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questions about chicks and heat

 
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Our little chicks are two weeks old now! They've been going on field trips outside most days (other than the first few) as temperatures have been pretty warm, mostly mid 70s to upper 80s and sunny. So far, their field trips have been limited to an hour or less. They are getting quite rambunctious and crazy in their brooder, especially as it gets closer to their field trip time. I would really like to give them the chance to run around in their high security cattle panel high tunnel for a good portion of the day and just put them in their indoor brooder at night. Given the high temperatures, I'm wondering if this would be okay now or fairly soon? Seems like much of what I've read suggests not even letting them go on field trips til 4 weeks old, usually cause of concern over them getting chilled. Or coccidiosis. Waiting til they're that old just doesn't seem right to me, but I've never kept chickens, so I could well be wrong. Of course, some of those same sources tell me I shouldn't dilute the "perfect nutrition" in their starter feed by letting them eat bugs, worms and weeds. Which seems kind of suspect to me, but I digress...Am I being a bad substitute hen by letting them go out so much this early?
I'm actually more concerned about them overheating than getting too cold. I am wondering too how I can help them adapt to the heat, as I reckon it'll be in the 90s soon. I've read about how to help adult chickens stay cool in the heat, just curious if there's anything that would be more specific to younger chickens.

Another thing I'm curious about is the fact that they're almost never under their brooder plate anymore. Is that normal for two week old chicks? Even at night, I will see about half of them not even sleep under it for at least part of the night. They'll either be partially under or laying next to it. Our house is not particularly warm, probably around 65 degrees most of the time, probably a bit hotter of late.
I've raised the brooder plate a few times, thinking maybe it was too hot and that's why they weren't going under, but they still don't go under it much. I've tried to find a chart to guide me on how much to raise it to no avail (if such a thing exists for brooder plates, I would love to see it). So all I have to go off of is the chick's behavior, which seems pretty contented. Other than the repeated attempts to escape the brooder every time I open it, of course.
 
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Heather, I suggest you think like a mother hen!

Mother Hen will take her chicks out of the nest within about 36 hours of hatch - that nest is a dangerous place for chicks because there are predators who can smell the left over detritus of the hatch, not to mention any chicks/eggs that didn't make it.

Mother Hen will teach her chicks to hunt for food, scratching and handing tidbits to them.

The chicks will tire, so Mother Hen will look for a good spot and tuck them all in among her feathers for a nap.

After nap-time, rinse and repeat!

So yes - your two-week-olds have tasted the big world on their field trips and are telling you they are bored and want out more. Your choices are to give them more interesting things to play with in the brooder, or let them out more often, if not longer, or a bit of both. But they don't have a mother hen to hand them food or to insist on nap time or keep them safe.

Sooo... Will they be the only birds in the high tunnel?  Can you put feed out there for them? During the day, a sun-trap might be enough for nap-time particularly if they exhibit the "huddle" tendency. Chickens are "simple" not "stupid" and if you give them access to what they need, they will quite possibly surprise you.
 
Heather Sharpe
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Jay Angler wrote:I suggest you think like a mother hen!

Sooo... Will they be the only birds in the high tunnel?  Can you put feed out there for them? During the day, a sun-trap might be enough for nap-time particularly if they exhibit the "huddle" tendency. Chickens are "simple" not "stupid" and if you give them access to what they need, they will quite possibly surprise you.


Thank you, Jay! This has definitely been my attitude, so I appreciate your confirmation I'm on the right track. I think I get thrown off reading things elsewhere on the interwebs and hearing the experiences of friends that bear little resemblance to what we've been doing. The chicks seem so strong! They love foraging and are crazy good at catching bugs. They've caught multiple ones from midair! I hadn't considered that they wouldn't self-regulate on the need for naps with that much stimulation. So thanks for bringing that up. They're not the best at going to bed at night time, seems they freak out and have a hard time getting themselves situated under/around the brooder plate.

They will be the only birds in there and I can put food and water out for them. And their brooder plate, just in case. We will also be very nearby working on their coop, so we can check on them often.
I wholeheartedly agree they are definitely not stupid beings. They've amazed me multiple times with what they understand and are capable of at such a young age. Even without a mother hen to mentor them.


 
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Heather Sharpe wrote:

Jay Angler wrote:I suggest you think like a mother hen!
.


Thank you, Jay! This has definitely been my attitude, so I appreciate your confirmation I'm on the right track. I think I get thrown off reading things elsewhere on the interwebs and hearing the experiences of friends that bear little resemblance to what we've been doing. The chicks seem so strong! They love foraging and are crazy good at catching bugs. They've caught multiple ones from midair! I hadn't considered that they wouldn't self-regulate on the need for naps with that much stimulation. So thanks for bringing that up. They're not the best at going to bed at night time, seems they freak out and have a hard time getting themselves situated under/around the brooder plate.

