11 March 2008

Preparing for Chickens

And here's the post you've all been waiting for, more news about the chickens. Before DD went to bed for the night, we bought our little chick out for her to have a cuddle. She was so excited, jumping about everywhere, and kept waking the poor baby up. But before she went to bed, she wanted to say goodnight to him, and blew him a kiss! How cute!

He seemed happy in the brooder, and pecked at a little of the food, although I'm not sure that he actually ate any. When I put my hand in, he came over and cuddled up to it. Aww.

We decided though, to pop him back in the incubator for the night, as I'm not sure if he will be warm enough with just the lights yet, and wanted to have a chance to observe him, not go straight to bed and leave him alone. He also seemed kind of lonely.

I'm pretty sure we made the right choice, because when we put him back, he went right over to the nearest to hatching egg, and curled up to it. It hatched an hour or so later, so now he has company! I'm also wondering if having the other chick in their cheeping encouraged the other one to make his way out too.

There are at least another 4-5 eggs that have pipped, so I expect we'll find more chicks waiting for us when we wake up. I wonder how many?

While I was posting, I thought I'd do a quick post on setting up our brooder box, since we're going to need it in the morning.

For our (hopefully!) 12 chickens, we have a box that's about 50cm x 1m. It's the box that our mower came in, so the biggest one we have. Our 3yo will fit in it quite comfortably. I put a lot of paper on the bottom, mostly newspaper and scrap printer paper. We've suspended a light on a piece of wire. It's only a 40W globe, but I'm hoping it will be enough. If not, I'll have to hunt out another one.

I've made a water container and a feeder from old Milo tins, which seem to work OK. The idea behind these is that you can fill up the container bit, and the water or feed will fill into the little tray at the bottom, just enough for the chicks to eat, but not enough for them to stand in or drown in.

Here is what you need. 2 Milo/Quik/any type of metal sealing container. 2 shallow bowls of some sort for the bottom. Some bolts, and someone to drill for you.

First, the water dispenser.

Drill a hole through both the bowl, and the lid of the tin. Join the two together with a bolt and washers.

Here is what it looks like underneath.

Drill small holes around the end that the lid joins to. You want these small, but not too small, or the water won't come out. At least 6-7mm seems to be good, and larger would be fine too. These need to be below the line of the bowl though, as the water will fill the bowl to this level.

Then turn the tin over, fill with water, and click the lid (with bowl) on. On testing, this works well. Only problem is that the plastic bowl isn't strong enough to use to pull the lid back off. I still haven't worked out a way around this, so for now, we're just unscrewing the bolt each time, so that we can lever the lid off. It only takes a few minutes, so it's survivable for now.

The feeder is even simpler than the water dispenser to make.

This time, drill the holes on the bottom edge of the tin instead of the top, and because the feed is more solid than water, make them larger. Then bolt the dish to the bottom. I haven't tested this one yet, as it was wet from washing the metal filings off, so can't comment on how well it works, or if the holes are big enough. I'll update when we try it out.

On top of having the light to keep the babies warm, I decided to have a go at making a cold brooder. These are designed to be like mummy hen's feathers, and keep the babies warm by trapping their own body heat. I would expect that they are also comforting to baby chicks, who are used to being under mum's feathers. They're really simple to make.

All you need is a cardboard box, and an old towel. This box is about 30cm x 30cm, and one normal sized towel was just enough to finish it.

Cut the towel into 1 inch strips, and about twice the height of the box. A centimeter or two's space at the bottom is fine. I cut them so that I got two strips out of each strip I cut from the towel.

Then, using a sharp knife, cut 2 parallel slits in the top of the box like this.

Poke both ends of the towel strip through the box (I used a knitting needle), taking care not to rip the box. Pull them through evenly. If you do rip the box, you can usually get away with it if you are very careful. This doesn't need to last, just keep the chicks warm for a few weeks.

Repeat this over the top of the box, close together, but not so close that the slits rip into each other.

And this is what it should look like when it's finished. Wonder if the chicks will like it?

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