Friday, June 18, 2010

Chicks 101

Good morning, everyone, 

I shouldn't promise what I can't control!  The Internet was so slow last night!  It took forever to upload photos.  I'm one of those still on the antiquated dial-up, so it's especially trying when traffic increases...Nonetheless, here is a picture of our "chick mobile."

So far, we've lost one laying hen chick and one turkey chick.  We do expect to lose a few, regardless of how careful we are, but it's always disappointing.  The turkey chicks are especially vulnerable.  One hatchery person told me that they "learn" to eat the starter feed by watching the regular chicks.  So, you always need to have at least a few regular chickens to teach the turkey chicks what to do.  The turkeys also need 24% protein starter feed (available at Tractor Supply).  To give them regular (21%) chick grower/feed, ensures loss.  They develop what many farmers call "the droops" and simply keel over, dead.  And it happens with rapidity.   Our first year of raising turkeys we didn't know this and lost over half.  There's no choice about letting them "tough it out on natural feed" either.  We add "natural feed" by virtue of the chick mobile to start with.

The chick mobile is on wheels and has an open floor, meaning the chicks can graze on clover and grass in the confined area of the chick mobile.  As the area becomes soiled, we scoot the chicks up into the box, shut the drop-down door on them,wheel the mobile to a clean area and re-open the door.  They have water and feed, plus we leave the brooder lamps on inside the box and the chicks can come and go as they choose.

I love watching them as they whiz around and test out their new world!

A good brooder lamp is essential. 

And at night, everything gets a going-over to make sure there are no holes in the box for snakes, and the electric fence is turned on as extra insurance to discourage all predators.  The fence looks "saggy" but it's hot, and no snake would venture across without getting a serious lesson in avoidance.

This morning, all is well.  It's still foggy out, so I won't turn the chickies out until it's sunny.  We're still in the most critical time in terms of potential loss, so we hold our breath for the next few days and hope for the best! 

When the chicks outgrow the confines of the chick mobile, we will move them to "greener pastures." 

This is buckwheat, which will give them both food and shelter from raptors. (Yes, much as I love hawks and owls, they pose a danger to poultry.)
And....millet (canary food) which will mature in the next few weeks in time for the chickens to graze on as well.  They eat both the seed heads as well as the grass blades.  Interspersed with all the planted grains, is red clover and white Dutch clover.  We continue to supplement with whatever food they may want, be it ground corn or chick "grower."  And finally.....BUGS.  Ranging chickens consume copious amounts of bugs and it's such a delight knowing they are eating the food they prefer, naturally, and all the while, helping us to keep a handle on the pest population as they turn bugs into meat, eggs, and a little hard cash.

The buckwheat and millet fields are encircled with the electric fence, so the chickens don't get out and the predators don't get in.  The fence is effective in keeping possums, foxes, dogs, cats, rabbits, skunks, etc. at bay.  And it is easily moved once the ground has been used.  Another great thing is that the chicken manure goes straight to the ground.  The millet and buckwheat remnants will be tilled in and since we rotate our gardens over a three-year period, we are able to fallow two garden spots for upcoming years, as we use one of the three each year.  It's a win-win situation.  The investment in the woven wire fencing is pricey, but the fencing is effective even for calves, as well as poultry, and we mentally amortize the cost over several years to justify the intial expense.  We consider it a necessary expense for the farm and use it for many different arrangements.  It's quick to install and can be set up with just one person, in less than ten minutes for the short runs.  An hour at most for bigger enclosures.

If anyone has a question, give me a shout!  There is more than one way to raise a chicken!  We've finally arrived at a method that works for us.  Chime in with your methods.  We are always looking for ways to improve.
Hope you have an absolutely wonderful weekend!  It's supposed to be HOT!!  Take care everyone!  Thank you so much for visiting with me this past week.  I am slow to answer everyone, but I'll be working on that over the weekend.  I adore your comments and love to respond.  This time of year, though, I get behind so easily! 
My apologies as I attempt to balance the outside with the inside! 


  1. Hi Elora, found your entry to be very interesting and inspiring. Very much appreciated, Thanks!

  2. It looks like you've got sustainable chick/hen rearing all sorted out. The climate up here in the hills wouldn't allow for feed seed crop growing but I think it's a great system. My hens have to make do with a small orchard to grub around in with bought in mixed corn and kitchen & garden scraps.

  3. I really like the millet and buckwheat plantings! What a good idea!

    Our broiler chicks arrived this morning and I'll be posting about them tomorrow.

  4. I have a feeling you will have a problem keeping power in the electric net. Try looking at these guides to ercting netting.

  5. Anonymous,

    Thanks much. The photo does reflect a kind of amateur-look, doesn't it! For anyone erecting this kind of fence, do check out the installation instructions provided by Anonymous's suggested URL above. Thanks again!