To obtain the best production, maximum disease resistance and low mortality, the most crucial period of a birds life is during the rearing stage. However good the breeding is of the hybrid, first cross or pure breed hen, it will be unable to produce eggs efficiently if poorly reared.
From the Incubator
When removing the chicks from the incubator (on the morning of the 22nd day), leave them in a warm box for a few hours before placing them under a brooder (see artificial rearing below). Whatever brooder you are using it is important that it has been on for about 24 hours before placing the chicks under it. The reason for this is to ensure that the floor litter is thoroughly dry and warm - remember that the chicks are coming out of an incubator which has been running at a temperature of 37.8°C (100°F). Room temperature is also very important and should be between 21° - 24°C (70°F - 75°F). The heat of the brooder should not be relied on to warm the brooder room. Far too many chicks are lost through dehydration due to cold room temperatures. They find it too cold to feed or drink properly and give up. Hang a Max/Min Thermometer at low level and record the room temperature daily. The fall in temperature from the incubator area they have been placed in should not be so great that the chicks become chilled. If they do become chilled, then the area around the vent* becomes very sticky so that their faeces clings and hardens over the vent, preventing them from defecating. Should this happen, the vent and surrounding area must be quickly bathed clean, dried off, and rub a little Vaseline on the vent to help prevent any further dribbles of faeces sticking. *The vent is located just under the chicks tail feathers. It is the common multi-purpose organ for mating, egg laying (in hens) and faecal matter.*
The majority of chicks reared on a relatively small scale are reared under infra-red heating elements where the chicks can be easily observed both day and night. When using an infra-red element, it is preferable to use one that does not emit any light. These are called dull emitters. Using the old fashioned red or white light infra-red elements gives growing chicks constant light, encouraging early maturing, as well as feather pecking and other vices. The element that gives off a strong white light is worse than the red because if a chick damages itself accidentally or is pecked, the wound, if it bleeds, will attract all the other chicks to attack it. Red lighting makes blood appear black, so helping to reduce the possibility of further attacks.
The dull emitter gives the owner some control over lighting patterns, such as a ten or twelve hour day during the growing period. Birds without strong light throughout the night are less nervous, settling easily and quickly once the lights go out. If the rearer is worried that when the light is turned off chicks are unable to find their way back to the heat source, a small 15 watt red pigmy bulb may be fitted near the ceiling and kept on overnight.
Cover the floor of the brooder house with 7- 10cm (3-4") of clean white wood shavings. The starting temperature on the floor over which the brooder is hung should be in the region of 33°C (95°F). Suspend the brooder heat lamp 41-48cm (1-18") above the litter. The reason for the variation in height is that it takes into consideration room temperature and breed of bird. Apart from the obvious distinction between bantams and large fowl, some breeds of large fowl require different temperatures. Give the new chicks a full half hour to settle before making any adjustment to the brooder height. If the chicks are huddling together and standing on tiptoe at the centre of the brooder, they are too cold and the brooder will need to be lowered. However, if they are well spread out in a circle away from the heat source, they are too hot so the brooder will need raising. Ideally, chicks should be evenly spread under the heat with a little clear area at the centre about the size of a cup's diameter.
Ensure the brooder house has plenty of space for the chicks to move about. If you were to take the trouble to sit on a chair in the brooder house after the lights have gone out and observe the chicks, it would be seen that those on the outer edge of the brooder as they cool down, move into the centre by running over the backs of the others, and those who have become too hot move out. This movement will continue throughout the night. It is therefore vital that there is sufficient room for the chicks to get away from the heat to allow natural feather growth.
If you are going to use the type of 'hot-plate' brooder which the chicks run under, then it should low enough for the chicks to touch with their backs. Adjust accordingly.
During the first 4 weeks of age, the room temperature can gradually be decreased to between 15°C - 18°C (60°F - 65°F). Chicks should be 'off heat' (i.e. the brooders turned off) by the 8th week.
Please do not attempt to turn off the heater too early. The best way to tell is by visiting the chick room during the late evening to see whether the chicks are still under the brooder or spread well out and away.
Feeding and Drinking
Place chick feeders and chick drinkers around the perimeter of the brooder the previous evening so that the drinking water has had time for the chill to be taken off. To start with, place the drinkers around the brooder, putting the feeders slightly further away. *Chicks must be able to find the water quickly - the feed they will find as they venture past the chick drinkers. Do not expect the chicks to eat much for the first 3 days but from the fourth day on, their appetite will start to increase quite rapidly.
