Ten Commandments for Raising Chickens, Part II

Veterinarian and regular contributor Randy Kidd offers five more rules for raising chickens.

| March/April 1981

Regular readers of this publication know that I often work up lists of "commandments" on the proper care and feeding of various barnyard critters. In part one I discussed the first five of my ten commandments for raising chickens. These tips included information on choosing the specific variety of clucker that best suits your needs ... building and maintaining a safe, sanitary shelter for the birds ... distinguishing a healthy chicken from one that's not... and understanding the seasonal — and biological — cycles of your flock.

In my opinion, the best way for a beginning poultry producer to get started is to buy a batch (usually 25) of day-old, straight-run, dual-purpose chicks. (For all those who missed the first part of this article, "straight-run" refers to the birds delivered direct from the shell, and not separated by sex. "Dual-purpose" means that they're both adequate egg producers and meat makers.)

VI. Coddle the Youngsters

Day-old chicks will do little more than eat, drink, and sleep during their first few weeks in this world. And, unless you find a "broody hen" willing to adopt your flock, all the joys of motherhood will be yours to experience. (A broody hen, by the way, is one that demonstrates a desire to raise a family, usually by refusing to give up eggs or even sitting in an empty nest box all day long.)

If you appear to be the most likely candidate for mothering, it's best to be prepared for the event before the chicks arrive. The young birds will need the warmth and protection of a brooder, a kind of "nursery" which can be easily built from sheet metal or cardboard. The containment area should be round (to prevent the little balls of fluff from crowding into corners and smothering themselves) and heated (to keep the young ones at a constant temperature of 95°F). A heat lamp, suspended by heavy-gauge wire over the center of the brooder area, works well.

The brooder's floor should be covered with three to four inches of clean, dry litter at all times. And, to insure that the chicks encounter sources of nourishment no matter which way they wander, place feeders and waterers in a spoke arrangement. The first feeders can be made from box lids or empty tuna cans. A homemade chick waterer can be fashioned from a canning or mayonnaise jar inverted over a plastic or metal dish. Be certain, however, that the jars are not easily tipped over, as the chicks — and their home — should be kept dry at all times.

Decrease the temperature in the brooder by 5° each week (starting, of course, from 95°F) until the thermometer reads 75°F. (Always measure the temperature at a level three inches above the litter.) At that point the month-old, partially feathered chicks can be allowed outside in moderate (50°F, or warmer) weather.

12/26/2007 3:16:57 PM

My son has decided to raise some chickens, they are 3 months old. Rhodeisland Reds and 2 columbian rocks. They seem to have some kind of disease and they keep dying. The roast just passed away today. He puts medicine in the feed. He has a pinned in area with fencing, inside he has a tarp that is wrapped around an area that has the roosting poles and boxes to lay the eggs in. Also, a heat lamp. The first chicken died, due to wobbley legs. Another one died and then he got the medicine. There is no grass in the open part of the pen. Wood chips are on the ground inside the tarp. Straw is in the boxes to lay eggs. What in the world could be making them so sick and die. The rooster wasn't aggressive yesterday and today he is dead. My son is trying to do all the right things and they keep dying. Is the pen to hot and not enough ventilation? Would you suggest taking the rooster to the vet to see what he died of? Is that normally expensive? It is totally stressing my son out. If he only had someone to talk with. The pen is also located in the woods. Is that too moldy for them. With damp leaves around Thanks for listening and if you have any ideas please write back. Thanks so much!!!!! Jane

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