They will be the only birds in there and I can put food and water out for them. And their brooder plate, just in case. We will also be very nearby working on their coop, so we can check on them often.
I wholeheartedly agree they are definitely not stupid beings. They've amazed me multiple times with what they understand and are capable of at such a young age. Even without a mother hen to mentor them.



Howdy!
Brooder plates are amazing. I don't have one myself - too much invested in radiant heat lamps right now - plus bulbs for same.  I really like the safety factor for the plates, but it'll wait until I can better justify the expense.

If your chicks have access to a plate, but choose not to use it, they are fine. If they get cold, they'll huddle or go under the plate.
When you first bring them home, they want to be around 90-95F, and that will drop by 5 degrees every week or so, until they are fully feathered out.  

The correct height for a brooder plate, as far as everything I've read, is to keep it at the level of their back. So, even at 2 weeks, they still need it to be pretty low. Now, they get a lot of warmth from movement, huddling, and basking, so I really wouldn't worry much. If they aren't "chick screaming" (the very high pitched peeps that mean "SOMETHING is WRONG!", then you're doing your chickens right. They're fine.

The reason it isn't generally considered a Good Thing to expose them to the outside world too early is simple - they don't have the immune system for it.
I usually start bringing in handfuls of grass and random seed heads, and other things they'll be exposed to, but only once they are growing well and understand the food/water set up. I don't take them outside, generally, unless they are a little older/bigger and I need the break from them.
The high tunnel, especially if it's only used during the day, is fine.  If you want to start leaving them outside, then you need to make sure there's a floor, and that all corners/edges/random points are covered, safe (I generally use electrical tape or duct tape around the wire edges), and there aren't any places where they can get caught. on exposed wire.
Once predators notice your little chicken nuggets, they'll  never want for nasty bad company.  Start early with the mindset.

You will find that your chickens aren't going to do things like all the books and references say they will do. I have often read a really good reference and found that no one bothered to tell the chickens that they wren't supposed to be doing that, or they were supposed to be doing something else in a different way. You know your chickens better than anyone else, and the books are a handy guide for the most common situations, but there will be times and places you have to guess.
I always feel a little better to take the book/reference material to the birds, and read it to them. Just so they know what that expert thinks is a good average for chicken behavior.  

Other than the basics - keep things reasonably clean, don't feed babies anything that might hurt them, try to keep them safe from their own curiosity, chicks are easy.
At 2 weeks, they're past most of the dangerous baby illnesses, so that's not a concern.

As long as they have food, water, a place to hide, and are kept as safe as possible, your little cheepers will be fine.  
I hope you and the chicks are enjoying the weather and learning experiences.
You are doing great! They are doing great! Relax, Mama Hen. It's good.

Best thoughts,
Kristine
 
Heather Sharpe
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Kristine Keeney wrote:If your chicks have access to a plate, but choose not to use it, they are fine. If they get cold, they'll huddle or go under the plate.
When you first bring them home, they want to be around 90-95F, and that will drop by 5 degrees every week or so, until they are fully feathered out.  

The correct height for a brooder plate, as far as everything I've read, is to keep it at the level of their back. So, even at 2 weeks, they still need it to be pretty low. Now, they get a lot of warmth from movement, huddling, and basking, so I really wouldn't worry much. If they aren't "chick screaming" (the very high pitched peeps that mean "SOMETHING is WRONG!", then you're doing your chickens right. They're fine.

The reason it isn't generally considered a Good Thing to expose them to the outside world too early is simple - they don't have the immune system for it.
I usually start bringing in handfuls of grass and random seed heads, and other things they'll be exposed to, but only once they are growing well and understand the food/water set up. I don't take them outside, generally, unless they are a little older/bigger and I need the break from them.
The high tunnel, especially if it's only used during the day, is fine.  If you want to start leaving them outside, then you need to make sure there's a floor, and that all corners/edges/random points are covered, safe (I generally use electrical tape or duct tape around the wire edges), and there aren't any places where they can get caught. on exposed wire.
Once predators notice your little chicken nuggets, they'll  never want for nasty bad company.  Start early with the mindset.


Thank you for the clarification and reassurance, Kristine! I really like the brooder plate and seems the chicks do too. They are increasingly not sleeping under it or even close by, so good to hear that's okay. There is one that sometimes gives the chick scream you mention that I posted about in this thread: panicky chick (which you also gave a super helpful and appreciated response to). But I think she's mostly just crying for attention and freedom to go outside. Still a little concerned she might be being bullied or something, but I will do a follow up in the above mentioned thread on that when I get more time to write.

We did start giving them clumps of grass and dirt for a few days before the field trips began for that reason. They figured out the food/water as soon as we got them home from the hatchery (we picked them up instead of having them shipped). They've been devouring small bunches of fresh thyme and oregano daily too. So hopefully that will be okay that they started their field trips early.

That is an excellent point about corners/edges/etc being covered with tape. We will definitely be super mindful of predators and know that there are many daytime ones too.  

Ha, these chicks definitely don't seem to have read the books about what they're "supposed" to be doing.

