In this issue of "Chicken Keeping Secrets" we're discussing newly hatched chickens and the "Brooder Box" or "Brooding Area". Here's how to setup an ideal environment to keep your baby chicks until their big enough to join the rest of the flock.
We're also answering a question from a reader who wants to know how you can stop a hen from "going broody". If you don't know what this is you'll find it explained here and also some suggestions on what you can do to try and stop it.
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Newly hatched chicks need an external source of heat because they are unable to maintain their own body temperature. This occurs naturally when a hen hatches her clutch; the chicks snuggle up with mother hen and stay warm.
When you are hatching chicks in an incubator, or receiving mail-order chicks, you have to provide an area in which they will spend the first few weeks of life. This area is often referred to as a "brooder box" but can take many different forms other than that of a conventional box. We'll address options for the "box" a little later.
The whole point of a brooder box is to provide a secure area where you can maintain the chick's body temperature with an additional source of heat. This engineered area must be clean, dry, free from drafts, and safe from predators. It must provide the chicks with sources of food and water. Finally, it must keep the chicks from wandering too far from heat and nourishment.
The final form of your brooder depends largely on personal circumstances; the area you brood should maintain a temperature of at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
The chicks will need an additional source of heat (see next week for options) but the base temperature needs to stay relatively warm. As you become more comfortable with brooding chicks, you'll be more able to make adjustments to compensate for cooler base temperatures. When you are starting, it's best to have ideal conditions for the greatest success.
If you have an out-building suitable and the temperature stays warm enough within that structure (either naturally or with the use of a heat source) you'll likely want to house your brooder box inside that structure.
If you do use an existing out-building, it must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized 2 weeks prior to the arrival of the chicks. Newly hatched chicks are very susceptible to disease. Once everything has been sanitized and rinsed well, let it air out. Contact with bleach or strong cleaning agents remaining on a surface, or fumes in the air, can burn a chicks eyes and feet.
An alternative would be to construct a cheap building for this purpose.
It does need to be tightly constructed to keep predators out and chicks in. When the chicks are older but before you move them to the main coop, they can be released to roam in this transition building. If temperatures are cool outside, build this structure so that it can be insulated to retain heat.
If the weather is just too cold or you do not have a suitable building outside, you may have to brood your chicks in the house. Many people have to brood inside and it can be done but presents a few problems; the smell can be terrible. As always, it's important to keep the area very clean. But even with thorough cleaning of liter two or three times a day, you'll have to deal with "chick dust".
Chick dust is created by small traces of bird protein that exit the bowels.
The feces dry to a powder that spread all around the environment in which the chicks are housed. This is very difficult to keep clean and disagreeable to breath. It can cause health problems for those suffering from respiratory weakness. If you have any respiratory problems, do not brood chicks inside and always wear a dust mask when working with or around your chicks. In fact, a dust mask is not a bad idea for everyone to use while working with chicks.
Once you have determined where you will set up your brooder box, you can then start working on the box itself.
As usual, there are brooder boxes available for purchase if you are so inclined. Some have removable droppings drawers in the bottom to make cleaning easy.
Some will actually control every aspect of the environment with just a touch of a button. However, it's not difficult to create your own brooder box. Again, the environment needs to be secure, clean, cleanable, dry and free from drafts. It also needs to be expandable because you will need to enlarge the area as the chicks grow.
If using a secure out building, my preference for a brooder box is actually not a box at all but a ring of sorts.
By cutting cardboard boxes into strips at least 18 inches high and stapling or taping them together, you can easily create a circle to serve as your fencing or draft guard. The advantages of the circular design are that it is easily expandable and does not provide corners where the chicks could crowd together as smothering then becomes a concern. The structure needs to be sturdy enough that it can't tip over. If you are brooding 100 chicks, build the ring so that the walls are 6-8 feet in diameter.
Of course, a plain box will work as well.
The key here is to make sure the space isn't too large to start with and can be expandable as the chicks grow. If the space is too large to begin with, the chicks will move too far away from the source of heat. If it is too small, as they grow they will start pecking at each other. If you use a box, an option to make it expandable would be to cut off one side of the box and tape or staple another box to it as space is needed.
