Second time around

I used Craigslist to unload my laying hens. They were my first batch of chickens, received in the spring of 2010. There were 10 hens, they were 2.5 years old and were laying ~4 eggs a day. During their peak, they were laying 8 eggs a day. As chickens age, their production drops but more importantly, the quality of the eggs drops as well. The whites become more watery, there are more blood spots and blemishes in the yolks and whites, and the chickens become more predisposed to other issues such as prolapsed vents.

While owning chickens I have had to perform chicken surgery twice! Each time, thankfully, it was a success due to clean technique and lots of reading. We had to perform crop surgery due to an impacted crop (the smell was so foul, fetid, and putrid). The second surgery was for bumble foot. After cleaning out her foot, expressing the pus (ick) I used ichthammol which is a drawing salve and kept her foot wrapped with gauze and vet wrap. It actually worked and cleared the infection up. I hope I don’t have to do any surgery this time around.

Soaking in epsom salts to clean and soften the scab. Wrapping her in a towel keeps her quiet but you'll be amazed how calm they'll be.

Soaking in epsom salts to clean and soften the scab. Wrapping her in a towel keeps her quiet but you’ll be amazed how calm they’ll be.

The scab.

The scab.

Applied the salve, wrapping it up to keep the drawing salve intact with the skin and to keep it a bit cleaner.

Applied the salve, wrapping it up to keep the drawing salve intact with the skin and to keep it a bit cleaner.

Now the old girls are gone and the new ones have arrived. In mid-September I received my chicks in the mail. They hatched Monday and shipped that afternoon, I had them by 10:30 AM Tuesday the next day. “What about water and food?” you may ask. Chicks can be mailed when so young because for the first three days of life, they are still absorbing their yolk sac thus their water and food intake is minimal.

Cardboard boxes, a plastic window pane and a red heat lamp.

Cardboard boxes, a plastic window pane and a red heat lamp.

When you have chicks, you keep them in a brooder with a heat lamp, preferably a red one. The heat lamp is provided because it takes the place of the mother hen, who is obviously not there, and it provides the necessary 95 degrees F. The temperature is adjusted by the height of the lamp and it is dropped by 5 degrees every week. The chicks should be fully feathered in about 5 weeks (yes, it happens very quickly).

The brooder can be a fancy structure or a very basic one. Mine is made of cardboard boxes. I PROMISE you that you will want to make yours as high as humanly possible. Though chickens as adults are not good fliers, they sure are when they’re chicks! You do not want the chicks flying out of the brooder and away from the heat lamp. That is sure death. The brooder should also be large enough for the chicks to move away from the heat lamp if needed, but not so huge that they will become lost and cold away from the lamp. They need to be provided with chick starter and water. I use nipple waterers exclusively as this keeps the water clean. I truly dislike the standard waterers as the water becomes filthy very quickly. To prevent the chicks from billing out the food (knocking the food out with their bills), you will want to elevate the food dish as they grow.

The food dish, the waterer with nipples. They caught on in less than10 seconds. And you don't need to worry about anyone drowning.

The food dish toward the front and the waterer with nipples in the back to the right. They caught on to the nipples in less than10 seconds. And you don’t need to worry about anyone drowning. Chickens explore by pecking, so the nipples work extremely well.

When you get your chicks, you need to get them under the heat lamp promptly. When putting them into the brooder, dip their beaks in the water if using a basin or just tap their beak on the nipple. They’ll figure it out. I’ve only used nipples with my chicks and I LOVE them.

For the first few days I use paper towels to line their brooder. Newspaper is not recommended as the chicks can develop “splayed legs.” Something with traction but that they cannot mistakenly eat is called for. I don’t use pine shavings when they’re very young because the chicks don’t understand it’s not food (normally the mother hen will teach the chicks what is food and what isn’t). Paper towels are cheap, easy to use, easy to change and provide plenty of traction. This week or next I will switch to a newspaper-based bedding.

Water

Unlimited supply, keep it clean, keep it from freezing in the winter. That’s about it.

Food

You start with chick starter, moving to grower and then layer. It depends on the formulation of the maker, so just follow what they recommend for the food you’ve purchased.  I buy organic chicken feed but for my old girls I also provided loads of kitchen scraps; they ate slugs, crickets, worms, grubs, whatever they could find.

Medicated feed or unmedicated? Medicated feed, contrary to what some people believe, is not medicated with antibiotics. It is medicated with anticoccidials, which are thiamine inhibitors. The most devastating illness a chick can develop is called coccidiosis which causes severe diarrhea and usually results in death. The coccidia use a great deal of thiamine during growth, so by giving your chicks a thiamine inhibitor, you help to prevent or lessen an infection. But you see, chicks need thiamine too. What can you do since their immune systems are not built up enough to withstand the onslaught of microbes in tthe soil? Last time I gradually introduced the microbes to the chicks. I would take them out onto the grass for about an hour, dig up worms and various bugs to expose them to the local microflora slowly. Knock on wood, it worked 2.5 years ago. I hope it works again!

Checking for problems

When you get chicks check their rear ends for pasty butt, this is when poop has dried and started to block their vents and will spell certain death! Make sure you run warm water on this blockage, very gently working the clump off AFTER it has started to soften. You don’t want to rip their skin or down off. Dry the area gently and use a blow dryer for a bit. Even after the blow dryer my chick’s down was still wet and flat. After putting her back in the brooder, within seconds her down fluffed back up and was nice and dry (the heat from the heat lamp did it).

This one had a pasty butt and it being dried with one of my towel rags.

This one had a pasty butt and it is being dried with one of my towel rags.

This one already has it's tail feathers coming in only 2 days after hatching.

This one already has it’s tail feathers coming in only 2 days after hatching.

More later! Have a good night and I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year.

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