Thursday, 16 June 2016

Preparing for chicks

We decided pretty early on that we were going to want to grow our own chickens, rather than buy point-of-lay (POL) hens or pullets every time we needed more hens. Why?

  • Fun: What could be more entertaining than hatching eggs from our own hens?
  • Economy: You don't have to hatch many of your own chicks before the outlay (geddit?) on equipment is compensated by the saving on buying POL.
  • Convenience: At least where we live, even finding POL hens for sale is a challenge.
  • Flock safety: Any time you bring in birds from outside, there's a risk of bringing in some new disease or pest.

Then they went and hatched after he'd fallen asleep

Some hours of online research and shopping later, we acquired our Rcom ECO plus10 incubator. Hilariously-translated-from-the-Korean manual aside, this is an excellent little unit for the small-scale chicken grower. Its best features are:

  • Turns the eggs automatically.
  • Nice display with info clearly displayed and in-built programs for the most commonly incubated birds (it's as easy as selecting the chicken symbol and pressing start).
  • See-through incubating chamber. Watching the hatch is an incredible experience.
  • Supplied egg tray will accommodate anything from quail up to duck eggs in size. Not sure if we'll ever need to take advantage of this feature, but it's good to have the option.
Chiiicks iiiinnn spaaaaaace!
Snug and warm under the brooder

We also bought a Brinsea EcoGlow 20 Brooder, to keep the little fuzzballs warm after they came out of the incubator, along with a small size feeder and drinker for the chick hut.

Safe and cosy accommodation
We were fortunate in having a small chick hut with attached enclosed run come with the place. It only needed a modest amount of sprucing up to make it serviceable.
Keeping the inside dry is an absolute necessity, and the old roofing felt tacked over it was done, so I treated it to a new (scavenged) polycarbonate sheet roof.
I also added a couple of washboards across the entrance to make it easier to keep everyone where they're meant to be (chicks in, chickens and other animals out) when the hatch is open.

Luckily, the old hen house had a power supply run to it, so it was straightforward to divert that across the burn and under the path to the newly levelled site prepared for the chick nursery.

Ready to receive
The chicks need to be left in the incubator at least until they've dried off and fuzzed up. They can be left for up to 24 hours as they've still got the last of their yolk reserves in their bellies so they don't yet need to eat or drink. They do, however, become rather boisterous soon after hatching so it's a good idea to remove the early ones as soon as they're ready, to let the remainder hatch in peace. 

Following transfer to the chick hut, it's necessary to 'teach' the wee ones how to eat and drink at the feeder and drinker. Very straightforward. Grab a chick, and stick its bill into the chick crumb. Let it go. Grab another chick and stick its bill into the water. You can repeat with one or two more, to be on the safe side, but the rest will soon follow even one pioneer.

Top tip for the first few days! Put glass marbles into the well on the drinker. Unsteady young chicks are absurdly prone to drowning. They can pop their bills into the spaces between marbles, without being able to get their nostrils under water.

Safety first

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