Sunday, February 1, 2009

My theory and practice of brooding...

If you ask 10 folks about brooding chicks
you will get as many answers.
Everyone has their own way
and their own theory on how to go about it.
Not that anyone asked me, but here is my way.
Of course, my preferred method is
to use a good broody hen.
Nothing mothers better and the chicks that are broody
raised are healthier, heartier and fare better
all through their lives.
Start with a chick.
Well, you should start with many chicks
as they are communal, flocking critters.
They rely on each other for warmth and comfort
and they share knowledge as well..
like where the water is and where the food is
and what is good to eat.

You can either get them already hatched
via a good hatchery or through your feed store in season.
I start all of my chicks with boiled egg
mashed into little giblets.
When you first get them and place them in the brooder
grasp them individually and dip their beaks into the water
to show them how to drink and where the water is.
I place a splash of apple cider vinegar into their water as well.
The vinegar changes the PH in their systems
making it an unpleasant environment for the bad stomach bugs
that chicks are prone to. It wards off 'pasty butt' which is
chick diarrhea. The runny poop hardens to a crust on their rears.
That is not good and must be removed gently by hand.
This is not fun for you or the chick.
The best method is to once again grasp the chick,
this time with it facing the other way.
Drip hydrogen peroxide onto the 'paste'
and wait a few moments. Then begin loosening it
gently with a tissue or washcloth. Repeat.
Do not pull!! You can pull out the innards
and this is also bad.
But if you use the vinegar trick you should
never have to experience this particular joy.

Where to keep your feathered friends...
I am fortunate enough to have the potting
shed at my disposal and no longer have to
keep chicks in my house. At least not for very long.
I wait until they are eating and drinking well and then boot
them out the door.
They have a heat lamp for warmth and they do fine.

My brooder material of choice:
I will never use pine shavings again.
Once I stumbled on the joys of simple
pine needles I realized I will never go back.
Pine straw is inedible so you do not have
to worry about the chicks eating it
and getting impacted.
It is very warm and they make
a nest under the brooder lamp.
The poop dries and falls through! No more
smelly brooders! Ever! You can lift the pine needles
up and sweep the dried poop away and lay the needles
back down again. They last forever.
If you take nothing else away from anything
I have ever said or may say in the future,
take this bit of advice. It is life altering.

After the chicks are eating well on the cannabilistic

diet of boiled eggs I switch to chick starter.

I choose a non medicated starter as I try to raise my birds as

naturally as I can. I prefer the Layena brand from Purina

as it has no animal by products in it.

I believe in feeding my birds meat and encourage

them to eat as many yummy bugs and mice as they

can choke down, but I don't go for the by products.

I try to keep the trough feeder filled

as young birds are voracious eaters.

I keep them on starter for a couple of months

and then swith to FlockRaiser which a good high protein feed

for growing them out.

At 16 weeks of age I start the pullets on Layena laying pellets

in preparation for the onset of egglaying and the culmination of

all the months of work.

The roos... I eat.

When my chicks are 2 to 3 weeks old or so
I start adding toys into the brooder.
The first to go in is a large root ball.
I added one today.
The birds love to peck at the dirt and will eat the entire ball,
roots, dirt and all. I also add sand into the brooder house
and start giving them tender weeds.
Chickweed is a favorite and I am fortunate
enough to have tons of it.
Baby lamb's quarter is another
favorite, but whatever you have handy is fine.
Go easy on it and let their bodies adjust.

I also add a branch with many limbs.
They practice perching to gain balance
and muscle strength.
And soon they will be sleeping perched atop it.
King of The branch is also a fun game
and helps define pecking order.
They also will begin napping under it
in practice of flock safety.
'If you are under brush the hawks cannot eat you.'

Around this time I also add a dust box.
Yes, they eat that dirt too,
but they do bathe in it.
Dust bathing is the height of poultry
social structure. Think of it like a trip
to the beauty parlor
for little old ladies.
It is also good pratice for keeping
parasite free.

And that is my theory of brooding chicks.

The End.

If you can think of anything I missed
or if you have questions and/or thoughts,
please let me know.

I thought I would give an update...

They start too cute for words...

and enter the stage where they are so ugly it hurts to look at them.

yep.. it is the same bird.

And this is what a normal, healthy, well brooded
3 week old chick should look like.
Feathered, bright eyed, confident and inquisitive.


  1. Okay, I stumbled across your blog from a post over at Homesteading Today, and I have to say that I'm intrigued by this "pine straw" you mention.

    Did I infer correctly that this is actually just pine needles? How do you go about getting this? Or do you just... go out to a local evergreen grove and skife some up? ;) I'd try that, but ours are currently buried under two feet of snow and I'm thinking that I'd like to start chicks before it all melts. Hehe.

    So... can you enlighten me? Much appreciated.

  2. Howdy.
    I can get pine straw (nad, yep.. it is needles)in bales from my feed store or from the local garden store.. I think even Lowe's would carry it.
    It is nice that it is baled.
    I pay around $3.50 or so for it and it goes a long way.
    It smells nice too.
    Nothing beats it for brooding, I swear by it. No more having to lay paper over shavings and praying that the little ding dings don't eat the shavings and die.
    The needles last longer than shavings as well being that they don't absorb the poo, but rather dry it and let it fall through.
    You are not left with soggy, smelly shvings.
    Great on the compost pile afterwards too.
    Let us know what breed of bird you get.

  3. Pine straw---what a great idea! That's what I'll use next time---thanks for the great tip!

  4. Ok, I just wanta go sit in the potting shed... I'm telling you, I've seen it in person and it's a very pleasant place.

    In fact, I WANT a potting shed...

    Which would keep the brooder out of the laundry room, and really eliminate the need for the brooder for all but those first days....

    And I do go rake up pine needles, for all manner of uses... but I do have a couple of stands of planted pines which makes this easier. That and I'm cheap and have fine teenage labor...

    stay warm tonight...

  5. Dawn... perhaps some enterprising young man could build you a potting shed for Mother's Day...hmmmm?
    You could drop a ten ton hint or two and get a nice little brick building with windows on the south side, a cement floor and a secure door.. oh and have him run electric to it and ta da!!! Your own brooder/well house/potting shed.
    Yep... Mother's Day.

  6. Hi Jen
    What a great post, thank you! Very practical and down-to-earth.
    I have two questions for you.

    1) How do pine needles affect your compost? Does it turn it acid, break down slowly or anything like that?

    2) I have the chance to buy some 6 week old pullets. It would be easier for me as I work a good distance from home and don't have a great deal of time to nurture day-old chicks. Do you see any drawbacks to this?