Hatching day has come and gone and our new batch of chicks are doing well! In total, we had 4 Ameraucana and 4 Silver-Laced Wyandottes hatch. We first setup their brooding pen in the basement where the inevitable mess the chicks cause would be out of our high traffic areas in the house. It didn’t take long, however, for us to realize that the chick’s dander was causing us all to sneeze and I really wasn’t comfortable with the thought of a heat lamp in the house anymore. So, I ordered the Brinsea EcoGlow and as soon as it arrived our outdoor brooding experiment began.
The coop I’ve built is, well… not good… 🙂 I really have no carpentry skills so the coop is pretty much pieced together with spray foam sealing all the cracks and a tarp nailed to the roof to help prevent leaks. Luckily, none of the chicks peck at the spray foam! When I realized that the little 4×4 foot coop I’d built would not be big enough for the 10+ chickens we’ll have (we’re expecting some Marans chicks this month as well… oh and the Coturnix Quail… but that’s for another post!) I enlisted our contractor to build a shed from a kit and I would sketch out the upgrades required for it to be turned into a functional (and comfortable!) chicken coop. As soon as the snow melts construction will begin.
In the meantime, the nest boxes in the little coop I built were going unused. The first batch of chicks won’t be mature enough to start laying until around August 2016; assuming they’re hens, of course. Originally, I had plywood covering off the nest boxes as I figured I’d cut it back to size around August when the chickens would actually need to use the nest boxes. In the meantime, by keeping the nest boxes blocked off it would ensure the chickens didn’t get used to sleeping in the nest boxes thereby helping to ensure clean nest boxes when the chickens get old enough to lay. Chickens poop a lot when they sleep. By keeping them out of the nest boxes ensures they don’t get in the habit of pooping in the nest boxes.
But of course, with that said, I decided the nest boxes would be the perfect “outdoor” brooder for the newest batch of chicks. I very roughly cut back the plywood closing off the nest boxes from the interior of the coop and fastened some hardware cloth. This way, the new chicks and older chicks would be able to interact through the hardware cloth and we would (hopefully) not have to go through any sort of introductory time period when I decide all chicks should be living in the same coop; because technically they already are all living in the same coop. The hardware cloth will keep the newest batch of chicks safe until they’re big enough to play with the big chicks 😉
The Brinsea EcoGlow heater I’m using includes a user manual that says it functions best when the minimum temperature of the surrounding air is 10 degrees Celsius. There have been some nights here where we’re still getting temperatures below zero and the resulting air temperature in the coop can get down as low at 3 degrees Celsius. There isn’t enough litter and organic matter for the bedding to be composting (and thereby adding heat to the coop) because the first batch of chicks really are still young at about 7 weeks old and they don’t create that much waste yet for there to be active enough composting to generate any sort of significant heat. So, I did secure a heat lamp in the coop and I turn it on when the temperatures dip below zero at night. Otherwise, I don’t heat the coop. I use a wireless sensor to monitor the temperature and humidity in the coop around the clock. I’m in the process of setting up a wireless camera so I can also keep an eye on the chicks.
While I’m calling this an “outdoor” brooding experiment, the chicks are well protected from the elements in a coop that is secured against predators. Thus far, the experiment is going swimmingly! I often find the newest batch of chicks running around eating food, interacting with the older chicks or simply snuggling under the EcoGlow heater. I’m looking forward to the better weather where I can let the newest batch of chicks experience exploring real ground and supervised foraging a little. I think it would be an awesome experiment to brood chicks in a greenhouse type setup so that they can be interacting with the earth from a very early age as to help develop their chicken ‘skills’ (in the absence of a broody hen to show them) and to help develop their immunity to local parasites and harmful bacteria. Maybe next Spring 😉
As I eluded to earlier, I’m currently incubating 3 dozen Coturnix Quail hatching eggs so they will be my next experiment. The Quail will be raised for meat and eggs and I’m hoping that by the end of the summer season I’ll have established some good breeding pairs as well as colonies of birds that will be providing us with food. I’ll be sure to write a separate post on the quail plan as I’ve noticed there is limited information about raising backyard quail online in comparison to raising backyard chickens.