A former vegetarian's first attempt at raising poultry from pasture to plate.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
They’re here! We have 22 little balls of yellow fluff thanks to the wonderful Dave Reid of Thomas Reid Farms, an organic chicken farm here in Langley, BC (Click here for a list of stores that carry their chicken). Dave ordered our chicks and their food for us and has provided us with tons of advice - he's even going to stop by and check out our set up to make sure we're not doing anything horrifically wrong. What a guy!
Since our chicks are newly hatched, they need a brooder to keep them nice and cozy just like their mother would. The materials you make your brooder out of are limited only by your creativity – people use everything from large cardboard boxes to plastic kiddie pools to fancy, custom made brooders. My partner in crime, Tina, and I wanted to go the kiddie pool route (easy to clean, no assembly, etc) but it turns out we’re about a month too early and kiddie pools are nowhere to be found. Instead, we’re using a 2 foot by 4 foot wooden planter box covered over with wire to keep the rats out. The chicks will be living in the well-insulated shed where we store our horses’ hay, so we’re not worried about any larger predators at the moment. All my reading highlights the importance of providing adequate ventilation while simultaneously protecting the chicks from drafts, so hopefully the shed and planter box do the trick. It’s a pretty ramshackle contraption but if it keeps them warm until they’re feathered out and ready to move into their pasture pen then I’m happy!
According to Dave and all the chicken books I've been poring over, we need to keep the temperature stable at about 90 degrees for the first week or so. To heat the brooder, we’re using a very high tech system: two heat lamps with 250 watt bulbs suspended above the box on a chain. Fancy, right? Each lamp is set at a different height, so the chicks can regulate their temperature. If they all cluster together, it means they're too cold and if they avoid the lamps, then they're too hot. So far, our chicks seem pretty content. You can purchase special thermostatically controlled heaters but we decided to go the simple route for our first tiny batch of chickens.
To make sure they have a constant source of food and water, we have a 1 gallon waterer, which barely fits under the wire covering the top of the brooder, and a long feeder with more than enough feeding space for each bird. They’re eating organic food and we’re going to provide them with plenty of greens so they can get used to foraging right away.
They seem to be settling in well - lots of eating, drinking, sleeping and pooping!