Kristine Keeney wrote:You are doing great! They are doing great! Relax, Mama Hen. It's good.

Best thoughts,
Kristine


Thank you for this! I needed to hear that. I had no idea the feels these little peeps would stir up! I've had many animals before, but they were all pets. And I never experienced any of them from the day they came into the world. Caring for the chickens just feels like a whole different thing and thus unfamiliar and a wee bit scary. But so awesome, exciting and full of adorableness!
 
Kristine Keeney
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Howdy!
Part of the fun, especially with all the baby things, is that they are all different and each interaction is a learning experience.

My Chicken Journey started back in 2000, and has continued in fits and starts since. I understand all the emotions - the pride in watching the peepers as they shakily walk around the brooder, or manage to Not Drown after some mishap with their waterer. The warm feelings of listening to the calm "echolocation" chirps when they're happy and warm. The amusement at seeing them sprawled out like completely boneless nuggets when they fall asleep.

I can't tell you how happy I am that you are so excited by your starter flock. There's nothing like the feeling of watching those little fluffballs as they figure things out and start venturing forth into the world. This is the start to a wonderful part of your life - chicken keeping.
You will learn something new every day. You will face the highs and lows, and have to make hard decisions. You've had pets, so you already have some experience in all of that. It doesn't get easier.

As you have started on a trip with livestock, you will have to decide how to handle some of the harder questions - are you going to try to hatch your own eggs? Are you going to try to raise meat birds? And there are all the questions that follow both of those questions as you learn how, and why you make the decisions you do.

We've all been there, at some point. There are ways to make things easier, or harder, or more philosophical. In the end, it all comes down to why you are here - Permies, chicken handling, and your relationship with The Great Unknown. You'll find the answers you need, usually when you need them.
There are a bunch of us here, who have stood where you are, with our arms wrapped around a rather unhappy bird, and we can help.

You are doing wonderfully well, Mama Hen. You got this. (At least you don't have to change diapers, or worry about housebreaking!)
 
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Hi Heather,
Glad to hear things are going well. I second what has already been said. If they have access to a heat plate and choosing not to use it, they are warm enough. In fact, depending on the breed, if it gets much above the 80's I would start thinking about shade for the chickens. While it is very fashionable to raise chickens on pasture (and it is certainly healthier than many stationary runs), they are a domestication of a jungle bird, and many breeds do not do well with too much heat and no shade.

I think those before me have answered your questions quite well, so I will not repeat the answers, but I did want to comment on your difficulty to find consistent information on raising chickens. I see similar things in gardening. I think much of it stems from the attempt to take industrial farming and livestock theories and apply them on a small scale. For instance if you have a massive monocrop field you must apply pesticides and fertilizers if you want a good yield, so they tell a home gardener to do the same when it might not be necessary. Or the spacing of plants. When a plant can be 6" apart in the row but must have 18" between the rows. Most of the time this is to accommodate harvesting equipment rather than any real need of the plant. If they can grow 6" from another plant on 1 side, they can do it on another. In the same way, people try to take theories from industrial chicken factories and apply them to small scale homesteads. All chickens must be vaccinated, because in a huge building with 20,000 chickens, they don't get enough fresh air and nutrition to actually have an immune system (not to mention the potential loss is much larger). This is less of a problem on the small scale. Reducing the temperature by 5 degrees every week is also something that is not necessary. The mother hen's temp doesn't change that much. If the chicks are cold they go under, and if they are warm enough they come out to eat and play. On the small scale it is better to have a warmer (light or pad or whatever) and leave it available, but make the brooder big enough that they can get away from it to cool off. This might mean your chicks have some slight variation ("oh no", he said in a sarcastic voice), in their growth rate. Maybe some get their feathers a tad earlier or maybe they get them a tad later. In an industrial farm they have to time things exactly because people are expecting the grown chickens on a certain day and new ones are coming in on a certain day, so they have to time things down to the incredible level and can't have variation.  

So you have the problem of people trying to apply solutions meant for a completely different situation to your situation. Secondly, you have differences in the way you raise chickens based on your motivation. If you want meat chickens as fast as you can period, you raise them differently than if you want healthy chickens to eat bugs around your yard. Some people don't want to take a risk and give medication before it is needed just in case. Some people don't mind some risk and want to avoid giving any medicine. These ideologies affect what you do.

In the case of the outside run. Having them out there more can increase the risk that you might lose one. If that is a concern, then you should keep them in the brooder for longer. My personal thought would be to see if I could combine the brooder and run in some way so they have a source of heat, and can be locked in for safety at night, but allow them to freely visit the grass whenever they want. Even at 2 weeks you would be surprised how much they are experimenting with eating things. This way means they have the ability to get some fresh air whenever they want, but required more work and setup and does increase the risk.

I think your best bet is to determine why you want to raise chickens and what your philosophy of raising them (organic, traditional, beyond organic, however I can keep them alive...) and find like minded people and see what they did. I think you might get more consistency doing it that way.
 
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