Water is vitally important to the chick over the first 48 hours - so it is imperative that the chicks see and drink within the first hour of placing them under the brooder. If the drinkers are placed on a small square of cardboard, plastic stand, or egg tray, this will help prevent spillage as well as preventing the drinker from becoming blocked with litter. Should a spillage cause the litter to become very wet, the wet litter must be removed immediately and replaced with new dry litter. If any part of the feed has become damp, make sure it is all cleaned up. Damp feed will very quickly turn to mould causing Aspergillosis from which they will die.
*Carry out a regular check to make sure that the drinker does not become clogged up with litter, and the chicks do not run out of water.
*It is preferable to keep either a bucketful of water or a small dustbin within the brooder house so that clean water is kept with the 'chill off'.
The First Week: 4.5 litres (1 gallon) water daily.
Up to 6 weeks: 7 to 9 litres (1 1/2 to 2 gallons) daily.
Up to 10 weeks: 13.64 (3 gallons) daily.
And thereafter: 18 litres (4 gallons) daily.
To start with, have the chicks' feed available just a little further out than the drinkers, and then after three to four days, the drinkers can be moved away from the brooder - further away than the feeders. During the first five days it is good practice to allow a certain amount of feed wastage to make sure all the chicks are able to eat their full capacity of food. As the chicks become stronger, then any wastage should be avoided. Clean out all waste food from the brooder area especially if it has become damp. Feed the chicks specifically designed chick crumbs up to 8 weeks of age. A good quality example of this type of feed is Smallholder Baby Chick Crumbs, or Organic Baby Chick Crumbs. If you are artificially rearing chicks on the floor then it is advisable to use a chick crumb containing an 'anti-coccidiostat' such as Marriages Chick Crumbs With A.C.S. (see the section on Coccidiosis below). Feed a growers ration to the chicks from 8 to 18 weeks of age. A good quality example of this type of feed is Marriage's Poultry Growers Pellets. After 18 weeks, the birds' food can safely be changed over to a layers ration.
*It is advisable to change the diet before putting the birds outside so that stress is kept to a minimum.
Because they do not have teeth, all chicks and adult birds rely on the correct flint grit in order to break down the fibre in their food ration. The better the feed is masticated the better the quality of bird you will end up with. Provide Chick Grit immediately from the 'day old' stage by sprinkling it over their feed to start with. Once they have become more adventurous, place a supply of chick grit in a cup or container which they can easily find. At around 8 weeks of age change over to the Adult Hen-Size Flint Grit.You will find that even at this early stage they will tend to select the largest flint. The regular feeding of grit helps to develop the birds' gizzard, so that when they are turned out onto grass or even have a few vegetable leaves hanging up for them to peck from, they will be far better able to deal with a greater proportion of fibre than those who have had to do without a regular supply of flint grit.
Under NO circumstances ever give chickens extra calcium via oyster shell grit. This not only imbalances their 'calcium phosphorous ratio', but may also cause rickets and reproductive disorders (caused by laying poorly shelled eggs).
As mentioned previously in the feeding guide (see above), it is advisable if you are artificially rearing chicks on the floor to feed them a chick crumb containing an 'anti-coccidiostat' such as Marriages Chick Crumbs with A.C.S. If for some reason you prefer not to, as soon as you experience mortality. Immediately examine the dead chick for coccidiosis.
Coccidiosis is the disease caused by coccidian infection. It is a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract of animals, caused by a protozoan parasite known as Eimeria. The disease is transmitted through horizontal course. Birds pick up the infection through ingestion of oocyst contaminated feeds and drinking water. Soil, houses and utensils are also the source of infection as these may have been contaminated previously by droppings of other young infected birds.
The disease appears in two forms, caecal and intestinal form. Caecal form is generally observed in young chicks whereas adult birds usually suffer from intestinal form of coccidiosis. If you experience chick mortality and you suspect coccidiosis, it is advisable to immediately examine the dead bird. Open up the dead chick so that you can clearly see it's intestines. If you see two bloated tubes called the caeca, cut one open, and if it full of blood this will confirm that your chicks are suffering from coccidiosis which will require immediate treatment.
Caecal Coccidiosis (images 1 & 2). This is caused by the Eimeria tenella parasite which causes the caecal or bloody type of coccidiosis and is commonly observed in chicks. The caeca are enlarged and distended with blood. The caeca are now cut open (images 3 & 4) to reveal the presence of clotted blood.
The following clinical signs are noted in young chicks:
• Depression and droopiness.
• The chicks stop feeding, huddle together, having ruffled feathers and dropped wings.
• Watery diarrhoea and by the fourth day blood begins to appear in the droppings.
• The greatest amount of blood appears by day five or six and by the eighth or ninth day the bird is either dead or on the way to recovery.
• Severe haemorrhagic diarrhoea may produce anaemia.
• Comb and wattles become pale.
