alternative, if you can find it, is an organic chick crumble which contains all the same protein and minerals as the commercial crumble, without the medication.

Now you may want to take things even further and make the chick feed yourself. We have experimented with a few options and found that we can use hammer-milled grain (that we also feed to our adult chickens) supplemented with extra protein and minerals. The extra protein can be in the form of meal worms, compost worms, meat meal mix (available from our local produce store) and hardboiled eggs. It sounds weird to feed eggs to chickens, but the egg was the chick’s first food as it developed, and as long as its crushed they won’t associate a raw egg with food in the future. This is the easiest and cheapest supplement if you already have some laying hens. For the minerals we buy a commercial organic mineral mix and a seaweed meal.

You can also start feeding the chicks leafy greens and grass, they might not eat much at first, but it gives them something different to peck at in their box. When the chicks are a few weeks old, we also start putting them outside in a small birdcage for a few hours to that they can experience being on the grass, then its not such a shock for them when they move into a chicken tractor.

I’m not sure if this really necessary, but we usually “teach” the chicks to eat their food by tapping a finger in the food dish. This results in lots of chicks running over to your hand to see what you’re doing and a few will then try eating the food. After that, they are usually pretty quick to work out where the food is.

Moving chicks into a chicken tractor
The transition from the chicks living in the brooder box to moving into chicken tractors can be difficult to time, as it depends on your outside overnight temperatures. Ideally we hatch the chicks in spring or summer, so that they can move out after only 6 weeks, before they have all their feathers, because it is usually plenty warm enough by then. Otherwise they have to stay in their brooder box longer and once they reach that noisy messy stage I can't wait for them to move out!

Even though it is warm enough, we find that when we put chicks out in the tractor for the first few nights they need to 'tucked in' at dusk because they are so used to living in a box and not having open sides, its quite scary for them. This means draping tarps, old sheets, towels and blankets over the tractor so that they feel like they're still in a solid box. Otherwise they spend the night trying to stick their little heads out of the mesh and sometimes they manage to squeeze out. We only have to do this for about a week until they get used to it. This also helps to keep the dew off their grass and keep out any draughts, while they acclimatise to not having the heat lamp above them at night.

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