You can build a box out of wood making it larger than is necessary to begin. Start by partitioning the box into a small area and expand as needed. You can get very creative and it's easy to get carried away, just remember to provide the basics.
"I would like no know how to stop your chickens from going broody? Thanks" ~ Dave Blair
Dave thanks for the questions.
"Brood" seems to be the word this week; in our "Basics" series we're discussing brooding boxes, the area in which you raise your newly hatched chicks. Now we'll answer Dave's question about broody hens.
First let's define what we mean by a hen "going broody".
Usually in the spring time and more likely in her second year, a hen will decide it's time to start a family.
The presence or lack of a rooster has no bearing on this decision.
She doesn't really care if her eggs are fertile at this point; she's just following her natural instinct to hatch chicks. You will notice that she tends to stay on her nest longer and longer each day, she is cranky and snippy when you try to move her or get to any eggs she is sitting upon. Basically, she is gathering a clutch of eggs that she intends to "set", or sit on, to incubate and hatch.
A few weeks ago when we discussed hatching eggs with a broody hen, I shared that most breeds today have had this natural instinct bred out of them.
The reason is because when a hen has completed her clutch of eggs to hatch, she ceases to lay and will not start laying again for 10 to 12 weeks (the period she would spend raising her chicks.) If you're not trying to hatch eggs, it can be very frustrating to have a hen out of commission for such a lengthy period of time.
When you notice one of your hens going broody, it's important to break up this pattern if you want her to start laying again as soon as possible. Even so, she may not start laying for another 2 to 4 weeks after you've coaxed her out of her brood.
The first step you'd take to break the pattern would be to move her from the nest. Chances are she'll go right back. Move her again, and again, and again, and again. If it becomes obvious that she's determined to win this battle, it's time to step up your game plan.
In all of the suggestions below, make sure your hen is getting a lot of light.
Remember that nests are usually dark, confined places. Dimly lit areas will reinforce her broody instinct rather than break it.
Do you have the chicken infirmary available?
You know, the place we've talked about where you can isolate a sick or injured chicken from the rest of the flock?
Place the hen in your infirmary but do not allow her to have any nesting material. A hard floor is what you're aiming for here. Make sure she has plenty of food and water. Make that her home for 4 or 5 days. If your infirmary is portable, keep her close to the others in the flock. It's best if she can see them and they can see her. This may help her to retain her position in the pecking order when you return her to the coop.
Another alternative to the infirmary is to put her in a place where she can't see her nest for a few days. You're particular set up will determine how you do this. On the back of this idea would be to block off her nest so she can't get to it. She might just take up residence in another nest but it's worth a try.
A common solution is to put her in a cage with a wire bottom.
It's not difficult to construct one out of wood and wire mesh. The mesh needs to be large, like 1 inch and obviously strong enough to hold her weight. By placing the edges of the cage on bricks or some such thing, you elevate the cage so she gets a draft on her under carriage, she won't like that. Don't forget the light factor; make at least two of the sides wire along with the bottom to let in a lot of light.
There are also cages made with slanted bottoms that are uncomfortable to set in. They are suspended from the hen house ceiling. The point is to keep her from being comfortable because when she is comfortable, she'll settle back into her broodiness.
If you move her to another area, you could try putting a rooster in there with her.
He'll keep her too busy to worry about building a nest and sitting there.
Finally, I read a book once in which the author's mother used to pour ice cold water on a broody hen to try to get her up and moving. If you've ever heard the saying "Madder than a wet hen", can you imagine the state of mind of an ice cold wet hen?
Most modern breeds will snap out of it in a few days if you use one of the above ideas, some will snap out of it in 3 or 4 days all on their own. Some breeds have a stronger instinct to brood than others as do individual birds within a breed.
The point is that you may have an easy time or a hard time coaxing her out of her broodiness.
If you have a hen that absolutely refuses to snap out of it, I'm sure you could easily find someone who would love to have her. For a family that wants to hatch eggs this way, a stubbornly broody hen would be a real blessing.
I hope this helps Dave, thanks again for the question.
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