A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

September 24, 2020

New Beginnings – Think Like a Mother Hen

Filed under: General — Tags: , , — alpacalady @ 1:47 pm

There was early morning excitement at the farm this week.   The post office called us to let us know our shipment of chicks had arrived.

It’s always fun to go to the post office to collect a shipment of chicks.  These chicks had come from a hatchery in Ohio and with recent reports of delays in the mail we were concerned that the chicks would have a swift journey here.  Fortunately, they did, and our mail carrier Mike handed me a box that had lots of chirping sounds coming from it!

When chicks are shipped from the hatchery there is a little heat pad in the box but of course that heat pad only lasts a little while. The heat pad for our chicks still held a little heat but to make the chicks more comfortable I turned the heater on in the car for the journey home.  Fortunately, the day hadn’t started to heat up yet and I didn’t roast!

Having raised chicks before we had a brood box already set up and the chicks were soon settled into their new home with fresh water with some probiotics added (they were quite thirsty!) and chick feed.  I also mixed up some GroGel that was sent by the hatchery, which is a product that contains lots of vitamins and enzymes to help replenish the chicks after their journey.

When we raised chicks before we followed the standard formula of keeping the chicks at 90-95 F for the first week and then decreasing the heat by five degrees each week.  To facilitate this, we used a heat lamp and kept the brood box in an enclosed room – boy it was hot in there!  When we raised our last batch of guinea keets (baby guinea fowl), I invested in a brood plate to replace the usual heat lamp used to raise chicks, keets and other newborn birds.  The brood plate is a safe heated plate that the chicks can sit under, just like they would sit under a mother hen.  It is less intense than a heat lamp, uses less electricity and the fire hazard risk is considerably less.  With the brood plate the only heated area is right under the plate so the temperature in the rest of the brood box can vary a lot depending on the temperature of the building the brood box is in.

Being located on the high plains and in a dry environment our evening temperatures can take a dramatic drop from our daytime temperatures.  Last night it was particularly chilly and late at night I started to wonder if the chicks would be okay.  Should I have the heat lamp on as well as the brood plate?  I had turned the heat lamp on earlier but at my last check all of the chicks were at the far end of the brood box away from the heat lamp. They looked as if they were having a lazy day at the beach, stretching out, their wings a little bit away from their bodies.  Maybe they were now too hot?

I decided to do a little research and came across a very good article called “How Much Heat Do Chicks REALLY Need? Think like a Mother Hen” (You can access the article here: https://the-chicken-chick.com/how-much-heat-do-chicks-really-need/)

Having read through the article I realized that my chicks probably were too hot with the heat lamp on.  The article points out that baby chicks who are raised by a hen will often forage with the hen in much cooler temperatures than the standard heating formula for baby chicks recommends.  When the chicks start to feel cool under the hen they will go.  Additionally, like people, different chicks have different heat requirements.

So today I have followed the advice in the article. I have turned the heat lamp off and set the brood plate so that one end is higher than the other.  I have also reduced the space in the brood box a little with a cardboard divider and will leave this in place for a couple of days while the chicks learn that the brood plate is a warm place to go when they need it.  During my frequent checks throughout the day the chicks have appeared content and happy.  Sometimes a couple have been under the brood plate, most times all the chicks have been out and about checking out their surroundings or contentedly sleeping. 

While the chicks are enjoying their new beginning at the farm, I am learning a new beginning in chicken rearing.  I am using the new methods I learned during my research last night, thinking like a mother hen.  Of course, I will still be concerned about them like a mother hen, especially during the evenings when the temperature drops, but using my newfound knowledge I can now make sure my chicks are nicely comfortable rather than being baked by a heat lamp!  No roast chickens here!

Read more stories at: https://www.windrushalpacas.com/s/stories

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