• Mortality is highest between the fourth and sixth days.
• Birds that recover may develop a chronic illness as a result of a persistent caecal core. (However, the core usually detaches itself by eight to ten days and is shed in the birds droppings).
Treat & prevent Coccidiosis with these great products (below). For more details click on their Images.
Coxoid is a water soluble treatment for coccidiosis. To use, add Coxoid to the drinking water for seven days. You can expect a favourable reaction to this treatment within two days.
Marriage's Chick Crumbs with ACS is a complete 'zootechnical' feed for chicks up to 8 weeks of age. Feed as an aid to the prevention of Coccidiosis.
Herban Liquid is a concentrated mix of oregano oil and contains the active ingredients carvacol (present in oregano oil) and thymol (found in oil of thyme) which offer a phenol effect to degrade the cell wall of harmful bacteria and allowing the gut wall to mature to maximum potential. Oregano oil and thyme have recently been studied as natural antibiotics and thought to help battle coccidiosis. For Coccidiosis Prevention: add 1ml of Herban Liquid per 1 litre of fresh drinking water. For Coccidiosis Treatment: add 2ml of Herban per 1 litre of fresh drinking water for 3 to 4 weeks.
It is necessary to maintain good hygiene and sanitation in the farm as disinfectants are not effective against coccidia. The following points should be considered to maintain good hygiene:
• Put drinkers and feeders at a height level with the backs of the birds, so they cannot defecate or scratch litter into them.
• Clean the chick house and remove infected droppings.
• Prevent the access of infected droppings to the non-infected birds.
• Keep older birds away from chicks, since old birds are carriers.
• Avoid moisture and humidity in litters.
• Keep the litter dry by frequent turning of litter to reduce the sporulation of the oocysts.
• Avoid over-crowding in the house.
Rearing Chicks Under Broody Hens
Once the broody hen has hatched out her full compliment of chicks, wait until the morning of the 22nd day (and NOT Before), and take away all the chicks that have hatched and place them in a nice cosy box. Take the box of chicks inside in to a warm room (i.e. kitchen), and take all the other un-hatched eggs away.
Remove the broody from her nest and give her a little respite with feed and water as well as providing her with a dust bath with Mighty Organic Bedding Powder mixed into it to kill off any mite or lice. If she is to stay in the same broody unit for the next few weeks, give the coop a thorough clean and disinfection before putting in fresh litter - preferably clean wood shavings.
Place the broody back in the coop as soon as soon as she has fed and shown signs of settling down. Reintroduce her to newly hatched chicks by gently placing them back under her. Place a small drinker in front of the brooder together with a feeder to allow the chicks to feed away from the hen's feet.
Chicks in the care of a good broody do not normally chill because she will call them back when she thinks they have been out long enough. Such chicks tend to harden off more quickly than their counterparts and judging from how the broody reacts to them is a good guide as to when to separate them from the broody hen. Chicks may be kept with the hen for up to 6 weeks of age, but after this, it is advisable to separate them, putting them in a small rearing house and run, and returning the hen back to the flock.
Make sure there is clean water readily available so that both mother and chicks can drink together.
It is not necessary to feed a chick crumb that contains an 'anti-coccidiostat' because the hen will provide the chicks with natural immunity. Therefore an ideal ration would be Smallholder Baby Chick Crumbs, or Organic Baby Chick Crumbs. Feed the chicks with the same changes of diet as with those artificially reared (see the feeding section).
All Chicks should be reared well away from adult stock. It is also advisable to use different footwear before entering the chick/growers pen. Please wash your hands (after egg collections etc.) before attending to the young birds.
The Time to Move
Young growing birds MUST NOT be put with older birds until they are AT LEAST 18 weeks of age. Do not put in less birds than those already housed in the laying pen and provide them with an extra feeder, otherwise the established hens will prevent the young birds from feeding properly, causing unnecessary stress. Where possible, house different aged birds (however mature) in separate houses and runs.
With very small numbers of chicks and growers it is not really viable to vaccinate.
Stress and Anxiety
All birds whatever age suffer from a certain amount of stress when moved from one environment to another. Normal stress results in them reducing their feed intake for the first 2 to 3 days after a move. To help overcome this problem it is advisable to put Stressless in their water for the first five days after they have been moved. Stressless is an advanced 'anti-stress' tonic, designed by a leading and highly qualified poultry veterinary surgeon. It contains only natural ingredients and is suitable for all breeds and types of poultry. Stressless contains a quality balance of vitamins, chelated minerals, and amino acids to compensate for any feed loss. It is also the only tonic which has actually been tested on chickens, and because of it's success rate is now being used on many commercial farms.
An invaluable poultry 'pick-me-up'.