Moving Day

Sunday was  the day the littles (this year’s chicks) movec from the brooder in the garage out to a larger brooder area in the coop with the bigs (our existing flock).  .   We started the littles  under the lights in a dog crate in the garage where we have fewer temperature fluctuations.  The big drawback is even with the heat lamp and the overhead lights on, they get almost no sunshine.   There is no scientific data, but  I think that slows their development.   Several times we have thought about moving them out to the coop but the last couple of weeks have been snowy and cold so we passed as much for ourselves as them. This week’s forecast is much better so we are moving them out of the garage.

RangerSir got the set up ready for them.It takes some set up time to get a warm safe, draft free space set up for them in the coop.  They need to be protected from the bigs. We have been doing this now for awhile  and know the routine.    It is a combination of a dog exercise pen, a dog crate, heat lamps, chicken wire top, and some kind of draft protection (this year plywood, some years it is cardboard.) This set up will do for the next stage of their life.


Another Sign of Spring

We just celebrated another sign of spring.   Our baby chicks are three weeks old and we moved them from living in my studio space to the shed outside Sunday.    It can never happen early enough for me and this year was the same.    I counted the days until they were mostly feathered out, because birds can control their body heat better with feathers  than when covered in down.   It finally happened this week.  My birds  were finally mostly feathered out.   I set up two heat lamps in the shed;  their target ambient temperature is 80-75 degrees.  I set up some shields to help their area to be as draft free as a corner in a shed can be.   Quite a challenge in an uninsulated shed, with a sliding barn door.   But by the afternoon I was sure we  could take them out and do right by them.

Last night’s low was 19 degrees, and we got 4 inches of snow.    This morning we found our birds setting under the heat lamps none the worst for wear.   It looks like tonight will be more of the same.    Spring in Montana what more can I say.


A Sign of the Times – Chick Days

A sign of the times...Chick Days.

A sign of the times…Chick Days.

This week a colleague shared here joy in stopping by the local post office and hearing boxes of baby chicks peeping away.   She shared how much hope it gave her that indeed spring was coming.     It made me wish they were on their way to me.   Instead I will be picking this year’s chicks up at the local ranch supply.

Chick days are just starting in Montana.   For those of unfamiliar with Chick Days, it is when baby chicks are shipped in mass to farm and ranch supply stores for purchase by the locals that don’t order their own from hatcheries.       The weather here is just beginning to be warm enough for the little critters to make their way to the great white North.

Planning for the baby chicks is definitely a process that has to take place before you bring home your little ones.    You need to make sure that your equipment is all in good working order to keep those babies draft free and warm.   Here is my check list.   It is good for seasoned chicken wranglers and first time chick raising alike.

  • Food and Water   I need to pull down all the little-size feeders and water fountains for the bundles of fluff.   The little critters can actually drown in adult sized equipment.   So you need chick sized equipment that they will outgrown in a month or so.   Be prepared if you are new to the chick  raising you will need both sizes.
  • Heat I always have two heat lamps, but they need to be plugged in and the bulbs need to be tested.   I always keep a spare bulb in the box on the shelf in the chicken coop.  The first week your chicks need to have an ambient room temperature of 90-95 degrees.   You lower it approximately 5 degrees a week.   I have never seen a big jump in my electric bill from baby chicks, but until they are feathered they really can not keep warm, the light does it all.
  • Housing/Brooder Your brooder needs to be set up before you bring your peeps home.   It should be a warm draft-free environment.    I use a dog crate those first few weeks, with cardboard zip stripped onto the sides to prevent drafts     I cover the bottom with paper towels the first few days and then move over to shavings.  People have everything from fancy special made brooders  to a washtub in the basement with heat lamps on the top.
  • Growth As your chicks grow you will need to expand the size of their living quarters.    Each of us does it in our own way.   My chicks move from the house to a shelter separate corner of the coop no later than  the third or fourth week.    It requires all sorts of modifications to the coop to get the heat lamps set up, protection from the big girls, ensuring they are draft free and more.  It sounds worse than it is because after years of doing this I know how to make it happen.   Some of the hooks that are set up to support this each spring are already there waiting for this year’s flock.

First and foremost is planning is the key to success in.  Chick are not and should not be an impulse “oh so cute” purchase.  If this is your first time there is a host of purchases that needs to be done before you get your chicks.   If you are like me and a seasoned chicken wrangler then this process is another of the rights of passage into  spring you do each year.

More than Livestock, Not Quite Pets

web-chixThis year when I could not tell the packing peanuts from the keepers, I ended up with 20 baby chicks for the first time.  My normal number of chicks is between six and ten.    When you have as  many birds as I do this year the are too many to name, and “really get to know.”  So they are a flock of little chicks.   This has been a learning experience

They are living in a brooder in my studio space and in less than a week I am ready for them to move outside.  They have generated more dust and are already getting stinky.     Unfortunately the weather is still so cool here that I don’t feel I can set up an appropriately warm brooder yet outside in the shed.   This flock is almost 4 weeks earlier than usual, and this inability to move the out to the shed and keep them healthy really sucks.   But I am charged with their welfare so for now they will continue to live in my favorite personal space. .

Twenty chicks in a brooder, means the weaker chicks have less chance of survival.  On the first night I had one chick who by all outward appearances looked fine, never found her groove.  She was by far the smallest.  No matter what we did, she would not drink or eat.   She passed away the first night of what I call failure to thrive.   It has been several years since I have had that happen to me, but it does happen.     I now have a chick that arrived in good shape, but some other bigger bully or maybe it was just curiosity picked at her eye  and  she is now blind in one eye.   She isn’t doing so well any more.   She is not putting on weight, and is hanging in the corners.    The human nature in me says isolate her and work with her, but a single bird taken from the flock is hard to reintroduce and much harder on the bird.   We are keeping an eye on her and trying to coach her along to eat and drink.  If she continues to fail, the humane thing to do may be put her down.   This really sucks too.

It is some of the hard realities of having animals.   These chicks living in my studio are not some anonymous chickens that arrive in the Styrofoam containers at the supermarket.   Yet they are not my pets.   I am charged with practicing good animal husbandry.  Sometimes that sucks.


Harley’s Chicks

Untitled-1My dog is a Cairn Terrier, which means he loves things that dart around…mice..gophers…vermin.   Now for some reason he does not go crazy when we have little chicks that dart around the brooder.   Instead for some reason these chicks are his charges.   He will sit for hours just watching them race around.   I always think at some point he will bolt into the crate that is holding all the baby chickens.

I don’t kid myself if there was a loose one he would likely gobble them up, so we need to be careful that doesn’t happen.   In the meantime this process makes him a good companion for our flock of chickens because he is integrated with them like a good sheep or cattle dog is with their heard.  He hangs out with them from their first days, until their last


Brooder Ready

Tonight we got our brooder supplies… dog crate, heat lamp, water fountains, chick starter with feeder, and wood shavings.    We are ready for this year’s chicks.   Won’t be long now!!  Expecting the call tomorrow morning.

One Week and Counting

One chick that is guranteed to survive.

One chick that is guaranteed to survive.

One week from today my baby chicks will arrive.   I need to start to get my things in order to be ready for the responsibly of baby chicks.   I need to get all my brooder stuff out and set up so when they arrive all I have to do is turn on the light.   I need to pull supplies out of the garage and shed and get them cleaned up so I can bring it all into the house.    I must say in lots of ways I am excited to see what the new breeds bring to my flock.   On the other hand I dread the whole process of raising baby animals and the knowledge that more will have to be butchered.   It is the cycle of life and keeping a flock of chickens brings it up close and personal.